NEW YORK — A look at 10 of the top topics at the U.S. Open, the hard-court Grand Slam tennis tournament that begins Monday and ends Sept. 9:
1. MURRAY’S FIRST DEFENSE: For the first time, Andy Murray will be the defending champion at a Grand Slam tournament — and he suspects he’ll be more nervous than usual in the early rounds. Will be intriguing to see if that’s true.
2. RAFA RETURNS: Rafael Nadal has gone through all manner of ups and downs over the past two seasons. He’s looked terrific lately, improving to 15-0 on hard courts in 2013 by winning the Montreal and Cincinnati tournaments this month. He’s back up to No. 2 in the rankings, behind only Novak Djokovic, who has reached at least the semifinals in each of his past six visits to Flushing Meadows.
3. FEDERER AT NO. 7: Roger Federer’s 17 Grand Slam titles include five at the U.S. Open. He was ranked No. 1 for more weeks than any man in history. He was seeded No. 1 at 18 consecutive Grand Slam tournaments from 2004-08. And now? Well, he turned 32 this month and is coming off his earliest loss at a Grand Slam tournament in a decade, and is seeded No. 7 at the U.S. Open.
4. ANYONE OUTSIDE THE BIG 4?: The so-called Big 4 of Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray have combined to win 33 of the past 34 Grand Slam titles, a stretch that began in 2005. Is there any chance anyone else breaks through at this tournament? Any discussion of other contenders must begin with the guy who kept it from being 34 of 34 – Juan Martin del Potro.
5. THE AMERICAN MEN: Andy Roddick’s name might very well be mentioned as much over the coming weeks as Perry’s has been uttered at Wimbledon. This U.S. Open is the 40th Grand Slam tournament since an American man won a major title, Roddick’s at Flushing Meadows in 2003.
6. WILLIAMS TRIES TO MAKE IT TWO: For all Serena Williams has accomplished, one tiny thing missing from her résumé is a successful title defense at the U.S. Open, the site of a couple of her infamous meltdowns.
7. WHO IS NOT HERE: Maria Sharapova surprisingly withdrew the day before the draw. Even more surprising: Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli isn’t entered either, and it’s because she suddenly announced her retirement this month at age 28.
8. YOUNG AMERICAN WOMEN: Sloane Stephens is seeded 15th, and the sport’s
biggest stages bring out her best tennis. The 20-year-old Stephens is hardly the only up-and-coming young American who could draw attention. Jamie Hampton, who is seeded 23rd, also made the second week at Roland Garros. Madison Keys is worth watching, too.
9. MONDAY FINISH: For the first time in the Open era, which began in 1968, the year’s last Grand Slam tournament is scheduled to end on a Monday – a result of the push by top players to provide a day of rest between the men’s semifinals and final.
10. MONEY, MONEY, EVERYWHERE: Another result of lobbying by top players is an increase in prize money at Grand Slam tournaments – the U.S. Open is raising its total payout about 35 percent in 2013, to more than $34 million. That includes $2.6 million each to the men’s and women’s singles champions.
A player who loses in the first round of singles will get $32,000. If either Nadal or Williams wins the title, the trophy would come with a check for $3.6 million, because each earned a possible $1 million bonus by finishing atop the standings from the U.S. Open Series, which takes into account results on the North American hard-court circuit.