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Serena Williams Will Play Maria Sharapova in First Round of U.S. Open

Serena Williams has beaten Maria Sharapova nearly everywhere. On courts hard and soft, fast and slow, indoors and outdoors. Blue clay was a novelty surface introduced for only one week, in Madrid in 2012; Williams made sure she beat Sharapova there, too.

But Williams, 37, and Sharapova, 32, who have met in the finals of the other three Grand Slam events, have never played each other at the United States Open. That will change this year: The eighth-seeded Williams on Thursday drew the unseeded Sharapova for a first-round matchup in this year’s women’s singles competition.

Williams has won her last 18 matches against Sharapova, dating to 2005, and is 19-2 over all against her.

The two have not played each other since the 2016 Australian Open. Shortly after that match, Sharapova produced a urine sample that tested positive for the substance meldonium, which had recently been banned, resulting in a suspension that ultimately lasted 15 months.

When Sharapova returned to the tour, in April 2017, Williams was on maternity leave after giving birth to her daughter, Olympia, seven months earlier.

Williams and Sharapova were supposed to face each other in the fourth round of the 2018 French Open, Williams’s first Grand Slam event as a mother. But Williams withdrew shortly before the match was scheduled to begin, citing a pectoral injury.

Williams has reached finals at three of the last five Grand Slam events — the last two years at Wimbledon and at the controversy-plagued 2018 U.S. Open — but has not won a title since returning from childbirth.

Sharapova has won only one title since her ban, in 2017 at a small tournament in Tianjin, China. After defeating the defending champion Caroline Wozniacki en route to the fourth round of the Australian Open in January, Sharapova missed most of the season with injuries and is ranked 87th, which made such a star-studded first-round match possible.

Williams has an injury cloud of her own: She retired from the Canadian Open final and pulled out of the Cincinnati tournament with back spasms. She has not finished a hardcourt tournament this year without an injury or illness causing her exit.

Sharapova had a high-profile first-round match at the U.S. Open two years ago, prevailing against second-seeded Simona Halep. That win is among the few bright spots in her post-suspension career, which has not seen her re-enter the top 20.

The winner of the Williams-Sharapova match will face either 88th-ranked Timea Bacsinszky, a former top-10 player, or Caty McNally, a 17-year-old American who reached the semifinals of the Citi Open in Washington this month. Hsieh Su-wei, a tricky Taiwanese veteran seeded 29th, looms in the third round. Anastasija Sevastova, who is seeded 12th and has reached the quarterfinals or better in each of the last three years at the Open, is a potential fourth-round opponent.

All these players share the bottom quarter of the draw with second-seeded Ashleigh Barty, this year’s French Open champion. Elsewhere in the bottom half are third-seeded Karolina Pliskova and fifth-seeded Elina Svitolina, who could face Venus Williams in the second round.

The defending champion and No. 1 seed, Naomi Osaka, leads the top half of the draw. Coco Gauff, the 15-year-old American who had a breakthrough performance at Wimbledon in July, could play Osaka in the third round. Gauff begins with a fellow teenager, 18-year-old Anastasia Potapova of Russia, and could then face No. 28 Carla Suárez Navarro.

Osaka, who retired from her quarterfinal match in Cincinnati last week because of an acute knee injury, sounded a note of optimism about being ready for the Open, saying she was “getting better” with her title defense only days away.

“I would say I’m a fast healer, so I’m banking on that,” she said onstage after the draws were completed. “I’m here and I feel as healthy as I can be.”

Among the other notable first-round matches:

No. 9 Aryna Sabalenka vs. Victoria Azarenka, the top two players from Belarus

Wimbledon quarterfinalist Alison Riske vs. No. 24 Garbiñe Muguruza, a two-time Grand Slam champion.

Denis Shapovalov vs. No. 18 Felix Auger-Aliassime, rising Canadian stars who also met in the first round last year

No. 8 Stefanos Tsitsipas vs. Andrey Rublev, who upset Roger Federer in Cincinnati last week.

Like Serena Williams and Sharapova, the longtime rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have never played each other at the U.S. Open. If that is to happen this year, it will have to be in the final. The third-seeded Federer was drawn into the top half of the draw with top-seeded Novak Djokovic, the defending men’s champion, who beat Federer in a classic Wimbledon final last month.

Djokovic would have several challenges before a potential semifinal meeting with Federer. After facing unseeded Roberto Carballés Baena in the first round, Djokovic could face Sam Querrey, who beat him in the third round of Wimbledon three years ago. In the fourth round, Djokovic could face 23rd-seeded Stan Wawrinka, a three-time Grand Slam champion.

In the quarterfinals, Djokovic could have a rematch with fifth-seeded Daniil Medvedev, who has been the hottest player in tennis this summer. Medvedev reached three finals in a row, in Washington, Montreal and Cincinnati, winning the third after beating Djokovic in the semifinals.

The second-seeded Nadal, anchoring the bottom half of the draw, avoided the rest of the Big Three, but could play two Australians who defeated Federer last year. Nadal opens against John Millman, who beat Federer in stifling humidity on the way to the quarterfinals last year. In the second round, Nadal could face Thanasi Kokkinakis, a talented but injury-plagued 23-year-old ranked 203rd who knocked Federer out in Miami.

Also in Nadal’s half of the draw are No. 4 Dominic Thiem, No. 6 Alexander Zverev and No. 8 Stefanos Tsitsipas.

More U.S. Open CoverageThis Slam Never SleepsAug. 22, 2019Night Tennis Like Nowhere ElseAug. 22, 2019Did Venus Williams Ever Get Her Due?Aug. 22, 2019


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