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5 reasons to still watch US Open after Serena Williams’ exit

Now that Serena Williams’ farewell tour has ended at the U.S. Open — singles and doubles — is there anything left to stir the tennis imagination the rest of the fortnight?

After all, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer aren’t here and the women’s field has become so parity-ridden, any of 30 players could win it. Maybe it’s not appointment viewing, but here are five reasons to pay attention to Flushing Meadows.

The Bad Boy vs. The Reigning Champion

The first major men’s glamour match will take place Sunday night, when No. 1 seed Daniil Medvedev and 23rd seed Nick Kyrgios take center stage in a fourth-round doozy.

Medvedev has been a sideshow, twice being put on as the second night match at Arthur Ashe Stadium after Williams. The crowds, by then, had emptied into small, quiet throngs.
Sunday, though, will be the spotlight superheavyweight bout against Kyrgios, the bad boy of tennis who also has quietly moved on to his best U.S. Open showing.

Kyrgios made his first Grand Slam final at Wimbledon, but it was fluky, with Rafael Nadal forfeiting his semifinals match.

Nick Kyrgios (center), Coco Gauff (top left), Rafael Nadal (top right), Carlos Alcaraz (bottom left) and Ajla Tomljanović are five players still worth watching in this U.S. Open after Serena Williams' exit.
Nick Kyrgios (center), Coco Gauff (top left), Rafael Nadal (top right), Carlos Alcaraz (bottom left) and Ajla Tomljanović are five players still worth watching in this U.S. Open after Serena Williams’ exit.
EPA (2); Shuttertstock; AP; USA TODAY Sports;

“As an athlete, you want to be in those moments,’’ Kyrgios said. “I don’t want to be playing futures or challengers on backcourts with no crowd. That’s not why I play this sport. That’s not why I pick up a racquet.”

Ajla Tomljanovic didn’t have any fans Friday night at Ashe Stadium, but expect her to gain support Sunday when she plays her fourth-round match against Liudmila Samsonova at Louis Armstrong Stadium.

Tomljanovic, 29, already is the answer to an important trivia question: Who faced Serena Williams in her last match? Now the 45th-ranked, Croatian-born, Aussie-raised, 5-foot-11, right-hander will attempt to build on her spectacular three-set win over Williams.

She showed nerves of steel in fighting back to win the first set versus Williams and rallying back from 4-0 down in the second set to force a tiebreaker. By not giving up in the second set, Tomljanovic wore Williams out, and she was blistering groundstrokes against a weakened foe in the final set.

“I was extremely nervous ’cause I’ve never played on Ashe, I’ve never faced Serena,’’ she said. “I knew the crowd would be tough. From the first ball I was happy I felt comfortable. From then on, it was kind of instinct.’’

Channeling Coco

Coco Gauff is the likeliest to take the mantle from Williams, and the 18-year-old darling is into the fourth round for the first time in her young career.

The Delray Beach, Fla., product will face China’s Shuai Zhang on Sunday during the day card. She’s playing the best tennis of her career, and the French Open finalist could be in line for her second major final of 2022. She obliterated the tough American Madison Keys in the third round.

Carlos Alcaraz burst onto the scene at the 2021 Open with a run to the final, and the speedy 19-year-old from Spain captured a series of hardcourt tournaments in spring, earning the moniker “The Next Nadal.’’ He’s short, but superfast, like his fellow Spanish countryman — one of the most exciting players on the tour.

This draw is favorable for Alcaraz to make a bigger run, and he could face the legendary Nadal in the semifinals, which would turn Ashe Stadium into Madrid West. Alcaraz had no issues in dispatching American Jenson Brooksby on Saturday, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3.

Pass the Pasta

When 13th-seeded Italian star Matteo Berrettini made his run to the US Open semifinals in 2019, restaurant owner Giovanni Bartocci was often seen in his player’s box, acting as if Italy had won the World Cup. He’s back in Berrettini’s box after his restaurant, Via Della Pace, closed during the pandemic, but has now reopened. All the Italian tennis players frequent the place during the Open.

Berrettini, the hard-serving former Wimbledon finalist, looks dangerous again after coming back from a series of injuries. He’s in the Round of 16 facing Spain’s Alejandro Davidovich Fokina. He has a very good draw and could play clay-court specialist Casper Ruud in the quarterfinals.

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