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U.S. Open Draw Lacks Some Stars, but Not Story Lines

After months of hesitation and uncertainty in the tennis world, a welcome development arrived on Thursday: the men’s and women’s singles draws for the United States Open.

For many fans, the bracket for the tournament, which is set to begin on Monday, was tangible confirmation that the professional tennis tour is indeed back. Although there have been plenty of exhibition matches, and some sanctioned tournaments, they have all felt like practice runs, tests to make sure the Grand Slam events could return. And now, after the cancellation of Wimbledon and the postponement of the French Open, they have.

Although some big names will be missing from this year’s U.S. Open, this draw also includes the return of two veterans. On the men’s side, there is Andy Murray, who last participated in singles at a major tournament in 2019, at the Australian Open. He then had his second hip operation in a year and openly questioned whether he would be able to return to professional tennis. But he was back playing singles tournaments by the end of 2019, before a pelvic injury kept him out of this year’s Australian Open.

In his first match at the U.S. Open, he will face Yoshihito Nishioka, a 24-year-old left-hander with a similar, physical style of play.

On the women’s side, an equally formidable former champion is returning: Kim Clijsters, who is returning from a second retirement to play in her first Grand Slam event since the 2012 U.S. Open — where she and Murray were the singles champions. In the first round, she will face Ekaterina Alexandrova, the No. 21 seed, who was 2 years old when Clijsters played in her first WTA event.

Aside from sentimental favorites, the draw revealed the most compelling potential matchups and story lines of the tournament. Here are five takeaways from the draw announcement:

Novak Djokovic, the men’s No. 1., has openly stated that he wished Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, his two main rivals, would have joined him at this year’s U.S. Open. But Federer is still recovering from knee surgery and Nadal opted not to participate because of coronavirus concerns, leaving a relatively simple path to the finals for Djokovic.

His hardest potential matchup is against the seventh-seeded David Goffin, who has beaten Djokovic once in eight meetings, and that victory came in 2017 on the red clay of Monte Carlo, Goffin’s favored surface. It seems unlikely that Djokovic’s run would stop anytime before the semifinals at the least.

ImageSloane Stephens, left, and Serena Williams at Indian Wells in 2015.
Credit…Julian Finney/Getty Images

Serena Williams could run into Sloane Stephens, a fellow American and the 2017 U.S. Open champion, in the third round. Stephens has been sometimes viewed as a potential successor to Williams, but has only won once in their six head-to-head matches.

This would be their first meeting since the 2015 French Open, and Serena will hope to push past Stephens as she pursues a record 24th Grand Slam title.

The 2020 Australian Open champion, Sofia Kenin could easily be considered one of the favorites to win in Flushing. But she faces an incredibly difficult quarter of the draw, one filled with former champions as well as exciting, young challengers. Kenin, the No. 2 seed, could meet Ons Jabeur of Tunisia, who reached the quarterfinals of the Cincinnati Open, in the third round.

In the round of 16, either the 16th-seeded Elise Mertens or Kim Clijsters will most likely be awaiting her. And her quarterfinal matchup could be any number of stiff opponents, including the veterans Victoria Azarenka and Venus Williams, or highly ranked players in their prime, like Karolina Muchova and Johanna Konta.

Last year, a 15-year-old Coco Gauff stormed into the spotlight with scintillating performances at Wimbledon and kept it up in the early rounds at the U.S. Open. Naomi Osaka, the 2018 champion, defeated her in the third round and, in one of the tournament’s most memorable scenes, invited a visibly emotional Gauff to join her for the on-court interview after the match.

This year, the two could get a rematch in the third round at Flushing. The two also met in the third round of the Australian Open this year, with Gauff winning in two sets of incredible tennis. Here’s hoping we’ll get to see a thrilling matchup between the two young stars again.

Credit…Ben Solomon for The New York Times

Only one of last year’s semifinalists, Rafael Nadal, will not be participating in this year’s tournament. The other three are packed into one quarter of the draw: Daniil Medvedev, Matteo Berrettini, and Grigor Dimitrov all have reasons to believe that they can match their runs from last year, but the draw will make that task difficult.

In the same quarter is Andrey Rublev, who reached the round of 16 last year as an unseeded player before losing to Berrettini in three hard-fought sets.

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