Novak Djokovic and Naomi Osaka headline US Open shorn of old favourites

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 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

The last time a Grand Slam tournament did not include one of Serena Williams, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal was the US Open in 1997. Williams would make her big tournament debut the year after with Federer and Nadal entering the scene in 1999 and 2003 respectively. By the time Nadal won the first of his 13 French Open titles in 2005, all three were household names.

It is without hyperbole then that one could look on the 2021 US Open as the dawn of a new era. Between them, Williams, Federer and Nadal have 63 Grand Slams. Each can stake a claim to being the greatest to ever hit a tennis ball and would have scores of fans ready to back that up.

But past glories are just that. They are consigned to the record books. And as the first points are being scored in New York, history beckons for one man in particular.

Novak Djokovic has a chance to become the most successful men’s player of all time. Along with Federer and Nadal, the 34-year-old Serbian has 20 Grand Slams. He has always had to crane his neck and look up at the accomplishments of his fierce rivals. If he can achieve the rare feat of winning all four Grand Slams available in a calendar year - becoming the first man to do so - he will stand alone at the summit of the men’s game.

On the women’s draw, Australia’s Ashleigh Barty is certainly the player to beat but defending champion Naomi Osaka will command much of the attention as she makes her return to Grand Slam tennis.

 (REUTERS)
(REUTERS)

In the build up to the French Open in May, 23-year-old announced she would not be taking part in the news conferences. This resulted in a $15,000 (£10,570) while Grand Slam organisers threatened her with expulsion from future tournaments.

That led to the player announcing her withdrawal the following day, revealing she had suffered from “long bouts of depression” and adding she planned to take time away from the court.

After missing Wimbledon, she returned to court at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games where she won her opening two matches before losing to Czech Marketa Vondrousova in the last 16.

Andy Murray is the biggest biggest draw from a British perspective. But the former world number one has been dealt a tough play by being placed with Greek third seed Stefanos Tsitsipas in the opening round.

The 34-year-old, now ranked 114th in the world, showed encouraging signs in the warm-up events in Cincinnati and Winston-Salem despite going out in the second round at both.

 (AP)
(AP)

“My level is up and down with no real consistency,” the Scot said. “There are moments in matches where I play well and then I make mistakes or miss returns. I wish I wasn’t doing that.

“My level is around 50 or 60 in the world. It’s frustrating because if I wasn’t moving great and not feeling good physically then I would be a bit easier on myself.

“But when I’m winning a low percentage of second-serve points, that’s got nothing to do with the physical side of things.”

The opening day of the tournament sees five other Britons playing in the singles - with Dan Evans, Heather Watson, Johanna Konta and Cameron Norrie all playing in consecutive matches on court 10.

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