US Open Tennis 2013: Top Storylines to Follow on Final 3 Days of Action
When's there's a Grand Slam trophy on the line, tennis fans everywhere are fixated on the event finals.
Only three days of action at Flushing Meadows separates us from starting preparation for the 2014 Grand Slam season.
Four men remain on the men's singles side of the draw, while Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka have punched their collective tickets for the women's singles final. The men's and women's doubles finals will also take place over the weekend in New York.
It all comes down to this.
There's a number of aspects worth following as the tournament winds down. We'll take a look at three of those storylines below.
*For a complete look at the remaining draws, schedule and television information at the 2013 U.S. Open, visit USOpen.org.
Top Storylines to Follow in NYC
Azarenka-Williams, Round 2
By the numbers, Victoria Azarenka and Serena Williams don't quite qualify as a rivalry.
Williams has dominated head-to-head matches between the two, posting a career 13-3 record against her Belarusian counterpart in official WTA Tour matches. Last year in the 2012 U.S. Open final, Williams won her fourth career title in New York by beating Azarenka in a three-set thriller.
Of late, though, the script has been flipped.
Azarenka has won two of the last three matches between the two, both of which came on hard courts. Coincidentally, the U.S. Open final will be played on just that.
That being said, it's not as if Serena is going down without a fight. As noted by ESPN's Stats & Info, Williams has been untouchable through her first six matches at Flushing Meadows:
Serena Williams: lost total of 16 games through 6 matches. She'll face Azarenka in the Final who has beaten Serena twice this year— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 6, 2013
While the Western & Southern Open belonged to Azarenka last month, that result won't matter come Sunday.
Azarenka (four Grand Slam finals appearances) and Williams (16-time Grand Slam winner) might be on opposite ends of the spectrum right now, but a rivalry between the WTA's one-two punch is brewing, and that kind of circumstance is always worth watching.
Surprise Men's Singles Semifinalists
Although both are seeded in the top 10, any self-made U.S. Open brackets that featured Richard Gasquet (8) and Stanislas Wawrinka (9) in the men's singles semifinals are indeed rare finds.
With former U.S. Open champions Andy Murray, Juan Martin del Potro and Roger Federer in the field, two men who had just one Grand Slam semifinal appearance between them (Gasquet, 2007 Wimbledon) didn't have much traction toward two of the four spots.
But alas, that's where we're at.
Wawrinka hammered defending champion Murray in the quarterfinals, winning in straight sets and dominating virtually every aspect of the match. Gasquet hasn't dominated in either of his last two matches, but did manage to outlast two different top-10 seeds in five-set battles to reach this point.
Christopher Clarey of The New York Times and Jon Wertheim each had strong pieces on the two men in anticipation for what could be an groundbreaking day at the U.S. Open on Saturday:
Wawrinka must elevate his game to beat Djokovic at U.S. Open: In the wee morning hours of Sunday, January 20th... http://t.co/h66LDryE3s— Jon Wertheim (@jon_wertheim) September 6, 2013
Opposite the two challengers will be two men who have combined for 18 career Grand Slam titles. We'll touch on that more in the section below, but at their core, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are the tennis stars who have kept Gasquet and Wawrinka out of the national spotlight.
Djokovic and Nadal have both dropped just one of 16 sets so far through five matches in New York. Needless to say, a victory for Wawrinka or Gasquet would be astounding.
I give Wawrinka a better chance to hang with Djokovic than Gasquet with Nadal, largely because the Frenchman is coming off two straight five-set matches and Nadal has never lost a professional match to the eighth-seeded pro.
Conversely, Wawrinka and Djokovic had a 12-10 fifth set earlier this year at the Australian Open, and if you're confidence isn't high after beating the defending U.S. Open champion to reach your first Grand Slam semifinal, you're in the wrong sport.
Odds are we're looking at a 2011 redux with Djoker and Nadal in the final. That being said, it would certainly be something if one of the two challengers can do enough to earn a spot in the men's final.
Grand Slam Totals for Top Stars
Assuming that Djokovic and Nadal make it through the fire unscathed, each men's and women's singles final will feature a tennis player with double-digit Grand Slam tournament wins.
Nadal (12) and Williams (16) are two of the few players on their respective circuits who are truly world-class. Djokovic (six) and Azarenka (two) aren't quite there yet, but could very well continue on toward greatness if their current trends continue.
It's always nice to stop and take it all in when historic moments are right in front of us.
With a win, Williams will move within one Grand Slam title of Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova on the all-time list. She'll need seven more to move past Steffi Graf and nine more overtake the legendary Margaret Court to become the winningest woman in tennis history.
Which is most likely to happen?
For Nadal, records are also within reach. A win moves him out of a tie with Roy Emerson for third on the all-time men's list. Though most of his Grand Slams have come at the French Open, Nadal has flirted with overall brilliance by winning each of the four Opens at least once.
A win in the final on Monday would be his second career tournament win in New York.
Djokovic will be making his seventh straight appearance in the U.S. Open semifinal on Saturday, but it's the final which he has his sights set on. With three career losses in the final match of the tournament sandwiched around his 2011 win, Djokovic has unfinished business at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Azarenka is an infant compared to her Sunday opponent and male counterparts, but she can take steps toward reaching their level with Grand Slam title No. 3.
There's no Federer, no Murray, no Maria Sharapova and no more reason to keep mentioning disappoints in New York this year. The final three days are about showcasing what it takes to win Grand Slam finals.
There's no way any match the rest of the way disappoints.
Follow B/R's Ethan Grant on Twitter.
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