Home Sport Osaka eyeing third US title, while Serena isn’t done yet

Osaka eyeing third US title, while Serena isn’t done yet

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Japan’s Naomi Osaka is seeking her third US Open title in four tries. Picture: Giuseppe Cacace, AFP

What’s uncertain is whether New York will see Osaka rediscover the dominant form that saw her win the past two Grand Slam events she played to the finish.

DEFENDING champion Naomi Osaka is seeking her third US Open title in four tries as the year’s final Grand Slam begins Monday with top-ranked Wimbledon winner Ashleigh Barty leading a host of rivals.

What’s uncertain is whether New York will see Osaka rediscover the dominant form that saw her win the past two Grand Slam events she played to the finish. The 23-year-old Japanese star lit the flame in the Olympic cauldron at the Tokyo Games, but has played only two matches since Japan ahead of the Open.

“I know there are a lot of things I need to fix within my game, so in a weird way I’m kind of glad that I lost, because there are so many things that I want to fix before New York,” Osaka said.

“I feel like my level is not that far off … if I want to keep being more positive with myself, I need to think about the things that I could improve on. There are definitely a lot of things.”

Osaka pulled out of the French Open after being fined for not talking to reporters after her first match, saying it hurt her mental health. She then skipped Wimbledon but spoke with the media after matches in her US Open tune-up at Cincinnati.

“I felt like it was something I needed to do for myself,” Osaka said. “I’m proud of what I did and I think it was something that needed to be done. Sometimes we feel like really sad, and I feel like maybe there should be a rule that we could maybe take a sick day from (answering questions).”

Osaka captured last year’s US Open title by defeating Victoria Azarenka in the final, becoming the first woman since 1994 to rally from a set down to win the US Open final. At this year’s Australian Open, Osaka saved match points against Spain’s Garbine Muguruza in the fourth round and beat 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams in the semi-finals before defeating Jen Brady in the final.

Osaka, ranked third, has won her first four Grand Slam finals, trailing only Roger Federer’s run of seven and six by Monica Seles for the best Slam final start in the Open Era (since 1968). Barty, in her 83rd consecutive week atop the world rankings, has rolled to wins at Wimbledon and Cincinnati, putting her on her best form entering the Flushing Meadows fortnight.

The 25-year-old Australian’s 2021 titles also include Miami, Melbourne and Stuttgart and boosted her career total to 13. “I feel comfortable and ready,” Barty said. “I feel good, I feel ready. Certainly been a big year and we’ve still got a bit to go yet.”

Barty won her first major title at the 2019 French Open and her second trophy in London put her halfway to a career Grand Slam.

“I hadn’t even thought about it,” Barty said. “It took me 25 years to get the first two, so let’s hope it doesn’t take another 25 to get the next two. We’ll leave it at that.”

Meanwhile, in the Men’s draw top-ranked Novak Djokovic will try to complete the first calendar-year men’s singles Grand Slam since 1969 and become the all-time men’s leader in Slam titles by capturing the US Open.

Novak Djokovic of Serbia will try to complete the first calendar-year men’s singles Grand Slam since 1969 and become the all-time men’s leader in Slam titles by capturing the US Open. Picture, Reuters, Edgar Su

Five past champions won’t be in the field when the showdown begins Monday on the New York hardcourts, with Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Stan Wawrinka, Juan Martin del Potro and 2020 winner Dominic Thiem absent due to injuries.

That leaves the main obstacles in Djokovic’s path to a 21st career Slam crown as a set of rising 20-something talents trying to build their trophy hauls – Russia’s second-ranked Daniil Medvedev, Greece’s third-ranked Stefanos Tsitsipas and fourth-ranked Olympic champion Alexander Zverev of Germany.

The roots of Djokovic’s amazing 2021 run were in last year’s US Open, where he was defaulted out of the tournament in the fourth round against Pablo Carreno Busta when he struck a ball and it accidentally hit a line official in the throat.

The 34-year-old Serbian star has not lost a Grand Slam match this year, beating Medvedev in the Australian Open final, Tsitsipas in the French Open final and Italy’s Matteo Berrettini in the Wimbledon final.

“It’s really fortunate for me and incredible that it’s all coming together in the same year,” Djokovic said. “That’s something that I didn’t expect, but I always dream of achieving the biggest things in sport.”

He’s trying for a calendar-year men’s Slam feat managed only by Australian Rod Laver in 1962 and 1969 and American Don Budge in 1938. In his career, Djokovic has won nine Australian Opens, six Wimbledon crowns, two French Opens and the 2011, 2015 and 2018 US Opens.

He has spent a record span at world number one, more than 335 weeks, and comes into the US Open not having played since losing the Olympic bronze medal match to Spain’s Carrena Busto.

Serena Williams, meanwhile, won’t be chasing a 24th Grand Slam singles title at the US Open, but with her 40th birthday only a month away, she will be starting perhaps her greatest challenge in closing out her career on her own terms.

USA’s Serena Williams will be starting perhaps her greatest challenge in closing out her career on her own terms. Picture: Action Images via Reuters, Jason Cairnduff, File Photo

Williams revealed on Wednesday she would miss the New York hardcourt showdown with a torn right hamstring suffered in a first-round match last month at Wimbledon.

“After careful consideration and following the advice of my doctors and medical team, I have decided to withdraw from the US Open to allow my body to heal completely from a torn hamstring,” Williams posted on Instagram.

Williams, whose 23 Grand Slam singles crowns are one shy of Margaret Court’s all-time record, will be battling back from injury at an age when most players have retired.

The American star is already the oldest woman to win a Grand Slam singles crown, taking the 2018 Australian Open title at age 35 while pregnant before taking a year off to give birth to daughter Olympia.

She suffered a pulmonary embolism after delivery and was bed-ridden for six weeks but battled back to world-class form, reaching the 2018 and 2019 finals at Wimbledon and the US Open, and until now hadn’t missed a Grand Slam start since her motherhood hiatus.

Williams failed to take a set in any of the four trophy matches, the last in New York just shy of her 38th birthday making her the oldest female finalist in Grand Slam singles history. Ken Rosewall was 37 when he became the oldest Grand Slam singles winner and 39 when he reached the 1974 US Open final. If Serena should reach another Slam singles final, she would become the oldest man or woman to do so.

Whether or not Williams ever matches Court’s record, many consider her the greatest women’s tennis player ever.

“Either way she’s the greatest female player in my book that has ever played, one of the greatest athletes, period, that has ever played,” said US legend John McEnroe.

The woman who began playing against older sister Venus under the guidance of her father Richard has won seven Australian Open and seven Wimbledon titles, three French Opens and six US Open crowns, including her first at age 17 at Arthur Ashe Stadium in 1999.

AFP

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