US Open 2021 preview: Djokovic chases history, Murray & Osaka play, no Williams, Federer, Nadal

By Jonathan JurejkoBBC Sport
Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic and Naomi Osaka
Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic and Naomi Osaka are among the biggest names playing in New York
US Open 2021
Venue: Flushing Meadows, New York Dates: 30 August-12 September
Coverage: Daily radio commentaries on BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra/BBC Sport website and app, with selected live text commentaries and match reports on the website and app

Serbian top seed Novak Djokovic will be the centre of attention as he bids to win a historic 21st Grand Slam men's title at a US Open lacking a slew of his fellow big-name stars.

Serena Williams, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are all missing the New York event through injury - the first major without the three of them in a singles draw since 1997.

Djokovic, 34, will be the main focus as he attempts to complete a rare calendar sweep of the Grand Slams and pull clear of Federer and Nadal in terms of major victories.

Australia's world number one Ashleigh Barty is widely considered as the player to beat in the women's singles, although defending champion Naomi Osaka is aiming to lift the title for the third time in four years.

Another star name who will be at Flushing Meadows is Andy Murray. The 34-year-old Briton has overcome the minor thigh injury that forced him pull to out of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games singles last month.

Who's playing on Monday?

Murray, the 2012 men's singles champion, faces Greek third seed Stefanos Tsitsipas in the first round at about 19:00 BST on Monday.

The opening day of the tournament sees five other Britons playing in the singles - with Dan Evans, Heather Watson, Johanna Konta and Cameron Norrie all playing in consecutive matches on court 10.

Evans starts against Brazil's Thiago Monteiro at 16:00 BST, followed by Watson against Slovenia's Kaja Juvan. Konta then faces France's Kristina Mladenovic before Norrie plays last against Spanish teenager Carlos Alcaraz.

About 18:30 BST, Harriet Dart takes on France's Caroline Garcia on court 15.

Japan's four-time major champion Osaka, American teenage sensation Coco Gauff and men's second seed Daniil Medvedev are among those also playing on Monday.

Monday's order of play on the US Open showcourts
Arthur Ashe StadiumLouis Armstrong Stadium
(From 17:00 BST)(From 16:00 BST)
Madison Keys (US) v Sloane Stephens (US)Donna Vekic (Cro) v Garbine Muguruza [9] (Spa)
Andy Murray (GB) v Stefanos Tsitsipas [3] (Gre)John Isner [19] (US) v Brandon Nakashima (US)
Magda Linette (Pol) v Coco Gauff [21] (US)
(From 00:00 BST)(From 00:00 BST)
Marie Bouzkova (Cze) v Naomi Osaka [3] (Jpn)Nina Stojanovic (Srb) v Aryna Sabalenka [2] (Blr)
Richard Gasquet (Fra) v Daniil Medvedev [2] (Rus)Roberto Bautista Agut [18] (Spa) v Nick Kyrgios (Aus)

No player bubble but fans must prove vaccination

After being closed to fans last year, the tournament will be the first Grand Slam since the coronavirus pandemic started to be allowed a 100% capacity throughout. No spectators meant a $180m budget deficit for the United States Tennis Association in 2020.

Fans at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Centre will be required to show proof of at least one vaccination, however.

Players will be subject to regular coronavirus testing but are not required to stay in a tournament bubble, meaning they are free to wander around Manhattan as they wish.

The message from the players about how the isolation bubbles were affecting their mental health was "loud and clear", US Open chief executive Stacey Allaster said.

"It was important they could have some flexibility," she added.

Dominant Djokovic is the favourite - but who is best placed to deny him?

Most Grand Slam singles titles of all time
No man has won more Grand Slam singles titles than Novak Djokovic - but he still has Steffi Graf, Serena Williams and Margaret Court to catch

After winning this year's Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon, a fourth victory for Djokovic at Flushing Meadows will enable him to enter an exclusive club.

Only five players have previously won all four majors in the same year, with Australian great Rod Laver the only man to have achieved the feat in the Open era.

The Serb starts on Tuesday against Danish teenager Holger Rune, who came through qualifying to reach his first Grand Slam main draw.

"There's no doubt that Djokovic is the clear favourite to win the tournament, his form in the majors has been incredible - it speaks for itself," former British number one Tim Henman said.

"To play so well on hard courts, clay courts, grass courts, I think it really emphasises what a complete player he is.

"So when I reflect on the chances of him completing all four, I think it's Djokovic against the field."

The calendar club - who Djokovic is aiming to emulate
Don Budge (1936)
Maureen Connolly (1953)
Rod Laver (1962, 1969)
Margaret Court (1970)
Steffi Graf (1988)

So, who is best placed to deny Djokovic?

Germany's Alexander Zverev ended Djokovic's hopes of a 'Golden Slam' - all four majors and the Olympic title - with victory in their Tokyo 2020 semi-final last month, going on to win the gold medal himself and then triumphing in the Cincinnati Masters last week.

Russian second seed Daniil Medvedev - the 2019 runner-up who has strong pedigree on the North American hard courts - and Greek third seed Tsitsipas, who lost his maiden major final to Djokovic at the French Open in June, are also looking to challenge.

But there will be no Dominic Thiem. The defending champion from Austria is out for the rest of a season with a wrist injury.

The leading men's seeds at the US Open are Novak Djokovic, Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev, Andrey Rublev, Matteo Berrettini, Denis Shapovalov and Casper Ruud

Barty aiming to cement dominance as Osaka looks to rediscover form

Ashleigh Barty lifts the Cincinnati Masters trophy
Ashleigh Barty has been the world number one since September 2019

With an all-court game that has yielded five titles so far this year, 25-year-old Barty has cemented her place as the world number one and goes into the US Open as the favourite.

After lifting the Cincinnati title last week, Wimbledon champion Barty has notched a tour-high of match wins (40) in 2021 and a 14-1 winning record against top-20 opponents.

"There are no certainties in sport, no certainties in tennis," Barty told the Women's Tennis Association (WTA).

The women's game has been long been unpredictable and there is again a wide open field where a lengthy list of players could conceivably end Barty's bid for dominance.

Osaka, 23, is the obvious name but comes into the tournament having won only three matches in the past three months.

Since taking time off the tour after revealing at the French Open her mental health struggles, the four-time Grand Slam champion has not rediscovered consistency in her powerful, aggressive game from the baseline.

Belarus' Aryna Sabalenka is seeded second as she looks to improve on her run to the Wimbledon semi-finals, while Czech 2016 runner-up Karolina Pliskova and Canada's 2019 champion Bianca Andreescu are also among the top seeds.

The leading women's seeds at the US Open are Ashleigh Barty, Aryna Sabalenka, Naomi Osaka, Karolina Pliskova, Elina Svitolina, Bianca Andreescu, Iga Swiatek and Barbora Krejcikova

Murray fronts British challenge in New York

Former world number one Murray is the biggest draw from a British perspective, although he has been landed a tough opening match against Greek third seed Stefanos Tsitsipas in New York.

After major hip surgery in January 2019, Murray has fought back to resume his singles career but has been besieged by a series of niggling injuries.

The 34-year-old, now ranked 114th in the world, showed encouraging signs in the warm-up events in Cincinnati and Winston-Salem despite going out in the second round at both.

"My level is up and down with no real consistency," the Scot said. "There are moments in matches where I play well and then I make mistakes or miss returns. I wish I wasn't doing that.

"My level is around 50 or 60 in the world. It's frustrating because if I wasn't moving great and not feeling good physically then I would be a bit easier on myself.

"But when I'm winning a low percentage of second-serve points, that's got nothing to do with the physical side of things."

Johanna Konta
Johanna Konta reached the 2019 US Open quarter-finals, but has lost four of her five Grand Slam matches since

British men's number one Evans, 31, is seeded 24th but has struggled for form in recent weeks as he recovered from contracting Covid-19.

After missing the Olympics because of the illness, he has lost his opening matches in Washington, Toronto and Cincinnati before going out in the Winston-Salem Open second round this week.

Konta, Britain's leading women's player, has dropped to 47th in the world rankings after a difficult year in which she has continued to manage a long-standing knee injury, contracted Covid-19 to rule her out of Wimbledon and split with coach Dimitri Zavialoff for a second time.

There was a huge positive earlier this month, though, when she beat Ukraine's world number five Elina Svitolina in Montreal.

Watson - who impressively pushed Barty before succumbing to a straight-set defeat in Cincinnati - and men's 26th seed Norrie are the other Britons with automatic entry into the main singles draws.

Teenager Emma Raducanu is aiming to follow her eye-catching run at Wimbledon - where she announced her arrival on the Grand Slam stage by reaching the fourth round - after coming through qualifying, as did Katie Boulter and Dart.

Britain's Alfie Hewett, Gordon Reid, Jordanne Whiley and Andy Lapthorne are among those competing in the wheelchair competition, while Jamie Murray and Joe Salisbury's pairings are the ones to watch in the men's doubles.

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