NEW YORK: There will be no shortage of big-name players in action when the U.S. Open begins on Monday but the talk around New York for days has centred around the marquee matchup between Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova.
Williams and Sharapova - for years the two most recognizable names in women's tennis - will open the evening session at Arthur Ashe Stadium with their first-ever New York meeting in a match that may just have the feel of a championship final.
"Of course I'm going to watch it," defending U.S. Open champion Naomi Osaka told reporters. "I know you all are going to watch it. I think everyone in New York is going to watch it.
"At every Grand Slam there is always some sort of drama. You know what I mean? Like a first round. Like, Oh, my God. So this match just happens to be that for this tournament."
Eighth seed Williams, who is seeking a record-tying 24th career Grand Slam title, owns a commanding 19-2 career record against Sharapova, who last beat the American in 2004 and has fallen to 87th in the rankings amid an injury-hit 2019 season.
"Definitely. That's going to be a match to watch," said Canadian teenager Bianca Andreescu, who is seeded 15th and plays her first match on Tuesday.
Among the other top names in action on Day One of the year's final Grand Slam are defending champion Novak Djokovic, five-times winner Roger Federer, Australian world number two Ash Barty and Venus Williams.
While that talented group will surely draw plenty of attention, the anticipation for their respective matches will pale in comparison to the Williams-Sharapova matchup.
Williams and Sharapova have not played each other since the 2016 Australian Open. They were set to meet last year at the French Open but Williams withdrew injured moments before their fourth-round match.
While five-times Grand Slam champion Sharapova may be far from her top form, she could still present a challenge for Williams, who has not competed since retiring from the Toronto final against Andreescu with back spasms.
And while their clash is highly anticipated, not everyone in the tennis world is planning their day around the match.
"There are a lot of other quality first rounds. It's not the only first round in the draw," said French Open champion Barty, who kicks off the action at Arthur Ashe Stadium against Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan.
"I think more importantly I'm focused on my first round on Monday, and that's all I'm worried about for the moment."
(Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)