Serena v Sharapova set for US Open first round

Published by Reuters

Serena Williams (L) and Maria Sharapova last clashed in the Australian Open 2016 quarterfinals (pictured), a match won by Williams (Getty Images)
A blockbuster clash between Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova is one of several stellar first-round match-ups at the US Open.

Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova will have their first ever clash at Flushing Meadows at the US Open next week after being drawn against each other in the first round.

It will be the 22nd career match-up between the two long-time rivals, who somehow have avoided each other at the US Open throughout their long careers.

Meanwhile, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer have been drawn in the same half of the US Open, putting them on track for a semifinal meeting.

Twelve months after losing the final to Naomi Osaka, Williams will have to hit the ground running in her quest for a 24th Grand Slam title.

In other absorbing first-round match-ups, former world No.1 Victoria Azarenka takes on countrywoman and ninth seed Aryna Sabalenka, while in the men’s draw, good friends Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime clash in an all-Canadian affair.

The 37-year-old Serena will take confidence from her dominant 19-2 head-to-head record against five-time Grand Slam winner Sharapova, who is unseeded.

Williams has won the US Open six times — the most recent in 2014 — while Sharapova’s lone title came in 2006 when she beat Justine Henin-Hardenne in the final.

Sharapova beat Williams twice in 2004, but has not prevailed since, not counting a walkover in the 2018 French Open, where the American pulled out with an injury.

If Williams, the eighth seed, beats Sharapova and subsequent opponents, she could meet top seed Osaka again in the final, as the pair are on opposite sides of the draw.

Last year’s final ended in acrimony between Williams and chair umpire Carlos Ramos, after he gave her three code violations in the second set.

Williams has not played since retiring with a back injury in the final of the Rogers Cup in Toronto against Bianca Andreescu on 11 August.

Sharapova, ranked 87th in the world, has also battled injuries this year and was beaten by Australia’s Ashleigh Barty in the second round of the Cincinnati Masters last week.

Osaka, the No.1 seed, opens against Anna Blinkova while second seed Barty plays Zarina Diyas first up.

Djokovic, Federer land in same half

Top seed Djokovic, who saved two match points in the All England Club final to deny Federer a record ninth title at the grasscourt championships, will start his campaign against 76th-ranked Roberto Carballes Baena in New York next week.

The Serbian then faces a potential second-round showdown against American Sam Querrey.

Third seed Federer, who won the last of his five Flushing Meadows trophies in 2008, will open against a qualifier as he chases a 21st major singles title.

Djokovic has a 26-22 head-to-record record against Federer, and has won their last four meetings. They are 3-3 at Flushing Meadows, with Djokovic winning the last three times, most recently in the 2015 final.

On the other side of the draw, second seed Rafael Nadal, who was beaten by Federer in the Wimbledon semifinals, will play Australian John Millman in the first round of the hardcourt major which starts on Monday.

Millman reached the US Open quarterfinals last year after knocking out Federer in the last 16.

The Spaniard, three-times a champion in New York, could run into 2014 champion Marin Cilic in the fourth round.

Djokovic says he is ready for another Grand Slam tilt, almost two months after claiming his 16th title at Wimbledon.

Speaking at the draw on Thursday, he said the Wimbledon final against Federer was one of the two most memorable matches of his career, along with the six-hour marathon against he won against Nadal in the 2012 Australian Open final.

“It took me time to reflect on everything, relax… and then get back on track,” he said of Wimbledon.

In other first-round matches next week, Austrian fourth seed Dominic Thiem meets 87th-ranked Italian Thomas Fabbiano, while fifth seed Daniil Medvedev begins his campaign against 89th-ranked Indian Prajnesh Gunneswaran.

Medvedev is coming off three successive finals in as many weeks, culminating with victory over David Goffin in Cincinnati on Sunday, which came after the Russian had beaten Djokovic in the semifinals.

Medvedev could meet Djokovic as early as the quarterfinals in New York.

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