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U.S Open: Welcome to the Big Apple

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Serbia's Novak Djokovic. / AFP PHOTO / MARTIN BUREAU

Serbia’s Novak Djokovic. / AFP PHOTO / MARTIN BUREAU

The United States Open Tennis Championships kicks off (later) today, as spectators, players and media arrive at a completely remodeled Billie Jean King National Tennis Centre in Queensborough County city of New York. The improvements are so monumental as to evoke memories of 1997, when the Main Bowl was commissioned and named Arthur Ashe Stadium.

It was the year of Venus Williams’ debut, as sister Serena awaited coming of age to play professional tennis. While Venus made history by reaching the finals in her first appearance, it was baby sister that first won the Championships in 1999 and has gone on to win it six times.

This year, the Williams sisters arrive at Flushing Meadows with a stunning record. A year ago, Serena’s attempt at history was halted by a surprising semi-final loss to Italy’s Roberto Vinci, who eventually lost the final to compatriot Flavia Panetta.

Serena also failed in the bid at Melbourne, losing in the finals to Germany’s Angelique Kerber and in Paris, losing to Spain’s Garbine Muguruza in Paris. Serena broke the jinx in revenge at Wimbledon when she defeated Kerber and tied Steffi Graff’s all-time GS 22 titles.

A surprise loss at Rio Olympics put her number one ranking under threat of Kerber, who somehow lost to Puerto Rico’s Monica Puig in the Olympic Gold match.

Seeded first this time, Serena hopes to set a new record if she wins on September 10. Big sister Venus is still trucking on, at 36, and is seeded sixth.

Defending Champion and world number one, Novak Djokovic, heads the pack in the Men’s draw. Rio Olympic Gold Medalist, Andy Murray, is seeded second. Stan Warwinka of Switzerland is third while Canada’s Milos Raonic is seeded fourth as he rides on the wave of his feat as Wimbledon runner-up.

Djokovic will commence defense of the title when he takes on Poland’s Jerzy Janowicz, after the official Opening Ceremony of the newly covered Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Britain's Andy Murray celebrates beating Australia's John Millman in their men's singles third round match on the sixth day of the 2016 Wimbledon Championships at The All England Lawn Tennis Club in Wimbledon, southwest London, on July 2, 2016. JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP

Britain’s Andy Murray celebrates beating Australia’s John Millman in their men’s singles third round match on the sixth day of the 2016 Wimbledon Championships at The All England Lawn Tennis Club in Wimbledon, southwest London, on July 2, 2016.<br />JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP

This year’s Open is one that Kerber will describe as “schiksal” (fateful) in her native German language. If she had won the warm-up tournament in Cincinnati, she would have taken over the number one spot from Serena. But she lost in a match that might have been affected by the toll of fatigue from playing the Rio Finals and heading to the northern hemisphere immediately after collecting the silver medal.

For her conqueror in the Olympics, the Cinderella tale seems to continue with luck of the draw. When America Sloane Stephens withdrew due to a foot injury, the Puerto Rican was propelled to the 32nd slot as the last seed in the Women’s Draw. She will play against China’s Saisal Zheng in the first round. She started 2016 as the 92 in the world but rose in the rankings although the Olympic Tournament did not count for rankings.

Last year’s finalist, Roberto Vinci will play the first match in the covered Arthur Ashe stadium when she takes on Anna-Lena Friedson of Germany in the Day Session starting at 11.00 a.m. New York time.

Their duel will be followed by Angelique Kerber taking on her opponent; after which Rafael Nadal will face Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan.

In 1997, when Richard and Oracene Williams, brought their daughters to Flushing Meadows, with their first business manager, Leland Hardey, the first African American Tennis Star, Arthur Ashe was honoured by the Harry Marmion led United States Tennis Association.

It marked a new era in which Venus and Serena Williams dominated the Women’s Game. In the intervening years, America also honoured the pioneer of the Women’s professional game, when it named the Complex Billie Jean King National Tennis Centre. The 2016 Championships unveils the most expensive Tennis Stadium Roof in the world. Would it portend the eclipse of the Williams sisters’ domination? We stand on the threshold of tennis history.

• PJA


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