Sunday, August 30, 2020

Dangerous dozen: Men, women to watch in U.S. Open

Here are six men and six women to watch in the U.S. Open, Monday through Sept. 13 in Flushing Meadows, N.Y. Television coverage begins at 9 a.m. (PDT) on ESPN.

MEN

NOVAK DJOKOVIC
Photo by Paul Bauman

Novak Djokovic (1) — Heavy favorite in absence of Rafael Nadal (coronavirus concerns) and Roger Federer (arthroscopic knee surgery). ... World No. 1 owns 26-match win streak dating to November. ... Treated for neck problem en route to title in this week's Western & Southern Open in Flushing Meadows. ... At 33, has won 17 Grand Slam singles titles, three in U.S. Open, to rank third behind 39-year-old Federer (20) and 34-year-old Nadal (19). ... Northern California connection: None.

Dominic Thiem (2) — Three-time Grand Slam runner-up lost 6-2, 6-1 in 61 minutes to Filip Krajinovic in second round of Western & Southern Open after receiving first-round bye. ... NorCal connection: None.

Daniil Medvedev (3) — Six-foot-6 (1.98-meter) Russian fell to Nadal in last year's epic U.S. Open final. NorCal connection: None.

Stefanos Tsitsipas (4) — At 20 in 2019, reached Australian Open semifinals, beating Federer in fourth round. ... Has not advanced past second round of U.S. Open in two main-draw appearances. ... NorCal connection: None.

Milos Raonic (25)Wimbledon runner-up in 2016 reached Western & Southern final, losing to Djokovic 6-4 in third set. ... NorCal connection: Won three of his eight career ATP singles titles in now-defunct SAP Open in San Jose, Calif. Never lost set in tournament, winning last three titles (2011, 2012, 2013).

Reilly Opelka — Surprisingly agile at 6-foot-11 (2.11 meters), 23-year-old is best hope to end U.S. men's 17-year title drought in Grand Slam singles, said ESPN commentator Brad Gilbert, adding that Opelka has top-three potential. ... Retired from Western & Southern quarterfinals with knee injury. ... Will open against seventh-seeded David Goffin, 5-foot-11 (1.80-meter) Belgian who has never advanced past fourth round of U.S. Open. ... NorCal connection: Lost in first round of 2018 Stockton and Fairfield Challengers as second and fourth seed, respectively. Blasted 32 aces in three-set Stockton loss to Maxime Janvier of France.

WOMEN

Karolina Pliskova (1) — Runner-up to Angelique Kerber in 2016 U.S. Open climbed to No. 1 following year. ... Upset by Veronika Kudermetova in second round of this week's Western & Southern Open after receiving first-round bye. ...  NorCal connection: Also lost to Kerber in final of 2015 Bank of the West Classic at Stanford.

Sofia Kenin (2) — Stormed to first Grand Slam title in Australian Open in January as 14th seed at age 21. ... Ousted by Alize Cornet in second round of Western & Southern Open after receiving first-round bye. ... NorCal connection: Won Challenger singles titles in 2016 at 17, 2017 and 2018.

Serena Williams (3) — Has lost her last four major finals in straight sets in attempt to tie Margaret Court's record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles. ... Six-time U.S. Open champion has struggled in two tournaments since tour resumed this month. ... Will turn 39 on Sept. 26. ... NorCal connection: Part-time resident of Silicon Valley. Distracted by parole of sister's killer, suffered worst loss of career — 6-1, 6-0 in 51 minutes to Johanna Konta — in first round of inaugural Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic in San Jose, Calif., in 2018. Won Bank of the West Classic in 2011, 2012 and 2014.

NAOMI OSAKA
Photo by Paul Bauman

Naomi Osaka (4) — Former world No. 1 favored to win third Grand Slam singles title despite withdrawing from Western & Southern final against Victoria Azarenka with hamstring injury. ... First major crown came in 2018 U.S. Open at age 20 as she shocked Williams in tumultuous final. ... NorCal connection: Made her WTA main-draw debut in 2014 Bank of the West Classic at 16, stunning 2011 U.S. Open champion Samantha Stosur.

Aryna Sabalenka (5) — Powerful but erratic, 22-year-old Belarusian has never advanced past fourth round of Grand Slam tournament. ... Won U.S. Open doubles title last year with Elise Mertens of Belgium. ... NorCal connection: Reached final of Silicon Valley Classic last August, losing to Zheng Saisai. Formerly coached by Dmitry Tursunov, former top-20 player from Moscow who trained in NorCal as junior and professional.

Garbine Muguruza (10) — Two-time major champion and ex-world No. 1 has not played official match since reaching Doha quarterfinals in February. ... Lost to Kenin in Australian Open final in January. ... NorCal connection: Withdrew from first two Mubadala Silicon Valley Classics in 2018 and 2019. This year's tournament was canceled because of COVID-19 pandemic. In her only two Stanford appearances, reached singles semifinals in 2017 and quarterfinals in 2014 and won doubles title in 2014 with fellow Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro.

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