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US Open 2021 kick-starts today: Djokovic chases history, Murray & Osaka play, no Williams, Federer, Nadal

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 to pull out of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games singles last month.

Novak Djokovic

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.

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 Corona virus 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 also be subject to regular Corona virus 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?

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

Only five players have previously won all four majors in the same year, with Australian great Rod Laver, who is 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, as 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 emphasizes 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.”

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 the season with a wrist injury.

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.”

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