Serena Williams meets Danka Kovinic at the US Open

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Serena Williams has overcome all sorts of challenges in her tennis career, but she has never faced a major tournament like this.

When the US Open starts in New York on Monday, it will probably mark the last stop on a farewell tour for one of the greatest athletes of all time. Williams will open her 21st appearance at Flushing Meadows against world No. 80 Danka Kovinic, a Montenegrin she has never faced. The pair will play on either Monday or Tuesday and likely in prime time, although the first round schedule is unlikely to be released until Sunday.

Kovinic has never progressed past the third round at a Major, which she reached at the Australian Open and French Open this year.

Novak Djokovic announces that he will not play at the US Open

Williams, whose retirement was announced earlier this month drove ticket sales for the US Open Sky High is the jewel in a shrinking collection of tennis giants at the final major of the year. Four-time US Open champion Rafael Nadal is aiming for his third major championship in 2022 Withdrawal from Wimbledon before his semi-final match due to an abdominal injury. Two-time US Open champion Naomi Osaka will compete.

The two world’s best players, Iga Swiatek and Daniil Medvedev will play. Medvedev, who defeated Novak Djokovic in last year’s US Open final for his first Grand Slam trophy, missed Wimbledon due to the All-England Club’s ban on Russian players.

But neither Djokovic nor Roger Federer will perform in New York. Federer’s absence comes as no surprise as the 41-year-old is recovering from knee surgery and has yet to compete in a Major this year. Most recently, he played at the US Open in 2019.

Djokovic, who said after Wimbledon he would not get the coronavirus vaccine, announced on Thursday he would miss the final Major of the year. The United States requires non-immigrants to provide proof of vaccinations, meaning Djokovic’s biggest trophy tally by next year will be 21 – compared to Nadal’s 22 and Federer’s 20.

For Williams, Kovinic is just part of a big challenge that awaits her in New York.

Adding to her own emotions at the moment and what will surely be a passionate, sold-out crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium when she plays, the 23-time Major champion has been struggling mightily on the pitch of late.

Williams hasn’t resembled the woman who once ruled tennis with her powerful serve for a while, and understandably so. Celebrating her 41st birthday next month, in recent years she has increasingly shifted her attention from sport to her family and thriving business career. She has only played four singles matches since Wimbledon in 2021. She has not won two games in a row since the French 2021 Open, where she advanced to the fourth round.

Her last match was a 65-minute loss to defending US Open champion Emma Raducanu last week in Cincinnati. It was rife with uncharacteristic mistakes, and her serve – the powerful, commanding quality of her game that revolutionized modern women’s tennis – often let her down. She played the match with a strip of sports tape on her leg, apparently to relieve pain in her left knee allegedly This delayed the game by a day.

Should Williams defeat 27-year-old Kovinic, they are likely to face world No. 2 Anett Kontaveit of Estonia in the second round.

Serena Williams retires with another US Open to surprise us

Elsewhere in the draw, Osaka meets No. 19 Danielle Collins, the Virginia graduate who caught the tennis world’s attention as a surprise semi-finalist at the 2019 Australian Open. She lost to Ashleigh Barty in the final in Melbourne this year. The pair sit in the same neighborhood as Raducanu and Venus Williams.

Coco Gauff, No. 12, is seated in the quarters of Maria Sakkari, No. 3, along with two-time major champion, No. 7, Simona Halep.

In the men’s No. 2 seed Nadal meets Rinky Hijikata of Australia in the first round. Top seed Medvedev meets 24-year-old American Stefan Kozlov, and 2020 US Open champion Dominic Thiem faces a tough matchup against No. 12 seed Pablo Carreno Busta. Three-time Major champion Andy Murray will have a difficult test against 24th-seeded Francisco Cerundolo.

World No. 2 Alexander Zverev announced on Monday that he will not compete as he continues to recover a brutal ankle injury sustained during his semifinal match at the French Open against Nadal.

The men’s most exciting match of the first round could be 23rd seed Nick Kyrgios against his compatriot, doubles partner and good friend Thanasi Kokkinakis.

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