US OPEN 2021: Osaka defends title; Djokovic seeks true Slam

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NEW YORK (AP)A glance at the U.S. Open, the last Grand Slam tennis tournament of 2021:

SURFACE

Hard courts.

SITE

USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows.

SCHEDULE

The 14-day tournament begins Monday. The women’s singles final is Saturday, Sept. 11; the men’s singles final is Sunday, Sept. 12. There are separate day and night sessions.

SPECTATORS

Fans will be allowed back at the tournament – with no requirements to wear masks at matches but they must show proof of having at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot – a year after all spectators were banned because of the coronavirus pandemic.

2020 WOMEN’S SINGLES CHAMPION

Naomi Osaka of Japan.

2020 MEN’S SINGLES CHAMPION

Dominic Thiem of Austria.

LAST YEAR

Osaka came back to beat Victoria Azarenka in the women’s final for a 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory to earn her second U.S. Open championship and third Grand Slam title overall (she has since added a fourth). It was the first time a woman who lost the first set of a U.S. Open final wound up winning since 1994, when Arantxa Sanchez Vicario did it against Steffi Graf. Osaka also made a point of being a voice for change by calling attention to racial injustice during the tournament, wearing masks to each match that carried the names of Black victims of violence. ”The point,” Osaka explained then, ”is to make people start talking.” A day later, Thiem became the first man in 71 years to win the tournament’s final after dropping the opening two sets, beating Alexander Zverev 2-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (6) for his first Grand Slam title. It was also the first time in tournament history the men’s final culminated in a fifth-set tiebreaker. Novak Djokovic entered as the tournament favorite but was disqualified in the fourth round for accidentally hitting a line judge in the throat with a ball he hit after losing a game.

WHO’S MISSING

Thiem is sidelined with an injured right wrist and so will not be back to defend his title, and for the second year in a row, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are sitting out the U.S. Open. Federer needs another operation on his right knee; Nadal has an injured left foot. Both are done for the year. They share the men’s record of 20 Grand Slam singles trophies with Djokovic, who is again seeded No. 1 in New York. Also absent: Serena Williams, owner of 23 major singles championships, and Venus Williams, owner of seven.

KEY STATISTIC I

1969 – The last time a man (Rod Laver) won all four Grand Slam singles titles in one season. Djokovic will be bidding to match that feat after winning the Australian Open in February, the French Open in June and Wimbledon in July.

KEY STATISTIC II

21 – Djokovic will be trying to claim the 21st Grand Slam singles trophy of his career, which would surpass the mark he holds with Federer and Nadal.

KEY STATISTIC III

24 – Number of years since a Grand Slam tournament was held without any of Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Federer or Nadal participating; it last happened at the 1997 Australian Open.

PRIZE MONEY

Total player compensation: $57.5 million, up from $53.4 million in 2020 and from the previous record of $57.2 million, awarded in 2019.

Men’s and women’s singles champions: $2.5 million each, a drop of $500,000 from last year and $1.35 million – 35% – from 2019.

More AP tennis coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

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