Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova to clash in US Open first round blockbuster

Serena Williams will begin her quest for a seventh US Open title and record-tying 24th Grand Slam victory against long-time rival Maria Sharapova in the US Open women’s singles draw unveiled Thursday. (AFP)
Updated 22 August 2019

Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova to clash in US Open first round blockbuster

  • Williams has dominated the Russian star in their head-to-head rivalry
  • Sharapova advanced by walkover against Williams in the fourth round at Roland Garros last year

NEW YORK: Serena Williams will begin her quest for a seventh US Open title and record-tying 24th Grand Slam victory against long-time rival Maria Sharapova in the US Open women’s singles draw unveiled Thursday.
Williams has dominated the Russian star in their head-to-head rivalry, winning 19 times with only two defeats, including their past 18 meetings, most recently at the 2016 Australian Open quarter-finals, although Sharapova advanced by walkover against Williams in the fourth round at Roland Garros last year.
Eighth-ranked Williams is looking to match the all-time record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles won by Margaret Court when the year’s final major championship gets under way Monday.
The 37-year-old American has dropped her past three Grand Slam finals appearances, including last month to Simona Halep at Wimbledon and last year to Japan’s Naomi Osaka at the US Open after a controversial game penalty for her tirade at umpire Carlos Ramos.
Tournament officials have said Ramos will not work any matches involving Serena or Venus Williams, who could not face her sister until the semifinals, being in the same draw quarter as Czech third seed Karolina Pliskova.
Serena was placed into the same quarter as Australian second seed Ashleigh Barty, the reigning French Open champion whose first match is against 77th-ranked Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan.
Top-seeded Osaka opens against Russia’s 93rd-ranked Anna Blinkova and could face a third-round date against 15-year-old American Coco Gauff, who eliminated Venus Williams in the first round at Wimbledon in a run to the last 16 in her Grand Slam debut.
Romania’s fourth-seeded Halep, coming off her second Grand Slam title, opens against a qualifier and could face a semifinal against Osaka, who defends a Slam crown for the first time.
“I’m looking forward to the experience,” Osaka said. “Everyone knows I love it here.”
Osaka retired in the third set of a quarter-final match at Cincinnati with a left knee injury but said Thursday she expects no problems with playing at the US Open.
“It’s geting better. I’m a fast healer,” Osaka said. “I’m here and I feel like I’ll be able to play.”
Osaka said while she might watch players who are unfamiliar, she isn’t one to analyze the draw beyond her next opponent.
“I like to know what that one person I’m playing is,” she said. “I like to focus my attention on that one.”
Pliskova, who lost her only Grand Slam final to Germany’s Angelique Kerber at the 2016 US Open, plays her first match against a qualifier.
Venus Williams, 39, won the 2000 and 2001 US Opens but hasn’t won a Slam since her fifth Wimbledon title in 2008. She opens against China’s Zheng Saisai and could meet fifth seed Elina Svitolina of Ukraine in the second round.


What next for Premier League’s ‘Project Restart’

Updated 03 June 2020

What next for Premier League’s ‘Project Restart’

  • Restart to begin with 2 matches on June 17, to ensure every side played same number of games

LONDON: The Premier League's return is just two weeks away but there are plenty of details for the 20 clubs in the English top-flight to work out before competitive action resumes on June 17.

AFP Sport looks at what is on the agenda at the latest in a series of meetings between the clubs on Thursday.

There have been squabbles over how final league standings should be decided if the season cannot be completed but clubs need a contingency arrangement if a spike in coronavirus cases wrecks their plans.

Most of the teams in the bottom half of the table are reportedly pushing for relegation to be scrapped if the season is not completed on the field.

That still seems highly unlikely, with the English Football Association and English Football League both insisting on promotion and relegation throughout the pyramid.

A points-per-game formula is the most likely option and is part of the reason why the restart will begin with two matches on June 17, to ensure every side has played the same number of games.

Once the two outstanding games — Manchester City vs. Arsenal and Aston Villa vs. Sheffield United — have been played, all 20 sides will have nine games remaining.

No dates for other matches have yet been released, but fixtures are expected to continue from where they left off in March and be crammed into just five weeks ahead of the FA Cup final on August 1.

A long layoff, little time together in contact training and a gruelling schedule mean players' bodies will be pushed to the limits.

In an attempt to minimize injuries and fatigue, world governing body FIFA has allowed leagues to temporarily change their rules to allow five substitutes.

Chelsea have also reportedly proposed increasing the number of substitutes available from seven to nine.

However, critics have suggested those changes will simply play into the hands of the bigger clubs with deeper squads.

Premier League clubs appear to have won their battle to have games played in their own grounds rather than on neutral sites.

However, the UK's national lead for football policing confirmed last week that a "small number" of fixtures will take place at neutral venues.

That is likely to include any match that could see Liverpool crowned champions for the first time in 30 years, to try and avoid crowds gathering at Anfield.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp is unconcerned by playing at neutral venues, with results from four rounds of Germany's Bundesliga showing no advantage for home sides in a closed-doors environment.

"We will not have the help from the crowd but no team will have that, so where is the advantage?" Klopp told the BBC.

"Whoever we play it is the same situation, which is why I'm not too worried about it."

The use of VAR could also be dispensed with for the rest of the season should the clubs wish to further cut the number of people required for games to go ahead.

However, the Premier League's CEO Richard Masters is keen for it to remain.

"VAR has its own social-distancing issues, but we think there is a way of completing the season with VAR," Masters told Sky Sports.