Serena, Nadal, Federer launch US Open title bids

Tennis stars gear up for the year's final Grand Slam event at Flushing Meadows in New York

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 August, 2013, 4:41pm
UPDATED : Monday, 26 August, 2013, 4:41pm

Top-seed Serena Williams starts defending her US Open crown in New York on Monday while Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer join her at the Arthur Ashe Stadium for tennis’ final Grand Slam event of the year.

Williams, seeking her 17th Grand Slam singles crown and her fifth US Open title, faces Italy’s 54th-ranked Francesca Schiavone in the opening night match on the Flushing Meadows hard courts.

“It will be a good match,” said Williams. “She’s a really good player. She’s a big fighter and she’s dangerous.”

Williams, 31, has beaten Schiavone five times and lost twice, including a second-round victory earlier this month at the Rogers Cup in Toronto on her way to her eighth title of the season, including a Grand Slam crown at the French Open. But, she says, she doesn’t need another high-profile victory to make this a special year.

“That’s the beauty of my career. I don’t need to do anything at all,” Williams said. “Everything I do from this day forward is a bonus. Everything for me is just extra.”

In the men’s tournament second seed Rafael Nadal, also a reigning French Open champion, launches his quest for a 13th career Grand Slam title against wildcard Ryan Harrison from the US.

The Spaniard defeated Harrison in their only previous meeting, which came in Nadal’s first hard court match of the year in March at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells after a seven-month lay-off due to a knee injury.

Nadal went on to win at Indian Wells as well as this month at Montreal and Cincinnati and enters this US Open with a 15-0 hard court record this season.

“It has been great,” Nadal said. “But there’s no time to think about what happened. It’s only time to think about what’s going on. What’s important is (to) try to be ready for the first round of the US Open. I have a tough opponent in front of me, Ryan Harrison, and I am focused on that. I hope to be ready to play well. I hope to be very competitive for the first match.”

Nadal, who would take home US$3.6 million by winning the US Open title, would also end Novak Djokovic’s reign as world number one, if the Serb also fails to reach the final for a fourth year in a row.

Federer, who at seventh is seeded in his lowest position at the tournament since 2002, suffered his earliest Grand Slam exit with a second-round loss at Wimbledon earlier this year.

The Swiss star, with a men’s record 17 Grand Slam crowns but no US Open title since his fifth in a row in 2008, opens his campaign in a night match against Slovenia’s Grega Zemlja, who has not troubled Federer in two prior meetings, most recently at the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam in February.

Federer will equal another record by making his 56th consecutive Grand Slam appearance, a remarkable run that began at the 2000 Australian Open. South African Wayne Ferreira set the mark with a run that ended at the 2004 US Open.

“I’ve put in the hard work for so many years. That keeps my base at a very high level,” Federer said. “It’s actually more comfortable with my body today than it has been in the past.”

Venus Williams, a seven-time Grand Slam champion who has been nagged by back pain and last reached a Slam semifinal at the 2010 US Open, has a tough first-round match against Belgian 12th seed Kirsten Flipkens.

“She is getting better and better,” Serena Williams said of Venus. “She had a really good shot at Flipkens last time. I think she has a good chance.”

US 15th-seed Sloane Stephens, a possible fourth-round foe for Serena, opens against Luxembourg’s Mandy Minella. Stephens ousted Serena Williams in the Australian Open quarterfinals and reached the last eight at Wimbledon.

“Sloane has had such a good year,” Serena said. “She’s such a good player and she is so smooth. She just has this game and this confidence that’s not easy to get. It’s so good to see her doing well.”