US OPEN 2021: Osaka defends; Barty tries for 2nd Slam in row

Women to watch at the U.S. Open, which starts Monday at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York:

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ASH BARTY

Seeded: 1

Country: Australia

Age: 25

2021 Match Record: 40-7

2021 Singles Titles: 5

Career Singles Titles: 13

Grand Slam Singles Titles: 2 — French Open (2019), Wimbledon (2021)

Last 5 U.S. Opens: 2020-Did Not Play, 2019-Lost in 4th Round, 2018-4th, 2017-3rd, 2016-DNP

Aces: Sat out last year’s U.S. Open because of the pandemic. … Won second major trophy at Wimbledon. … Won hard-court title at Cincinnati. … 14-1 vs. top 20 this season. … Leads tour in match wins and final appearances (6 in 12 events).

Question: Barty’s Slam titles have come on grass and clay. Can she make a major breakthrough on hard courts?

Matchup: Could face 2021 Australian Open runner-up Jennifer Brady in fourth round.

Words: “There are no certainties in sport, no certainties in tennis. It’s just about playing each and every day as best you can as they come and not focusing or concerning yourself or your self-worth with results.” — Barty.

FanDuel Sportsbook Title Odds: 18-5

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ARYNA SABALENKA

Seeded: 2

Country: Belarus

Age: 23

2021 Match Record: 38-14

2021 Singles Titles: 2

Career Singles Titles: 10

Grand Slam Singles Titles: Zero — Best: SF (Wimbledon, 2021)

Last 5 U.S. Opens: 2020-2nd, 2019-2nd, 2018-4th, 2017-DNP, 2016-DNP

Aces: Never past fourth round at any Slam until her run to the semifinals at the All England Club in July. … Her powerful game — via serve and groundstrokes — should make her a contender on hard courts. But her career record at the U.S. Open is just 5-3. … Third on tour in 2021 with 286 aces, but also has most double-faults, 245.

Question: Now that Sabalenka has been to the closing days of a major at Wimbledon, can she build off that and take the next step?

Matchup: Could face 2019 Australian Open semifinalist Danielle Collins in the third round.

Words: “I mean, I have (the) game to win it. It’s just about, I think, (the) mental side of the sport.” — Sabalenka, on whether she can win a major.

FanDuel Sportsbook Title Odds: 14-1

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NAOMI OSAKA

Seeded: 3

Country: Japan

Age: 23

2021 Match Record: 17-5

2021 Singles Titles: 1

Career Singles Titles: 7

Grand Slam Singles Titles: 4 — U.S. Open (2: 2018, 2020), Australian Open (2: 2019, 2021)

Last 5 U.S. Opens: 2020-Won Championship, 2019-4th, 2018-W, 2017-3rd, 2016-3rd

Aces: Returns to Grand Slam action for the first time since pulling out before second round of French Open for a mental health break. … 4-0 in Grand Slam finals — the first woman to begin a career that way since Monica Seles 30 years ago — and 12-0 in quarterfinals, semifinals and title matches at majors.

Question: Is anyone’s hard-court game good enough to stop Osaka’s?

Matchup: Could face 17-year-old American Coco Gauff or three-time major champion Angelique Kerber in the fourth round.

Words: “I’m proud of what I did, and I think it was something that needed to be done.” — Osaka, on her revelations about anxiety and depression.

FanDuel Sportsbook Title Odds: 6-1

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BARBORA KREJCIKOVA

Seeded: 8

Country: Czech Republic

Age: 25

2021 Match Record: 39-12

2021 Singles Titles: 3

Career Singles Titles: 3

Grand Slam Singles Titles: 1 — French Open (2021)

Last 5 U.S. Opens: 2020-DNP, 2019-DNP, 2018-DNP, 2017-DNP, 2016-DNP

Aces: Makes U.S. Open main-draw debut. … Won singles and doubles titles at the French Open in June and Tokyo Olympic gold in doubles in August. … Only has six singles appearances at majors.

Question: Can she prolong her impressive Slam run this season?

Matchup: Could meet No. 9 Garbiñe Muguruza or No. 18 Victoria Azarenka, a couple of two-time major champs and former No. 1s, in the fourth round.

Words: “Today it just wasn’t good enough, but I’m just looking forward to keeping improving.” — Krejcikova, after losing to Barty at Wimbledon.

FanDuel Sportsbook Title Odds: 22-1

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SIMONA HALEP

Seeded: 12

Country: Romania

Age: 29

2021 Match Record: 12-6

2021 Singles Titles: 0

Career Singles Titles: 22

Grand Slam Singles Titles: 2 — French Open (2018), Wimbledon (2019)

Last 5 U.S. Opens: 2020-DNP, 2019-2nd, 2018-1st, 2017-1st, 2016-QF

Aces: Former No. 1. … Missed last year’s U.S. Open. … Only Slam she hasn’t reached the final. Made semifinal run in 2015. … Skipped French Open and Wimbledon because of a torn left calf.

Question: Can Halep play herself into form after pulling out of her previous tournament with an injured right leg?

Matchup: Faces Camila Giorgi, who just won a hard-court title at Montreal, in the first round.

Words: “To build the confidence, I have to keep playing matches.” — Halep, on her return to action.

FanDuel Sportsbook Title Odds: 26-1

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COCO GAUFF

Seeded: 21

Country: United States

Age: 17

2021 Match Record: 34-14

2021 Singles Titles: 1

Career Singles Titles: 2

Grand Slam Singles Titles: Zero — Best: Quarterfinals (2021 French Open)

Last 5 U.S. Opens: 2020-1st, 2019-3rd, 2018-DNP, 2017-DNP, 2016-DNP

Aces: Game keeps developing, built on strong backhand and big serve. … Got COVID-19 this year.

Question: Can she avoid early stumble? Only first-round Slam exit so far came in New York in 2020.

Matchup: Could face 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens or 2017 runner-up Madison Keys in the second round.

Words: “My hitting partner told me this match will probably make me a champion in the future. I really do believe that.” — Gauff, after losing to eventual title winner Krejcikova at Roland Garros.

FanDuel Sportsbook Title Odds: 18-1

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