Prajnesh Gunneswaran v Daniil Medvedev  | First meeting
The return of Popcorn & Jigglypuff as we lead with our marquee match… and look at the one that will send us all to sleep!
NEW YORK, USA – The loudest, brashest Slam of the year is upon us and what a way to start with the match-up that made everyone sit up and take notice at the draw ‘reveal’.
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Serena Williams  v Maria Sharapova | Williams leads H2H 19-2
There are a few tasty first round encounters in the draw but of course the one everyone wants to see, that will occupy pride of place in the first night session is Serena Williams against old foe Maria Sharapova.
Quite aside from the fact that many will want to see Williams return to the scene of the now infamous meltdown last year – but we were denied a show down between the pair, especially following Sharapova’s return from a drugs ban at last year’s French Open. The returning Williams (from maternity leave) had to pull out of their fourth-round clash with a pectoral injury – but the time has come.
Of course, Sharapova is not averse to a first round upset – at the US Open she drew Simona Halep in the opening round and on beating her in three sets, celebrated as though she had won the whole shebang – again following on from her return to the tour. However, that return has been dogged by injury.
While she has had a few flutters of continuity, her struggles this year with her shoulder saw her off the tour completely after St Petersburg until her return in the grass court season and Sharapova has yet to put together back to back wins since reaching the fourth round of the Australian Open at the start of the year.
That is not to say that Williams has fared any better. Retiring from the Toronto final just four games in to Bianca Andreescu, prompting the teenager to console her on the never-ending cycle of injuries, Williams was really only ready to compete in the grass court season this year, having struggled with knee problems for most of the year, and now troubled with back spasms.
By the time the US Open rolls around it is very much a war of attrition, and then we have the pressure on Williams’ shoulders to reach ’24’.
However, a fit and youthful Sharapova had her only two wins over Williams in her breakthrough year. Since then she has rarely looked like she could clock up any more wins, but somehow it feels this time around that the playing field is perhaps more level than it has been in the past.
Williams has been the more consistent in the run up to the US Open, and providing both take to the court, the 23-time Slam champion has to start the favourite, but the days of a dominating straight sets won over the Russian might be over. Expect this to be a lot tighter.
Another spicy encounter is former US Open champion Angelique Kerber, whose form has been a little variable of late, versus a player that has the ability to get under the skin, Kristina Mladenovic.
While Kerber parted ways with coach Rainer Schuettler after Wimbledon, Mladenovic scored a major advantage in snapping up Sascha Bajin after is surprising split from Naomi Osaka, having guided her to two successive Slam victories. Mladenovic’s own ranking had tanked quite remarkably, and she had been working with her mother as her principal coach.
Neither player has had the best start to the US swing, with Mladenovic perhaps having a few more matches in her legs than Kerber who had a disappointing Wimbledon with a second-round exit as the defending champion, and two first round losses. But this tournament is where it all really started for Kerber in 2011 after what had been a shocking year of results.
Since then Kerber has been a near constant in the upper-reaches of the rankings and has the upper-hand against the French-woman. However, this might be a bit more of a battle – and that could do Kerber the world of good as she always seems at her best when she is up against it.
Prediction: Kerber in three sets.
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While all eyes continue to be on the more established names of the next generation of ATP stars (Dominic Thiem now a two-time Slam finalist, Alexander Zverev still to really prove himself over five sets), there is a new name on the block, and arguably the man of the moment where the US autumn hard-court series is concerned. Two finals and a maiden Masters title, Daniil Medvedevsnaps up the No. 5 seed spot and is most definitely one to watch over the next fortnight.
His best performance in any Slam came at the start of the year with a run to the fourth round of the Australian Open and last year only made it to the third round at the US Open. He is slated to meet Novak Djokovic (who beat him in Australia) at the quarter-final stage, and his opponent today has never made it past the first round of any Slam – and this stat is hardly likely to change but it will be interesting to see how the flurry of finals will affect Medvedev and whether he can set down a marker.
Prediction: Medvedev in three sets
Jiggly Puff of the Day: Roger Federer v Sumit Nagal
Despite Roger Federer’s faltering start to the US hard-court autumn with an early loss in Cincinnati, this match-up against Indian qualifier Sumit Nagal should provide Federer with the light work-out he needs to get some rhythm back into his game and warm up to the prospect of seven wins on the bounce.
We can expect Federer’s usual balletic style of play to be a masterclass for the qualifier – but the early rounds for the 20-time Slam champion tends to be little more than an exhibition – and hardly makes for exciting viewing for all but the hardiest of Federer fans.
Following on from the popcorn encounter of Williams and Sharapova, it might afford those of us not in the USA and in other time-zones some much-needed shut-eye, secure in the knowledge that Federer has returned to business as usual in the first week of a Slam, until we need to take note as we get to the business end next week.
Prediction: Federer in straight sets
Play begins on Day 1 of the US Open at 11am (4pm BST).
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