The final grand slam of the year is a few hours away, and the first day of the US Open already has some intriguing matches for tennis fans to look forward to.
Kirsten Flipkens (12) vs. Venus Williams
Flipkens was one of the Cinderella stories to come out of this year's Wimbledon, when she made it all the way to the semifinals on the back of some intelligent tennis. The Belgian's rise in the rankings is all the more remarkable considering the obstacles she has had to overcome. Venus Williams can probably relate to Flipkens' story after her continuing struggles with illness off the court. Venus isn't able to move around the court easily nowadays, and that reflects in her low ranking. The two met in Toronto recently, where Venus blew Flipkens away in the first set 6-0, before Flipkens took advantage of superior fitness to pull through in three sets. Flipkens is the marginal favourite, but if the crowd get behind Venus an upset isn't out of the question.
Ryan Harrison vs. Rafael Nadal (2)
On paper this match is a no-brainer. Nadal is coming to Flushing Meadows on the back of a comprehensive summer, winning back-to-back Masters Series titles in Montreal and Cincinnati. Even Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Roger Federer have acknowledged that the Spaniard is the man to beat. So what chance does Ryan Harrison have? Not much of a chance to be brutally honest. The talented American's progress has stalled after breaking through on the tour a few years ago, but sometimes the home players at the US Open can step it up a level or two, and Harrison might just go for broke in an attempt to at least make the match entertaining.
Serena Williams (1) vs. Francesca Schiavone
It's not often that grand slam champions play against each other in the first round, especially on the WTA tour. However, that's exactly what we have this year in New York, as title favourite Serena Williams takes on the 2010 French Open champion Francesca Schiavone. It will be good to see Serena face a testing opponent in the first round, and it might provide the defending champion with the ideal opportunity to focus herself after a tough loss to Victoria Azarenka in the finals at Cincinnati. Schiavone isn't the player she was two years ago, nevertheless the night session crowd will enjoy her attempts at crafting rallies, and her angled volleys could frustrate Serena.
Fernando Verdasco (27) vs. Ivan Dodig
Verdasco displayed some of his best tennis when he made it to the quarterfinals at Wimbledon, and was the player closest to beating Andy Murray at SW19. Since then Verdasco has gone off the boil again, and if the Spaniard isn't on his A game, Ivan Dodig could upset him. The Croatian has a big serve and fierce groundstrokes, but can also mix it up with a deft touch at net. Expect a tough physical match between these two, and I wouldn't be surprised if the victor makes a run into the second week.
Jelena Jankovic (9) vs. Madison Keys
Jankovic is having a superb 2013, returning to the top ten after a good performance in Cincinnati. The former world number one is moving around the court in a manner reminiscent of her heyday. The greater experience of the Serbian should prevail in this match, however if Keys' gets her first serve going on the faster courts of Flushing Meadows, the crowd on Grandstand can get behind her. It might still not be enough to cause an upset, but a tie-break or even a three set match is certainly possible.