Serena Williams, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer launch US Open title bids
New York: Top-seeded Serena Williams starts defending her US Open crown on Monday while Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer join her in Arthur Ashe Stadium at the year`s final Grand Slam event.
Williams, seeking her 17th Grand Slam singles crown and her fifth US Open title, faces Italy`s 54th-ranked Francesca Schiavone in the opening night match on the Flushing Meadows hardcourts.
"It will be a good match," Williams said. "She`s a really good player. She`s a big fighter and she`s dangerous."
Williams, 31, is 5-2 all-time against Schiavone, including a second-round victory earlier this month at Toronto on her way to her eighth title of the season, including a Grand Slam crown at the French Open, and the 54th of her career. But she says she doesn`t need another Slam to make this a special year.
"That`s the beauty of my career. I don`t need to do anything at all," Williams said. "Everything I do from this day forward is a bonus. Everything for me is just extra."
Second seed Nadal, also a reigning French Open champion, launches his quest for a 13th career Grand Slam title against US wildcard Ryan Harrison.
The Spaniard defeated Harrison in their only prior meeting, which came in Nadal`s first hardcourt match of the year in March at Indian Wells after a seven-month knee injury layoff.
Nadal went on to win at Indian Wells as well as this month at Montreal and Cincinnati and enters this US Open with a 15-0 hardcourt record this season.
"It has been great," Nadal said. "But there`s no time to think about what happened. It`s only time to think about what`s going on. What`s important is (to) try to be ready for the first round of the US Open.
"I have a tough opponent in front of me, Ryan Harrison, and I am focused on that. I hope to be ready to play well. I hope to be very competitive for the first match."
Nadal, who would take home $3.6 million (2.69 million dollars) by winning the title, would also end Novak Djokovic`s reign as world number one, if the Serb star also fails to reach the final for a fourth year in a row.
Federer, who at seventh is seeded in his lowest position at the US Open since 2002, suffered his earliest Grand Slam exit since winning his first Grand Slam title a decade ago with a second-round loss at Wimbledon.
The Swiss star, with a men`s record 17 Grand Slam crowns but no US Open title since his fifth in a row in 2008, opens in a night match against Slovenia`s Grega Zemlja, who has not taken a set off Federer in two prior meetings, most recently at Rotterdam in February.
Federer will match a record by making his 56th consecutive Grand Slam appearance, a remarkable run that began at the 2000 Australian Open. Wayne Ferreira set the mark with a run that ended at the 2004 US Open.
"I`ve put in the hard work for so many years. That keeps my base at a very high level," Federer said. "It`s actually more comfortable with my body today than it has been in the past."
Venus Williams, a seven-time Grand Slam champion who has been nagged by back pain and last reached a Slam semi-final at the 2010 US Open, has a tough first-round match with Belgian 12th seed Kirsten Flipkens, who beat Serena`s older sister 0-6, 6-4, 6-2 at Toronto earlier this month.
"She is getting better and better," Serena Williams said of Venus. "She had a really good shot at Flipkens last time. I think she has a good chance."
US 15th seed Sloane Stephens, a possible fourth-round foe for Serena Williams, opens against Luxembourg`s Mandy Minella. Stephens ousted Serena Williams in the Australian Open quarter-finals and reached the last eight at Wimbledon as well.
"Sloane has had such a good year," Serena Williams said. "She`s such a good player and she is so smooth. She just has this game and this confidence that`s not easy to get. It`s so good to see her doing well."