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Osaka and Djokovic set to defend U.S. Open titles

The 2019 U.S. Open begins at Flushing Meadows on Monday (August 26) but it will struggle to match the drama of the 2018 women's final won by Japan's Naomi Osaka against Serena Williams.

The American had been attempting to equal Australian Margaret Court’s record of 24 grand slam singles titles, but it was to be the 20-year-old Japanese who was to claim her first grand slam title as well as her country’s after Williams became embroiled in a row with umpire Carlos Ramos. He had handed her a code violation for allegedly receiving signals from her coach Patrick Mouratoglou before she received a point penalty for smashing her racket and then a game penalty after accusing Ramos of being “a liar” and “a thief for stealing a point from me”.

Despite the drama, Osaka remained cool to win 6-2 6-4 and was warmly congratulated by Williams at the end of the match.

Since then, Osaka went on to win the next major, the Australian Open in January 2019 to become world number one. Despite a dip in form which saw her suffer early round losses at the French Open and Wimbledon, she moved back to the number one spot earlier this month, although a knee problem which saw her retire from the Cincinnati Masters last Friday (August 16) could be a concern to her.

For Williams, equalling Court’s grand slam record remains her target, with the U.S. Open a fitting place to achieve it as it is 20 years since she won her first career slam in New York in 1999.

Williams had come close to the record again in 2019, losing the Wimbledon final to Simona Halep of Romania but, like Osaka, the 37-year-old may have injury concerns having retired with back spasms in the Canadian Open final against local star Bianca Andreescu earlier this month.

Australian Ashleigh Barty has had a meteoric year, winning the French Open to claim her first grand slam title, helped Australia reach the Fed Cup final and briefly become world number one in June.

Another player to shine this year was Simona Halep, who despite losing her number one ranking to Osaka in January, won Wimbledon in fine style, beating Serena Williams 6-2 6-2 to earn her second grand slam title after winning in Paris in 2018.

Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic, although yet to win a grand slam title, has won three WTA titles in 2019 and is currently third in the world behind Osaka and Barty.

One player sure to attract enormous interest is 15-year-old Cori “Coco” Gauff, who caused a sensation at Wimbledon when she defeated five-time champion Venus Williams in the opening round. The American schoolgirl has been given a wildcard to the U.S. Open and her match will be one of the early highlights when the draw is announced on Thursday (August 22).

Novak Djokovic is the likely favourite for the men’s event as he looks to defend his title and win it for the fourth time. The 32-year-old Serb has been in great form in 2019, winning the Australian Open and Wimbledon. He hs also been world number one since November 2018.

Spaniard Rafael Nadal again dominated the French Open, winning it for a record 12th time, although he did suffer a comprehensive straight sets defeat to Djokovic in the Australian Open final. Nadal last won the U.S. Open in 2017, his third title in New York.

Roger Federer remains in contention for a sixth U.S. Open title, having won it in successive years from 2004 to 2008. Despite now being 38, the Swiss won his 100th Tour title in Dubai in February and had two match points to win a record 21st grand slam title at Wimbledon before losing in an epic five-set final to Djokovic.

Austrian Dominic Thiem, who beat Djokovic at the French Open before losing to Nadal in the final, has won three ATP titles in 2019 as well as having victories over Federer and Nadal, but he has yet to win a grand slam title.

Another player on the rise is Russian Daniil Medvedev who became world number five this week after winning his first ATP Masters 1000 Series title on Sunday (August 18), beating Belgian David Goffin 7-6(3) 6-4 in the Cincinnati Masters.

Germany’s Alexander Zverev will be hoping for an upturn in form after a somewhat disappointing season so far. After winning five ATP titles in 2017 and four in 2018, he has just the one title from Geneva to his name this year, although the 22-year-old is still ranked sixth in the world.

Whatever happens at this year’s tournament, there are bound to be surprises and thrills before the finals are played on September 7 and 8 at the Arthur Ashe Stadium, the world’s largest purpose-built tennis arena with a capacity of 23,771.

(Production: Mike Brock)

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