Serena vs. Maria and beyond: the six best US Open first-rounders

Serena vs. Maria and beyond: the six best US Open first-rounders

Plus: All eyes will be on Gauff after her historic performance at Wimbledon

The draw ceremony took place at the US Open on Thursday and it produced some fantastic first-round matches—including an absolute blockbuster between two of the biggest names in tennis.

[8] Serena Williams (USA) vs Maria Sharapova (RUS)

Two of the greatest players of all time—in fact, the only two active women’s players with a Career Grand Slam—will square off in the very first round as Serena Williams faces Maria Sharapova.

The two former No. 1s have 28 Grand Slam titles between them—Serena 23, Sharapova five—as well as seven US Opens, with Serena winning in 1999, 2002, 2008, 2012, 2013 and 2014, and Sharapova winning in 2006 as a 19-year-old—the last time a teenager, male or female, won a Grand Slam title.

The head-to-head has been all Serena for almost 15 years—since Sharapova beat her at the WTA Finals in 2004, Serena’s won 18 times in a row. They’ve never played at the US Open, though.

[2] Rafael Nadal (ESP) vs John Millman (AUS)

Rafael Nadal is obviously one of the big favorites at the US Open this year, but given what his first-round opponent did at last year’s US Open, he’s probably going to be on high alert for this one. John Millman reached the first Grand Slam quarterfinal of his career at last year’s US Open, and he did it in style, too, pulling off a fourth-round stunner over Roger Federer—his first Top 10 win. The Australian ended up falling to eventual champion Novak Djokovic in a close three-setter in the quarterfinals.

Millman also comes in off a good week at the lead-up event in Winston-Salem—he’s through to the quarterfinals, and he’s playing American Steve Johnson on Thursday for a spot in the semifinals.

Nadal won their only previous meeting handily in straight sets in the first round of Wimbledon in 2017.

[8] Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE) vs Andrey Rublev (RUS)

One of the top men’s seeds could be in danger in the first round, as No. 8 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas opens against Andrey Rublev. Rublev has had a very strong summer, not just reaching the final of the 500-level clay-court event in Hamburg last month, but reaching his first Masters 1000 quarterfinal on the hard courts of Cincinnati last week, taking out No. 17 Nikoloz Basilashvili, No. 23 Stan Wawrinka and No. 3 Federer along the way. The red-hot Russian, who reached his first Grand Slam quarterfinal at the US Open two years ago, is also through to the quarterfinals of Winston-Salem this week.

[9] Aryna Sabalenka (BLR) vs Victoria Azarenka (BLR)

An all-Belarusian clash was set on the women’s side as No. 9 seed Aryna Sabalenka plays Victoria Azarenka, who wasn’t too far outside the seeds here. A year ago, Sabalenka was the only player to push eventual champion Naomi Osaka to three sets—but she hasn’t been able to get anything going at the Grand Slams this year, falling in the first week of all three so far. Azarenka, who’s worked her way back into the Top 50 this year as a mom-on-tour, has all the experience at the Slams—the two-time Australian Open champion is also a two-time runner-up here at the US Open in 2012 and 2013.

Sabalenka and Azarenka, the Top 2-ranked Belarusian women, will be playing for the first time.

[18] Felix Auger-Aliassime (CAN) vs Denis Shapovalov (CAN)

The two biggest Canadian rising stars on the men’s side, Felix Auger-Alissime and Denis Shapovalov, will meet in the first round of the US Open for the second straight year. Last year, they were tied at a set apiece and Shapovalov was up 4-1 in the third set when Auger-Aliassime retired due to dizziness and heat exhaustion—Auger-Aliassime won the pair’s only other tour-level meeting on clay in Madrid earlier this year. The two have both broken into the Top 20 for the first time this year, but Shapovalov has since dipped to No. 38, and just outside the seeds—hence them meeting in the first round here.

Shapovalov is also still alive in Winston-Salem this week—he plays Rublev in the quarterfinals today.

[WC] Cori “Coco” Gauff (USA) vs Anastasia Potapova (RUS)

It’s a first-time meeting, but definitely one to keep an eye on as one of the brightest young prospects in the sport—15-year-old American prodigy Cori “Coco” Gauff—makes her US Open debut against another teenager, Anastasia Potapova. Potapova, who’s 18 years old, has already reached her first two WTA finals, both at smaller tournaments last year in Moscow and Tashkent. She’s also made her mark on the big stage, taking out Angelique Kerber in the first round of Roland Garros this year.

All eyes will be on Gauff, though, after her historic performance at Wimbledon. She not only became the youngest woman in the Open Era to qualify for The Championships, she then stunned Venus Williams in the first round and eventually became the youngest woman to reach the second week of a Grand Slam since Anna Kournikova at the 1996 US Open. She ended up falling to Simona Halep.

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