There are those who think Maria Sharapova shouldn’t even be in the U.S. Open via a wild-card invitation, because what dropped her ranking out of the top 100 was not an injury but a 15-month suspension for doping.
“You have to work for it, you know, a little bit to go and play your tournaments and not (get) help that much sometimes,” Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza said. “You’ve got to work hard and deserve it again. I think that’s the way.”
Either way, as long as Sharapova remains in the field at the tournament that begins Monday, she will be a main topic of conversation. On the other hand, the former No. 1 and five-time major champion could be gone by the end of Day 1.
That’s because Sharapova was drawn to face one of the best players in the 128-player women’s bracket, No. 2-seeded Simona Halep. Their showdown highlights the schedule Monday night in Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Halep declined to wade into the debate about the merits of the U.S. Tennis Association’s decision to let Sharapova into the tournament.
“I’m not thinking what Maria did or what Maria does and how is the situation,” said Halep, a two-time French Open runner-up, including a loss to Sharapova in the 2014 final. “I’m just thinking about myself. I just really want to go there and to play my best tennis.”
Sharapova, who did not hold a pre-tournament news conference, is 6-0 against Halep over their careers and 10-0 in first-round matches at Flushing Meadows.
“Maybe,” Halep said, “I will change this.”
Other things to know about the U.S. Open, the year’s last Grand Slam tournament:
That’s what some folks have come to call the tremendous rivalry between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Federer has won a record 19 Grand Slam titles in men’s singles; Nadal is No. 2 with 15. They have split the year’s first three major championships, with Federer beating Nadal in the Australian Open final in January, Nadal winning his 10th French Open in June, and Federer winning his eighth Wimbledon in July. They have played each other 37 times (Nadal leads 23-14, although Federer has won the last four), but never in New York.
Both were asked if they’d like to see that finally happen. Federer replied with an unequivocal “Yes.” And Nadal? Not one bit. “I prefer to play against another player,” he said. “An easier one, if it’s possible.” If their first encounter at Flushing Meadows is going to happen, it will need to be in the semifinals, because the No. 1-seeded Nadal and No. 3 Federer were placed in the same side of the men’s field by the draw.
WHO’S NO. 1?
Eight women enter with a shot at being ranked No. 1 when the U.S. Open ends: Karolina Pliskova, the 2016 runner-up who currently holds the top spot, Halep, Muguruza, Elina Svitolina, Caroline Wozniacki, Johanna Konta, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Venus Williams. Not part of that mix? Angelique Kerber, who moved atop the WTA rankings by winning the title a year ago but is currently No. 6.
ALL SORTS OF ABSENCES
So many familiar faces and key players are missing from the field. Three of the top five men in the rankings are out because of injuries: past champions Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka. Serena Williams is off the tour while expecting a baby. Victoria Azarenka is absent because of a custody dispute involving her infant son. Past champion Samantha Stosur is injured. Sara Errani is serving a doping ban.
There are several players who could grab a chance to make a breakthrough. Among the men: Alexander Zverev, Nick Kyrgios, Dominic Thiem, Denis Shapovalov. Among the women: Svitolina, Konta, Madison Keys. Zverev, a German who is 20, has won five titles this season, including two at Masters events, making him a popular pick to go far. But he’s never been to a Grand Slam quarterfinal. “The problem for him,” Federer said, “is just the mental and physical consistency to bring it every single day.”