Box office names ready for US Open battles

 - Alex Sharp

Over in New York City there are a plethora of storylines to dive into with the final Grand Slam of 2021 starting on Monday.

Ash Barty practicing her serve ahead of the 2021 US Open© Darren Carroll/USTA

There is nothing quite like the buzz and energy coursing through Flushing Meadows.

The US Open is a tennis party for a full fortnight and welcomes back fans to New York for the fourth and final Grand Slam of the season.

Let’s hear from some of the marquee names as the action bursts into life on tennis’ Broadway.

Novak Djokovic exiting a practice court at the 2021 US OpenAndrew Ong/USTA

Djokovic ‘inspired’ in history hunt

Novak Djokovic has borrowed a renowned quote from Billie Jean King to signal he is ready to attack all ahead of him.

“I thrive under pressure. I've done that many times in my career. Pressure is a privilege, it truly is,” stated the Serbian, hoping to match Rod Laver in 1969, who was the last man to achieve a mind-boggling Calendar Grand Slam.

Djokovic, US Open champion in 2011, 2015 and 2018, arrives in New York without a lead up tournament and having to shake off medal disappointment at Tokyo 2020.

However, with a major chunk of history within his grasp, the top seed appears in the zone.

“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,” maintained the top seed, aware of the mounting pressure ahead of opening his title charge against world No.145 qualifier Holger Rune.

“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 obviously around. My participation here, without Rafa (Nadal) and Roger (Federer) participating, I feel it.”

Can Djokovic stay in the “present moment”?  As the Serbian states, he’s been in this situation numerous times before, but the stakes have never been so high.

Naomi Osaka smiling during practice at the 2021 US Open©Jennifer Pottheiser/USTA

Nostalgia motivating Naomi Osaka

Defending champion Naomi Osaka had a trip down memory lane ahead of the US Open, unveiling courts she helped to refurbish in the local borough.

The four-time Grand Slam champion trained from three to eight-years-old in Jamaica, Queens, just down the road and has been harnessing those memories in the build-up to her first round against Marie Bouzkova.

“It feels really nice, of course I have memories of winning before,” reflected the third seed.

“But I think the biggest memory that comes back to me is being a little kid, running around the entire site. I don't know if that may be the reason why I play so well here, but there's definitely a lot of nostalgia.”

The 23-year-old, for her exemplary standards, has fallen early in the past five events since a last eight showing at the Miami Open.

“I know I haven't played that many matches. I know that I haven't even gotten to a quarter-final. I thought I played two really tough matches in Cincinnati,” stated the Japanese star.  

“I feel pretty confident with where I am right now. Of course I'm not declaring that I'll do amazing here. For me, I'm the one-match-at-a-time like person. Hopefully it will work out in the end.”

Ash Barty working out at practice ahead of the 2021 US Open© Andrew Ong/USTA

Milestones making a mark for Barty

Rewind to Wimbledon and Ash Barty was spurred on by the 50th anniversary of her idol and mentor Evonne Goolagong Cawley lifting her first title at the All England Club.

Now, the Australian, facing a dangerous opening round against former finalist Vera Zvonareva, has another milestone for motivation.

It’s a decade since her compatriot and close friend Sam Stosur defied Serena Williams to rule New York.

“Those omens that are a bit more personal to me do have an impact,” stated the world No.1. “I think to have the 10-year anniversary for Sammy here is incredible. It doesn‘t guarantee anything but it does make those weeks and those memories created around those weeks a little bit more special.”

The Queenslander matched her best US Open with a fourth-round ticket in 2019, but has since risen to the top of the rankings and added a second major.

Barty is in scintillating form too, scooping her fifth title of 2021 with an emphatic week in Cincinnati, losing just two games to 2020 US Open finalist Victoria Azarenka and toppling Roland-Garros champion Barbora Krejcikova along the way.

“For me it's keeping it simple. It's enjoying my tennis, going out there and playing with freedom. It's being really clear with tactically how I want to play. Then it just comes down to execution,” insisted Barty.

“Some days I'm going to have to go into the toolbox a little bit, find different things in my game. I think knowing that I have the confidence to go out there and trust myself is massive.”

Medvedev eager for final step

Very few pundits look past Djokovic, but world No.2 Daniil Medvedev has the credentials to derail the Serbian’s shot at history.

The 25-year-old, recent champion in Toronto, reached the US Open final in 2019 and lost to Djokovic in the Australian Open silverware showdown in February. Simply, the Russian knows how to run the Grand Slam gauntlet.

The ‘Big Three’ are locked on 20 Grand Slams and Medvedev is intent on making his mark on the major stage.

Daniil Medvedev practicing ahead of the 2021 US OpenPete Staples/USTA

“I'm going to try my best to keep it at 20 for all of them,” quipped the Russian, facing French stalwart Richard Gasquet at the first hurdle. “I'm sure Novak wants 45 slams, play till 55. But we're here to try to keep up his level and to beat him.

“He was going for Olympics. Was up a set and a break against Sascha (Zverev). Sascha managed to bring on amazing level to beat him. That's what you have to do against him.

“We're here to not let him win the US Open. If I talk just for myself, I want to win the US Open. I don't care if it's in the final against a qualifier or against Novak. I just want to win this tournament.”