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No Limit: Prakash sources Serena sound from NYC

Tommy Paul vs. Sebastian Korda

The grounds were teeming with Americans on Monday. But early on, two of the country’s players with the highest hopes—Paul and Korda—looked like they were heading for early exits. Paul went down two sets to one to Bernabé Zapata Miralles, while Korda nearly fell behind two sets to love to Facundo Bagnis. But with a little—OK a lot—of help from enthusiastic pro-Yank side-court crowds, they dug themselves out of those holes and lived to fight another day. And each other.

That’s the downside of having a lot of players from one country in a draw: They tend to run into each other. If the situation were different, you might wonder if both of these guys would benefit from having an early test and a close escape. But here only one of them will move on. Who that will be is tough to call. Paul is ranked 18 spots higher than Korda, but Korda is 3-0 against Paul. Each has been in decent form this summer: Paul beat Carlos Alcaraz on his way to the quarters in Montreal; Korda made the quarters in D.C. and the round of 16 in Cincy.

While the proceedings will surely be civil, there may be a slight edge just under the surface in this one. Paul is three years older than Korda, but Korda has had his number. No one likes to keep losing to any particular opponent, but that’s especially true if that person is younger, from the same country, and possibly a rival for international team competition somewhere down the road. Maybe that will be enough to spur Tommy on. Winner: Paul

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Bianca Andreescu vs. Beatriz Haddad Maia

Does it surprise you to learn that Haddad Maia, a 26-year-old Brazilian who was unknown to most before this season, is ranked No. 15 in the world? Numbers-wise, her rise has been meteoric; she ended 2021 ranked 80th. But the lefty’s size, strength, and determination have been apparent for a while now, and she began to harness those skills at the ITF level in 2020, when she won nine titles in 10 finals. All of that winning has begun to rub off at the WTA level; this year she won back-to-back grass-court titles, and beat Iga Swiatek on her way to the Toronto final.

All of which makes a match between Haddad Maia and Andreescu a potentially explosive all-court scrap. They’ve played once before, in Waco, Texas, in 2016, and Haddad Maia won when Andreescu retired down 0-4 in the third set. We know what Andreescu can do at her best, but she’s been very up-and-down this season, from one match to the next and even from one set to the next. If Haddad Maia is playing as well as she has for much of 2022, Andreescu will have to keep her spells of bad play to a minimum. Winner: Haddad Maia

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Are you looking at an image of Serena Williams' last singles opponent?

Are you looking at an image of Serena Williams' last singles opponent?

Serena Williams vs. Anett Kontaveit

“Will this be Serena’s last match?” The suspense begins all over again on Wednesday night, and the US Open isn’t complaining. It will be pleased to take all of the sell-out crowds in Ashe it can get.

Another question now is: OK, Serena found a semblance of her old game in the first round, against 80th-ranked Danka Kovinic; but will that level work as well against a player ranked 78 spots higher? In the old days, we knew the answer: Whatever Serena’s ranking was, or however much or little she had been competing, if she played her game she could beat anyone. Decimate anyone. We’ll find out if that’s still true.

Kontaveit, admittedly, is not the most imposing No. 2 player of all time. The 26-year-old has made just one Grand Slam quarterfinal in her career, and she ascended to her current lofty position with a string of strong results at smaller events last fall. In 2022, she has fallen back to earth. She’s never played Serena, so it’s an open question as to whether she has the type of game that can hurt the 40-year-old American. Can she move Serena? Can she make her hit tons of balls? Does she have the ability to block out the Ashe audience and atmosphere? Kontaveit does everything well, but she isn’t a ball-basher or a wallboard. She’ll want to make a high percentage of first serves, so Serena can’t take advantage of her second delivery.

Of course, the match will ultimately be on Serena’s racquet. If she’s timing the ball the way she did at the end of her first round, Kontaveit will have to play better than she has been recently to beat her. Winner: S. Williams