US Open 2021 snapshot: Crowds back in New York – but stars Federer, Nadal, Williams sisters are not

Defending champ Thiem also absent; Djokovic goes for historic title

Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic (Photo: Corinne Dubreuil for Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters)

One year ago, the US Open was one of the first big tennis events to take place after the global lockdown fuelled by Covid 19. Not only that, Flushing Meadows also became the bubble for the Cincinnati Masters. New York may have relaunched the tennis calendar but not the freedom to roam.

There were no crowds, and no opportunity for players and their modest teams to enjoy the Big Apple. Everything was under tight supervision, so it became a tournament where the usually upper-crust boxes overlooking Arthur Ashe Arena became the most sought-after spots for the athletes. The seeds got the pick of them, but with the passing days and player exits, the lower ranks got their place in the sun.

There were gaps in the draws, too: players were given the option of staying at home rather than running the gauntlet of travel and quarantines in the year of Covid. This year, though, there are gaps caused by injury—and not just any gaps.

The men’s defending champion, for one, as Dominic Thiem pulled out with a wrist injury. Five-time champion Roger Federer withdrew to undergo his third knee surgery in a row, while four-time winner Rafael Nadal is absent with a foot injury.

Even worse for the tournament, its most famous daughters, with eight singles titles between them—Serena Williams and sister Venus—have both withdrawn with ongoing injury problems. Meanwhile, the much younger American star, and one of the newest Major champions, Sofia Kenin, has been forced out by Covid infection.

Williams’ absence postpones once again the Serena campaign for a record 24th Major, after four times coming within just one match-win of that Margaret Court target. And with her 40th birthday on the horizon, the door is slowly closing.

The same may be said of Federer, already 40 and suffering the longest absence and biggest hurdle in his entire career. He has seen first Nadal and latterly Djokovic match his 20 Majors tally—and may now be forced to watch the record taken by one of his greatest rivals.

For that has become the talk of the season, and increasingly so since Djokovic added the Wimbledon title to the Australian and French Opens this year. With victory in New York, he would match the icon that is Rod Laver as the only man to win the Calendar Grand Slam in the Open era. What is more, it would take Djokovic beyond Federer and Nadal in that record Major tally.

And while the men’s No1 is the hot favourite to do just that, the women’s No1 Ashleigh Barty is also proving to be the form player of 2021 after she resisted leaving a locked-down Australia last season.

Since winning the Yarra Valley Classic this January, she has added titles in Miami, Stuttgart, Wimbledon and Cincinnati, made the Madrid final, is 14-1 against top-20 opposition, and the tour leader with 40 match-wins and five titles.

But as the WTA background feature this week points out, there are plenty of challengers in the mix. Since last October, there have been two French Opens, an Australian Open, Wimbledon and the Tokyo Olympics: “Not only were there five different winners, there were, incredibly, 20 different semi-finalists.”

And those 20 do not included the likes of Simona Halep, Garbine Muguruza, Victoria Azarenka, Cori Gauff, and many more.

So who is in, who’s out, who’s in form—on hard courts—and what is on the line?

Prize money

The total prize money this year is $57.5 million.

Champs $2,500,000

Fourth round $265,000

First round $76,000

Third round qualies $42,000

Main singles draws: 128, including 16 qualifiers and 8 wild cards

Top four seeds ATP

Novak Djokovic

Daniil Medvedev

Stefanos Tsitsipas

Alexander Zverev

Top four seeds WTA

Ash Barty

Aryna Sabalenka

Naomi Osaka

Karolina Pliskova

Former champions in draw ATP

No1 Novak Djokovic [won 2011, 2015, 2018]

No36 Marin Cilic [won 2014]

No114 Andy Murray [won 2012]

Main draw absentees

No5 Rafael Nadal [four-time champion]

No6 Dominic Thiem [defending champion]

No9 Roger Federer [five-time champion]

No31 Stan Wawrinka [2016 champion]

No34 Milos Raonic

No35 Borna Coric

Former champions in draw WTA

No3 Naomi Osaka [defending and two-time champion]

No7 Bianca Andreescu [2019]

No17 Angelique Kerber [2016]

No64 Sloane Stephens [2017]

No186 Sam Stosur [2011] [protected ranking]

Main draw absentees

No5 Sofia Kenin

No22 Serena Williams [six-time champion

No42 Ludmilla Samsonova

No48 Qiang Wang

No55 Laura Siegemund

[Also Venus Williams, ranked 147, champion in 2000, 2001]

Outdoor hard court champs 2021 ATP

No1 Novak Djokovic; No2 Daniil Medvedev; No4 Alexander Zverev; No13 Hubert Hurkacz; No16 Jannik Sinner; No17 Alex de Minaur; No22 John Isner; No24 Aslan Karatsev; No27 Dan Evans; No29 Cam Norrie; No39 Nikoloz Basilashvili

Outdoor hard court champs 2021 WTA

No1 Ash Barty; No2 Aryna Sabalenka; No3 Naomi Osaka; No8 Iga Swiatek; No9 Barbora Krejcikova; No10 Garbine Muguruza; No11 Petra Kvitova; No12 Belinda Bencic; No16 Elise Mertens; No27 Daria Kasatkina; No28 Danielle Collins; No36 Camila Giorgi; No43 Sara Sorribes Tormo; No72 Leylah Fernandez

Brits in draw

No27 Dan Evans

No29 Cam Norrie

No47 Johanna Konta

No62 Heather Watson

Also in qualifying: Liam Broady, Jodie Burrage, Emma Raducanu, Katie Boulter, Harriet Dart, Samantha Murray Sharan, Francesca Jones

Previews to follow…

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