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US Open 2019: Five top talking points

Posted August 23, 2019 10:24 a.m. EDT

— Has Roger Federer recovered from his Wimbledon hangover? Can Serena Williams overcome injury to clinch a record-tying 24th singles major?

The US Open, the season's fourth and final major, starts August 26 at Flushing Meadows in New York. A record prize money pot of more than $57 million is up for grabs at the 139th edition of the Open, including $3.9 million for each singles champion. Novak Djokovic of Serbia and Naomi Osaka of Japan are the defending champions.

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Can Serena catch Court?

A six-time champion in New York, Williams knows what it takes to win on home soil. Having taken New York by storm 20 years ago, when she beat Martina Hingis of Switzerland to win what would be the first of an Open-era record haul of 23 grand slam singles titles, Williams is chasing history once more. Victory in New York would tie the former top-ranked American with Australia's Margaret Court, the all-time Grand Slam singles record holder with 24 majors.

The No. 8 seeded Williams has a tough draw this year, opening against former US Open champion Maria Sharapova in a blockbuster first round. Williams owns a commanding 19-3 record over Russia's former world No.1, who last beat her in 2004. Roland-Garros winner Ash Barty looms in the quarterfinals, while the top-seeded Osaka could be her opponent in the finals once again.

Although the 37-year-old Williams has reached three major finals since coming back from maternity leave last year, she fell short twice at Wimbledon, and once at last year's US Open, where Osaka and a row with the umpire got the better of her. Having struggled with a knee injury earlier in the season, Williams retired in tears from the Toronto final against 19-year-old Canadian Bianca Andreescu with back spasms earlier this month. But if she is fully fit, there is no reason why she couldn't go all the way this time.

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Will Federer bounce back?

A day after losing an epic Wimbledon final to Djokovic, Federer went caravanning with his family. Having held two match points on serve in the final set, the Swiss said he was "half-broken" from the four-hour, 57-minute match, but he still went on the caravan break after his four children begged him to go. "I slept in a caravan the day after my Wimbledon final," Federer told the Tennis Channel earlier this month in Cincinnati. "It was a tough first few steps down the ladder from the bed. And it was a bad night's sleep. But the kids wanted to do it so, so badly, so we went."

Despite suffering his fastest loss since 2003 in the third round of Cincinnati, where he was beaten by Russian qualifier Andrey Rublev 6-3 6-4 in just 62 minutes, Federer wasn't overly concerned about his US Open campaign. "I played 45 matches this year, so I think I should be fine," Federer told reporters.

Although he won five straight US Open championships between 2004 and 2008, he has not won it since. A runner-up to Djokovic in 2015, he hasn't gone beyond the quarterfinals since then. Having turned 38 earlier this month, Federer will also be eager to do better than last year, when he lost to Australia's John Millman in the fourth round in sweltering conditions.

Federer, who starts against a qualifier, could face 15th seed David Goffin in round four, followed by former finalist Kei Nishikori of Japan in the quarterfinals. Another showdown with Djokovic looms in the semifinals, after both men were drawn in the top half in New York on Thursday.

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Can Djokovic get to slam No. 17?

As the winner of four of the last five majors, who is going to stop defending champion Djokovic in New York? The 32-year-old is the strong favorite to win his fourth title at Flushing Meadows, followed by Spain's Nadal at 4-1 and Federer at 13-2. Having conquered Federer and a partisan crowd at Wimbledon, Djokovic is back on his most successful surface. Another major win would move him to 17 grand slam singles titles, just one shy of Nadal, and three behind Federer.

Djokovic starts his US Open quest against Roberto Carballes Baena of Spain, followed by a possible clash with either 2016 champion Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland or former finalist Kevin Anderson of South Africa in the fourth round.

Perhaps the only player able to stop the top-seeded Djokovic is the in-form Nadal, who won the title in Montreal earlier this month. The second-ranked Spaniard is fit again after an injury-marred 2018, when his season ended with a retirement against Juan Martin Del Potro of Argentina in the US Open semifinals. He plays his first match against Millman, while former winner Marin Cilic of Croatia is a possible fourth-round opponent.

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Will the "Next Gen" strike at last?

It's a question that is asked every time a major comes along: is this the time the next generation will break the stranglehold of the "Big Three" in the men's game? Djokovic, Nadal and Federer have won a combined 54 grand slam singles titles, including the last 11.

The most successful player of the so-called "Next Gen" in the majors is the 21-year-old Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas, who reached his first major semi-final at this year's Australian Open. Also look out for 23-year-old Daniil Medvedev, who reached three straight hardcourt finals this month, winning the title in Cincinnati. The fifth-ranked Russian enters the Open with a Tour-leading 44 wins this season and could meet Djokovic in the quarterfinals. He has beaten the Serb twice this year.

Could we see another surprise women's champion?

While young players are struggling to break through in men's tennis, the exact opposite is happening in the women's game, where 18 different players won the first 18 titles of the season. Take Osaka and Australia's Barty, who hadn't even gone past the fourth round of a major a year ago. Osaka now holds the US Open and Australian Open titles, while Barty triumphed at Roland-Garros. After the stunning Wimbledon win of Romania's Simona Halep, who dominated title favorite Williams in straight sets, could we be in for another surprise champion at the US Open?

With question marks looming over the fitness of Williams and Osaka, who retired from the Cincinnati quarterfinals with a knee injury, could this be the year of Cincinnati winner and 2017 US Open finalist Madison Keys of the US, or Toronto and Indian Wells champion Andreescu? Or will 15-year-old American Cori "Coco" Gauff pull off another stunning run after reaching the fourth round of Wimbledon?

Although Osaka has struggled in the majors since Australia, she is back on her favorite surface. The women's top seed starts against Anna Blinkova of Russia, and could face Gauff in round three. Halep opens against a qualifier, while Andreescu is a possible fourth-round opponent.