Novak Djokovic is a strong favourite to become only the third man to complete a calendar Grand Slam and make history at the US Open.

Djokovic has won all three majors this year and can complete a 2021 clean sweep at Flushing Meadows.

The irrepressible world number one would also go beyond Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal – both absent due to injury – with 21 grand slam singles titles if he triumphs in New York.

There will be no elusive record-equalling 24th major singles crown for Serena Williams, who has not recovered from the hamstring injury she suffered at Wimbledon.

With Ash Barty and Naomi Osaka the leading contenders to take the women's singles title, Stats Perform use Opta data to preview the final grand slam of the year.

WHAT A DIFFERENCE A YEAR MAKES FOR DOMINANT DJOKOVIC

Djokovic was thrown out of the US Open last year after accidentally hitting a line judge in the throat with a tennis ball.

The 34-year-old arrived in New York in far better spirits than when he left last September, having taken on all comers this year.

Djokovic missed out on a Golden Slam when he failed to win Olympic gold in Tokyo, but he could join Don Budge (1938) and Rod Laver (1962 and 1969) as the only men to win all four majors in the same year.

Maureen Connolly (1953), Margaret Court (970) and Steffi Graf (1988) are the only women to achieve the incredible feat.

 

BARTY TO GO BACK-TO-BACK?

Barty became the first Australian woman to win a Wimbledon singles title for 41 years in July.

Not since Williams in 2012 has a player claimed back-to-back women's singles major crowns in the same year, but Barty could take some stopping.

She could become the ninth woman in the Open Era to win Wimbledon and the US Open in the same season. 

Margaret Court, Billie Jean King, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf, Martina Hingis, Venus Williams and Serena Williams can boast that achievement.

OSAKA BACK TO DEFEND TITLE

Japanese sensation Osaka won her third grand slam title at Flushing Meadows last September and went on to add a fourth at the Australian Open this year.

Osaka returns to grand slam action for the first time since withdrawing from the French Open, citing struggles with her mental health.

The world number three could be the first woman to win consecutive titles at Flushing Meadows since Serena Williams claimed three in a row from 2012 to 2014.

Osaka is the only woman to win at least one major title over the past four seasons, winning the Australian Open in 2019 and 2021, as well as the US Open in 2018 and last year.

 

ZVEREV BIDS TO BANISH PAINFUL MEMORIES

Alexander Zverev was beaten by Dominic Thiem in his maiden grand slam final in New York last year after the German had been two sets up.

He will not have to face Thiem this time around as the defending champion is sidelined due to injury.

Zverev was the only player to serve 100 or more aces during the tournament last year, firing down 131 but also racking up more double faults (64) than anyone else.

The world number four won his fourth title of the year in Cincinnati last week but Djokovic is undoubtedly the man to beat at Flushing Meadows.

Novak Djokovic has history in his sights as he begins his US Open quest; after three grand slam titles in 2021, a fourth beckons at Flushing Meadows.

Rod Laver was the last man to achieve a sweep of the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and US Open singles in the same year, all the way back in 1969.

Steffi Graf won all four on the women's side in 1988, and it seemed a knock-in that Serena Williams would do likewise in 2015 when she headed to the US Open with three majors already bagged.

But winning any title at that level is never easy, and Williams famously came unstuck when she faced Roberta Vinci in the semi-finals.

Djokovic will be mindful that what seems an inevitability to the outside world remains very much still only a possibility. After his US Open tribulations last year, and a recent jolt at the Olympics, he will know anything can happen.

Here, Stats Perform looks at how Djokovic's situation at Flushing Meadows carries most of the hallmarks of Serena's own position as she headed into the tournament six years ago.

 

IT'S ALL ABOUT THE SLAMS

It was not always this way, but Djokovic has reached the point in his career when he can choose targets, decide which records he wants to break, and throw everything at those goals.

At the start of the year in Australia, he savoured triumphing at Melbourne Park for a ninth time and pointed to how Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Williams and Margaret Court had achieved so much.

"They've made history already," Djokovic said. "They made a tremendous mark in our sport. I'm trying to build that and develop that myself in a very unique, authentic way that is suitable to me.

"Whether I think about winning more slams and breaking records, of course. Of course, I do. And most of my attention and my energy from this day forward, until I retire from tennis, is going to be directed in majors, trying to win more major trophies."

It had very clear echoes of Williams in 2015, also in Australia, setting out her own ambitions for the year and specifically targeting the French Open and Wimbledon.

"Those are the two I really have my eye on, because I would like to do better at those. And I know I can do better," she said.

Williams set her heart and mind on that twin challenge and won both.

"I definitely am not going to play as much this year, and I'm just going to go for everything when I do play," said Williams.

 


BUILDING UP

When Williams reached New York in August 2015, she had delivered a 48-2 win-loss record for the season, landing each of the majors alongside the Miami Open and the Western and Southern Open. Petra Kvitova in Madrid and Belinda Bencic in Toronto had been the only two players to get the better of the 33-year-old Williams.

Djokovic has a 38-5 record for the year, albeit it has the feel of a more dominant year for the 34-year-old Serbian. Two of those losses came at the Olympics, in a semi-final and bronze medal match, and the other three came in his first three events on clay, losing to Dan Evans in Monte Carlo, Aslan Karatsev in Belgrade and Nadal in Rome.

When it mattered on clay, though, Djokovic majorly turned up in Paris, gutsily beating Lorenzo Musetti from two sets down in the fourth round, ending Nadal's streak of four Roland Garros titles by sinking the Spaniard in the semi-finals, and then leaving Stefanos Tsitsipas devastated in the final, with another fightback after dropping the first two sets.

Wimbledon followed, and Djokovic by then was openly targeting a Golden Slam – each major and the Olympic title.

Much like with Williams and her loss to Bencic in the Toronto semi-finals six years ago, however, Djokovic showed he was fallible as history beckoned. From a set up, he lost to Alexander Zverev at Tokyo 2020, a blow that was compounded by missing out on bronze when Pablo Carreno Busta sprang another shock.

 


HISTORY CAN BE A FIERCE OPPONENT

Williams and Djokovic have won non-calendar Grand Slams before, winning four in succession spanning two seasons.

Williams first achieved that from the French Open in 2002 to the Australian Open in 2003, and in 2015 she was aiming for five slams in a row at the US Open, having begun her dominant streak at her home grand slam the previous year.

She won the first set of the semi-final against Vinci, the world number 43, but was then second best to the Italian, with Williams saying her conqueror "played literally out of her mind".

But the disappointment was stark, underlined by Williams' terse response to the question of how disappointed she felt by the result.

"I don't want to talk about how disappointing it is for me," she said. "If you have any other questions, I'm open for that."

The four-in-a-row feat has only been performed once by Djokovic, from Wimbledon in 2015 to the French Open in 2016. Had he not been disqualified during the US Open last year for carelessly hitting a ball that struck a line judge, he would most likely currently be on a four-slam streak.

Those who win the first three slams of the year often do complete the set, but there are four instances of singles players falling one short by failing in the year's last major.

Before Williams, the most recent case was Martina Navratilova in 1984, when the imperious left-hander headed to the Australian Open – then played at the end of the year rather than the start – in pursuit of the Grand Slam. She lost to Helena Sukova in the semi-finals, and said: "If I'd have won, I'd have done it all. If I lost I had to start from scratch. Both are hard to cope with."

Navratilova had won 74 consecutive matches until that loss and ended the season with a 78-2 record.

In the men's game, Jack Crawford (1933) and Lew Hoad (1956) also fell short, both losing in finals of the US National Championships, the tournament that became the US Open. Don Budge (1938) and Laver (1962 and 1969) are the only men to have won a calendar Grand Slam in singles.

The weight of expectation is immense for Djokovic as he pursues what would be his crowning glory, not only sealing the Grand Slam but reaching 21 majors, one ahead of Nadal and Federer and into the outright lead in the men's game. The prospect cannot be ignored, and it will be a heavy burden to carry over the coming fortnight.

As Djokovic said on Friday: "I would be lying if I said that’s not something that I’m thinking about or that my attention is not going that way.

"I’m very motivated to play my best tennis. But I have to hit one ball at a time, as they say, try to be in the moment, have a guiding star in a way, a dream to win a slam here."

Novak Djokovic said claiming an elusive calendar Grand Slam would be the greatest achievement of his illustrious career.

Djokovic can become the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to complete the slam sweep if he wins the US Open, having already conquered the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon in 2021.

The world number one would be just the third man to win all four majors in the same year after Don Budge was the first to do so in in 1938 before Laver in 1962 and 1969.

Djokovic could also move clear of rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, who will both miss the Flushing Meadows tournament due to injury, for the most men's grand slam titles in history – the trio are level on 20.

Preparing for his first-round match against Holger Rune in New York, Djokovic – who missed out on a Golden Slam when he failed to win Olympic gold in Tokyo – told reporters: "I'm very inspired to play my best tennis here.

"I don't want to say it's now or never for me because I think I'm going to have more opportunities in my life to win Slams. I don't know if I'm going to be having more opportunities to win calendar Slams.

"That's why it's a very unique opportunity. At the same time, I don't need to put any additional pressure to what I already have, which is pretty big from my own self and from of course people around me.

"But I thrive under pressure, as well. I've done that many times in my career. Pressure is a privilege, it truly is. This is what you work for day-in, day-out, all your life, to put yourself in a unique position to win Grand Slams and to make history. At the end of the day, I'm a big tennis fan, [a] fan of history. I admire this sport. I love it. I have this chance, and I'm going to try to use it."

A three-time US Open champion, the 34-year-old Djokovic owns a 75-12 record at the slam in the United States.

It will be Djokovic's first time back at Flushing Meadows since he was sensationally defaulted from last year's US Open after hitting a linesperson with the ball during his fourth-round match against Pablo Carreno Busta.

"Obviously I know how big of an opportunity is in front of me here in New York, where historically I've played really well over the years. It's probably the most entertaining tennis court that we have. [The] crowd will be back [in the] stadium," Djokovic said.

"I can't wait. Honestly I'm very motivated to play my best tennis. But I have to hit one ball at a time, try to be in the moment, have a guiding star in a way, a dream to win a Slam here, which would obviously complete the calendar Slam.

"I'm hugely inspired and motivated by that, no doubt. But at the same time, I know how to balance things out mentally, with lots of expectations around. My participation here, without Rafa and Roger participating, I feel it. I know there are a lot of people who are going to be watching my matches and expecting me to do well and fight for a Slam."

Ilya Ivashka clinched his first ATP Tour title after cruising past Mikael Ymer at the Winston-Salem Open.

Ivashka became the first Belarusian to win a trophy at ATP Tour level since Max Mirnyi in 2003 thanks to Saturday's crushing 6-0 6-2 victory.

The unheralded 27-year-old, who needed just 56 minutes to claim silverware, also became the eighth first-time winner on Tour this season and the sixth champion ranked outside the top 50 in 2021.

"This week, I had everything," said Ivashka, who won 90 per cent of points on his first serve against Swedish opponent Ymer in the final of the ATP 250 event.

Ivashka, who stunned top seed and 2016 champion Pablo Carreno Busta en route to glory, added: "In the second round, I was booking my flights to New York. I was two points away from losing and now I am standing here.

"It is incredible how things can change in one match. It was an unbelievable pleasure to play here. I feel amazing to play in front of such a nice crowd and I really enjoyed it."

Elina Svitolina claimed her first title of the year with a hard-fought victory over Alize Cornet at the Chicago Women's Open.

Svitolina won in straight sets in tough conditions, though she needed two hours and two minutes to record a 7-5 6-4 triumph over her French opponent.

Cornet had won their previous meeting at Eastbourne in 2019 but the world number 68 was unable to pull off a repeat result against the tournament’s top seed in Illinois.

A see-saw contest saw 10 breaks of serve, starting with the second game as Svitolina struck an early blow while racing into a 3-0 lead.

However, Cornet clawed her way back to get on level terms and a tie-break looked likely until she was broken in a lengthy 12th game.

The second set followed a similar pattern as Svitolina again won the opening three games. After a medical timeout, Cornet cut the deficit to 3-2 but was not able to get back on level terms, the pair exchanging six breaks through to the conclusion.

Having failed to serve out for the victory, Svitolina finally secured a first tournament triumph since Strasbourg in 2020 thanks to a superb backhand.

It is her 16th title overall and comes as ideal preparation ahead of the US Open, where the Ukrainian will face qualifier Rebecca Marino in the opening round in New York.

Anett Kontaveit ended a four-year title drought by beating Irina-Camelia Begu to win the inaugural Tennis in the Land event on Saturday.

Kontaveit had failed to win a tournament since her maiden WTA Tour triumph in 's-Hertogenbosch back in 2017 before defeating Begu 7-6 (7-5) 6-4.

The world number 30 from Estonia had lost two finals this year, but she was not to be denied in Cleveland.

Begu fought back from 5-2 down in the first set to force a tie-break, but one mini-break was enough for second seed Kontaveit to take a big stride towards an elusive title.

The composed Kontaveit did not face a break point in a tight second set, not allowing her Romanian opponent a look-in as she served superbly.

Kontaveit only had one break-point opportunity of her own, but grasped it to lead 2-1 and went on to seal a confidence-boosting triumph ahead of the US Open.

Sam Stosur will be Kontaveit's opponent in the first round at Flushing Meadows, while Begu faces Andrea Petkovic.

Defending US Open champion Naomi Osaka believes she could have better handled her decision not to participate in media conferences at the French Open.

Osaka withdrew from the French Open having won her first-round match, after she was fined and threatened with further punishment – and possible expulsion from the grand slam – for skipping obligatory media duties.

The four-time grand slam champion had confirmed before Roland Garros that she would not be taking part in post-match news conferences, suggesting her mental health was not helped by having to attend the mandatory interviews.

Osaka, the world number three, stated she has had "long bouts of depression" since winning the 2018 US Open title.

The 23-year-old subsequently pulled out of Wimbledon, but returned as one of Japan's great hopes for the Tokyo Olympics.

However, she suffered a surprise defeat to Marketa Vondrousova, while her preparation for Flushing Meadows also took a hit with a last-16 loss to Jil Teichmann in Cincinnati earlier this month.

Reflecting on her decision in Paris, Osaka, who won her second US Open title in 2020, told reporters: "I feel there's a lot of things that I did wrong in that moment.

"But I'm also the type of person that's very in the moment.

"I think there's a lot of things that I learned to do better. Of course, I don't feel the same situation will happen again.

 

"Whatever I feel, I'll say it or do it. I don't necessarily think that's a bad thing.

"I would say, maybe think it through a bit more, in the way that I didn't know how big of a deal it would become."

A few days prior to her defeat to Teichmann, Osaka broke down in tears during her first news conference since she pulled out of Roland Garros.

Yet the Queens-raised star was more composed during her media duties on Friday, as she aims to cap off what has been a difficult 2021.

"I think the biggest memory that comes back to me is being a little kid, running around the entire site," said Osaka, who will take on Marie Bouzkova to get her title defence started.

"I don't know if that may be the reason why I play so well here, but there's definitely a lot of nostalgia.

"I know I haven't played that many matches. But actually I feel pretty happy with how I'm playing."

The Winston-Salem Open will produce a first-time ATP Tour winner as Mikael Ymer and Ilya Ivashka each advanced to their first Tour-level final Friday. 

Ymer upset the only player among the four semi-finalists who previously had reached a final, 15th seed Carlos Alcaraz, by a score of 7-5 6-3 as he contested his first ATP semi-final at the North Carolina event. 

The 22-year-old Swede, ranked number 90 in the world, knocked off Alcaraz in the second round at this year's Australian Open in their only prior meeting. 

Ymer converted all three of his break points against the Spanish teen, who is ranked a career-best number 54 this week. 

Ivashka had no trouble disposing of Emil Ruusuvuori 6-2 6-1 in the first semi-final. 

The Finn had won 93 per cent of his service games this week entering the match but was broken in four of eight Friday. 

Ivashka, meanwhile, did not face a single break point on his own serve as he cruised to victory in 68 minutes. 

Elina Svitolina is in position to win her first title of 2021 after outlasting Rebecca Peterson to reach the Chicago Women's Open final. 

After dropping just one game in her quarter-final win over Kristina Mladenovic, Svitolina needed nearly two and a half hours to dispatch Peterson 6-1 6-7 (4-7) 6-3 on Friday.

The top seed will seek her 16th career WTA Tour title against ninth-seeded Alize Cornet, who rallied to defeat Varvara Gracheva 4-6 6-1 6-0 in the other semi. 

Gracheva's capitulation after winning the first set was understandable, as earlier in the day she had finished off a quarter-final upset of eighth seed Marta Kostyuk in a match that had been suspended due to darkness Thursday. 

Gracheva prevailed 6-7 (4-7) 6-3 6-4 in that contest, with play on Friday beginning late in the second set, but did not have enough to pull out another win. 

The final will feature the eighth head-to-head meeting between Svitolina and Cornet, with the Ukrainian holding a 4-3 edge. 

At Tennis in the Land, second seed Anett Kontaveit defeated seventh seed Sara Sorribes Tormo 6-4 6-4 in one semi-final. 

She will meet Irina-Camelia Begu in the final of the Cleveland tournament after the unseeded Romanian upset sixth seed Magda Linette 7-6 (7-5) 6-2. 

Kontaveit won her first WTA title at Guadalajara earlier this year, while Begu will be seeking her fifth Tour title and first since 2017.

Pablo Carreno Busta headlined the casualties at the Winston-Salem Open, where the top seed was shocked in straight sets by Ilya Ivashka.

The 2016 champion, Carreno Busta had his sights set on the semi-finals of the ATP 250 tournament but he suffered a surprise 7-6 (7-2) 6-3 loss on Thursday.

"Of course it's a great feeling. I had a great match today. These conditions suit me," Ivashka said. "I think he had more pressure because he's the top seed so for me it was a good challenge to see what my level is and to compete with these guys, so for me it was a great match."

Carreno Busta – who trumped world number one and 20-time grand slam champion Novak Djokovic to win bronze at the Olympic Games – was not the only seed to fall.

Richard Gasquet and Frances Tiafoe also crashed out in the quarter-finals following defeats to Emil Ruusuvuori and Mikael Ymer.

The only seed to advance to the semis was 15th seed Carlos Alcaraz, who saw off Marcos Giron.

Australian Open chief Craig Tiley is confident the season-opening grand slam will be held in Melbourne next year, despite coronavirus concerns.

COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc around much of Australia, with Victoria and New South Wales both locked down due to outbreaks in the states.

The 2021 Australian Open went ahead, albeit in February instead of January, amid the coronavirus pandemic and without fans for most of the tournament following a snap lockdown of Melbourne.

Novak Djokovic was among the players critical of the conditions athletes endured prior to this year's Australian Open, with strict quarantine measures introduced.

Players, however, as set to spend two weeks in a biosecure bubble prior to the 2022 event, according to Tiley.

"There's a lot of time between now and when we get going but, at this point in time, we're planning on having a two-week bubble, where the players will be able to move freely between the hotel and the courts," Tiley said.

"They're protected, they're kept safe among themselves and safe from the community as well.

"And after those two weeks, they'll come out and be able to compete in the Australian Open in front of crowds."

Elina Svitolina produced a merciless performance as the top seed blitzed Kristina Mladenovic to advance to the Chicago Women's Open semi-finals.

Mladenovic was no match for Svitolina, who steamrolled the seventh seed in a brutal 6-1 6-0 victory at the WTA 250 tournament on Thursday.

Ukrainian star Svitolina reeled off the last 11 games to set up a semi-final clash with Rebecca Peterson.

Peterson moved through 7-6 (7-4) 2-6 4-1 after Tereza Martincova retired hurt.

French ninth seed Alize Cornet rallied past fifth seed Marketa Vondrousova 2-6 6-4 6-3, while eighth seed Marta Kostyuk won the first set 7-6 (7-4) but trailed Varvara Gracheva 5-3 in the second before the match was suspended due to darkness.

At Tennis in the Land, top seed Daria Kasatkina was upstaged by Magda Linette 6-1 6-2 in the quarter-finals.

Second seed Anett Kontaveit survived 6-3 5-7 7-2 against Katerina Siniakova in Cleveland, while fellow seed Sara Sorribes Tormo also won through to set up a semi-final clash.

Stefanos Tsitsipas faces Andy Murray and Ash Barty will take on 2010 finalist Vera Zvonareva in the first round of the US Open.

French Open runner-up Tsitsipas and 2012 champion Murray is one of the standout matches in the opening round at Flushing Meadows.

Top seed Novak Djokovic will start his quest for a calendar Grand Slam against a qualifier in New York and could face a repeat of the Wimbledon final versus Matteo Berrettini in the last eight.

World number one Djokovic, a strong favourite for a record 21st major title with Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer absent due to injury, could do battle with Alexander Zverev at the semi-final stage.

Daniil Medvedev, the second seed, is in the bottom half with Tsitsipas, who he could come up against in the semi-final. Medvedev's first test will come against Frenchman Richard Gasquet.

Barty could come up against Iga Swiatek in the last eight and Karolina Pliskova if she makes it through to the semi-finals.

Simona Halep's encounter with Camila Giorgi is a mouthwatering first-round match, while defending champion Naomi Osaka returns to grand slam action against former US Open junior champion Marie Bouzkova.

Angelique Kerber could be a tough fourth round opponent for Osaka. Close friends Madison Keys and Sloane Stephens meet in another eye-catching first-round match.

There will be no Serena or Venus Williams at the final major of the year due to injuries.

Pablo Carreno Busta sailed into the quarter-finals of the Winston-Salem Open an the top seed was joined by Richard Gasquet.

Carreno Busta – the 2016 champion – was too good for Dominik Koepfer 6-2 6-3 at the ATP 250 tournament on Wednesday.

The Spaniard, who stunned world number one Novak Djokovic to win bronze at the Olympic Games, will meet Ilya Ivashka, who upstaged ninth seed Jan-Lennard Struff 6-2 6-1.

"It was a very good match. I think I played very aggressively today, I made a lot of winners," Carreno Busta said. "I played against him the last two tournaments so it was important to me at the beginning of the match to be very focused and play very aggressive so I think this was a very good match for me.

"I'm feeling really comfortable playing this year, also. We know next we have the US Open but day by day I need the confidence, I need the rhythm. I think that I'm playing at a really good level so I would like to continue this way."

Former world number seven Richard Gasquet saw off third seed Daniel Evans 6-4 7-6 (7-4), Frances Tiafoe defeated Thiago Monteiro 7-5 7-6 (7-2), while fourth seed Marton Fucsovics was sent packing by Carlos Alcaraz 6-3 0-6 6-2.

Top seed Elina Svitolina had no trouble booking her spot in the Chicago Women's Open quarter-finals on the same day Venus Williams and Sofia Kenin pulled out of the US Open.

Svitolina made light work of Fiona Ferro on Wednesday, cruising to a 6-4 6-4 victory at the WTA 250 tournament.

The Ukrainian star and bronze medallist at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo will face seventh seed Kristina Mladenovic in the quarters.

Marketa Vondrousova – the fifth seed, ninth seed Alize Cornet, Tereza Martincova and Rebecca Peterson also moved through from the round of 16.

At Tennis in the Land, second seed Anett Kontaveit secured a quarter-final berth by topping Caroline Garcia 6-3 6-3 in Cleveland.

Meanwhile, Williams and Kenin withdrew from next week's US Open at Flushing Meadows.

Williams – a two-time US Open champion – will not compete in New York due to a persistent leg injury, joining sister Serena in sitting out the year's final grand slam.

"It's super, super, super disappointing," Williams said in a video via her Twitter and Instagram accounts. "I'm having some issues with my leg all this summer, and just couldn't work through it.

"I tried my best here in Chicago [at the WTA 250 Chicago Women's Open], but I just was unable to figure out the equation. And there's been so many times where I've been able to figure it out, even not in the best of my health, but this time, I just couldn't make any miracles work."

Kenin – the 2020 Australian Open champion – withdrew after testing positive for coronavirus.

"Fortunately I am vaccinated and thus my symptoms have been fairly mild," Kenin tweeted. "However I have continued to test positive and thus will not be able to compete at the US Open next week."

"I plan to spend the next several weeks getting healthy and preparing to play well this fall. Thank you all for supporting me. I want to wish all the players the best of luck in New York."

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.