What to watch aside from Wil­liams’ Grand Slam bid at the US Open


There is no ques­tion that the most talked­about topic head­ing into the U.S. Open is Ser­ena Wil­liams’ Grand Slam bid. Even if she does dom­i­nate the con­ver­sa­tion, a cer­tain “Big Four” of men’s ten­nis will pro­vide plenty to dis­cuss, too, as usual.

No. 1-seeded Novak Djokovic, for ex­am­ple, has been nearly as dom­i­nant as Wil­liams in 2015. He won the Aus­tralian Open, was the run­ner-up at the French Open, then won Wim­ble­don, part of a 56-5 sea­son that in­cludes six ti­tles and 10 con­sec­u­tive ap­pear­ances in tour­na­ment fi­nals.

Given his ex­cel­lence on hard courts, it’s hard to be­lieve he’s earned the tro­phy only once at Flush­ing Mead­ows.

Five-time U.S. Open win­ner Roger Fed­erer is 34, hasn’t won a Grand Slam cham­pi­onship in more than three years — and yet the No. 2-seeded Swiss star might just be as much of a threat as any­one to be in Arthur Ashe Sta­dium on the sec­ond Sun­day. He made it all the way to the fi­nal at Wim­ble­don be­fore los­ing to Djokovic, then beat the Serb for the hard-court Cincinnati Mas­ters ti­tle this month.

“Still not very happy with my form and with my game,” Djokovic said af­ter that loss to Fed­erer, “but I have a week to work on it.”

No. 3 Andy Mur­ray also de­feated Djokovic in a hard-court fi­nal in Au­gust, at Mon­treal, and has made it to two semi­fi­nals and one fi­nal at this year’s ma­jors. Like Djokovic and Fed­erer, he is a past U.S. Open cham­pion.

Rafael Nadal is worth keep­ing an eye on for the sim­ple rea­son that no one quite knows how well he’ll play. He hardly has per­formed up to the stan­dards that earned 14 Grand Slam ti­tles, in­clud­ing two at the U.S. Open, and is seeded only No. 8. Nadal faces what could be a truly tough test in his open­ing match against 18-year-old Borna Coric. Get past that, then win three more matches, and Nadal could face Djokovic in the quar­ter­fi­nals.

Here are other things to watch at the U.S. Open, which be­gins Mon­day in New York:

Shara­pova’s Chances

Maria Shara­pova is a five-time ma­jor cham­pion, in­clud­ing at the 2006 U.S. Open, but she’s hardly match-ready. She hasn’t com­peted since her semi­fi­nal loss to Wil­liams at Wim­ble­don in July, side­lined since by an in­jured right leg. “You al­ways have to be­lieve in the abil­ity to go through the lit­tle things that you might have,” Shara­pova said. “There’s no ath­lete who’s ever 100 per­cent healthy.”

Kyr­gios and Wawrinka

Mur­ray’s first-round op­po­nent is Nick Kyr­gios, a 20-year-old Aus­tralian who has been in the head­lines for all the wrong rea­sons re­cently. Dur­ing a match in Au­gust, a court­side mi­cro­phone picked up Kyr­gios telling his op­po­nent, two-time ma­jor cham­pion Stan Wawrinka, that another Aus­tralian player had slept with Wawrinka’s girl­friend. Kyr­gios was fined by the ATP — and is on pro­ba­tion for the next six months, with an ad­di­tional fine and a 28-day sus­pen­sion threat­ened. Both Kyr­gios and Wawrinka will be deal­ing with that episode’s fall­out.

Fed­erer’s New Re­turn

Fed­erer showed off a new, netrush­ing, half-volley re­turn in Cincinnati, so it will be in­ter­est­ing to see how much he uses that at the U.S. Open. “I’ll al­ways mix it up,” he said, “and make it, I guess, un­com­fort­able for my op­po­nent.”

Fish’s Farewell

Mardy Fish, a 32-year-old Amer­i­can once ranked in the top 10, will be play­ing the fi­nal tour­na­ment of his ca­reer af­ter deal­ing with anx­i­ety dis­or­der, which forced him to with­draw from the 2012 U.S. Open. His first-round op­po­nent is 102nd-ranked Marco Cecchi­nato of Italy, who has never played a Grand Slam match and is 0-6 in tourlevel matches.

Rais­ing the Roof

Fans still have to sit out rain de­lays at Arthur Ashe Sta­dium for one more year, but they’ll get a break from the sun. The frame­work to sup­port a re­tractable roof has been in­stalled above the tour­na­ment’s main court, pro­vid­ing shade for part of the up­per deck, which used to bake on hot days. The fully op­er­a­tional roof is sched­uled to be in place for the 2016 U.S. Open. Four new video screens also have been added at Ashe, re­plac­ing the pre­vi­ous two.

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