US Open qualifying: Ons Jabeur sets up final round against Alexandra Dulgheru

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Ons Jabeur stormed into the final round of US Open qualifying, dropping just six games in her first two matches, and will take on Romanian Alexandra Dulgheru on Friday for a spot in the main draw.

The Tunisian, who turns 24 on Tuesday, took out American Kristie Ahn on Thursday 6-1, 6-2, to step closer to a third appearance in the US Open main draw. Last month, Jabeur became the first Arab woman since 2005 to win a match at Wimbledon when she took out Viktorija Golubic to reach the second round at the All England Club.

“I was playing my game, just trying to maintain. I had the image of playing in Wimbledon so it kind of helped me to make sure I was ready on my legs and I was here,” Jabeur told Sport360 of her qualifying second round at the US Open on Thursday.

“Today was a pretty good match, I was expecting a more difficult one. But since I was ready, I didn’t give her the chance to come back or to play her game. I’m very happy but I still have to be focused for tomorrow. It’s going to be a tricky match I’m sure but I’m going to give it my all and try to play like today and hopefully it’ll go well.”

Jabeur defeated Dulgheru easily in a $100k clay tournament in the south of France earlier this year but insists Friday will be a different story.

“I played her lately in Cagnes-Sur-Mer but it was clay, so it’s going to be a totally different match, especially that it’s on hard courts and she’s playing well lately. It’s qualifying for the main draw, so a lot of stress for both of us. But I’m going to try to do well and hopefully be ready for tomorrow,” Jabeur added.

With her eyes set firmly on a main draw berth, Jabeur couldn’t help but take a peek at the qualifying spots in the women’s draw, which was unveiled on Thursday afternoon, and admits a possible US Open first-round showdown with Maria Sharapova — who is drawn to face a qualifier in her opener — would be a real treat.

“It’s pretty interesting for me. It gives more motivation of course. I like the spots, there’s a pretty good chance and also exciting chances like the Sharapova one, it’s nice to have this draw. But for me I don’t want to skip the step for tomorrow and hopefully I’ll be thinking about this tomorrow afternoon,” said Jabeur.

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Serena Williams could face Venus early but Kuznetsova might spoil Williams party - Things learned from US Open draw

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The fourth and final Grand Slam of the season is upon us and with the first three won by three different players (Caroline Wozniacki – Australian Open, Simona Halep – French Open, Angelique Kerber – Wimbledon) many are wondering if the trend will continue and we get a fourth woman triumphing in New York.

The US Open women’s draw was unveiled on Thursday with Halep headlining the field as the world No. 1.

Serena Williams had her seeding bumped from 26 to 17, while former champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, and two-time runner-up Victoria Azarenka were given wildcards into the main draw.

Here are the main takeaways from Thursday’s ceremony.

SISTERS ON COLLISION COURSE

Serena seeded No. 17 means she could face a 9-16 seed in the third round. Thursday’s draw placed 16th-seeded Venus Williams as Serena’s possible round three opponent but before the older Williams sister can think about that potential match-cup, she will have to get past Kuznetsova, in a battle of former US Open champions.

Kuznetsova, who had wrist surgery end of last year, missed the first two months of 2018 and has finally started to find her form a few weeks ago as she stormed to take the title in Washington DC.

THE LOADED QUARTER 

Besides the fact that Serena, Venus and Kuznetsova are all sharing the same section, they’ve landed in a quarter of the draw that includes top-seeded Halep, two-time Grand Slam winner Garbine Muguruza, 2016 US Open runner-up Karolina Pliskova and dangerous floaters Ashleigh Barty and Maria Sakkari. It feels impossible to predict who will make it out of that quarter alive.

NO LUCK FOR VIKA

Azarenka is no stranger to getting unlucky draws and since she’s unseeded and is still ranked a lowly 80, she’ll have to navigate some tricky paths if she wants to make it far at tournaments. She managed to do that successfully in Miami earlier this year, making the semis by taking out the likes of Agnieszka Radwanska, Karolina Pliskova and Madison Keys but hasn’t been able to do that consistently ever since.

Azarenka could take on 25th-seeded Daria Gavrilova in the second round before a possible last-32 showdown with familiar foe, defending champion Sloane Stephens, who beat the Belarusian in both Miami and Indian Wells earlier this year.

This will be Azarenka’s first US Open since 2015. She missed the 2016 edition due to pregnancy and was unable to play last year due to a custody issue with the father of her child. The ex- world No. 1 is still going through personal issues and admitted in Cincinnati last week that things continue to be difficult for her.

“I think I’m struggling a little bit with finding the joy on the court because it’s been such a tough time and it’s still a tough time for me,” said Azarenka.

PRESSURE ON SHARAPOVA

Maria Sharapova has played just three matches since her Wimbledon first-round exit, and pulled out of San Jose and Cincinnati with right shoulder problems. She has 240 points to defend, from her fourth round appearance in New York last year and has landed in another stacked quarter of the draw.

The Russian could face Jelena Ostapenko in the third round, Garcia in the fourth, and Kerber or Keys in the quarters.

THE YOUTH SECTION

Indian Wells finalists, the 20-year-old Naomi Osaka and 21-year-old Daria Kasatkina could face in the third round but the latter might first have to take on Belinda Bencic (also 21) in round two. Bencic recently hired Vladimir Platenik, Kasatkina’s ex-coach, which would only add spice to an already intriguing match-up.

KVITOVA-BERTENS 3.0

After losing to Kiki Bertens in both Montreal and Cincinnati already this month, Petra Kvitova could face the Dutchwoman for a third time this hard-court season if they both reach the quarter-finals. Bertens’ path is a bit clearer than Kvitova’s though with the Czech possibly facing Cincinnati semi-finalist Aryna Sabalenka in the third round.

FIRST ROUNDS TO WATCH

Garbine Muguruza v Zhang Shuai

Elina Svitolina v Saschia Vickery

Anastasija Sevastova v Donna Vekic

Venus Williams v Svetlana Kuznetsova

Caroline Garcia v Johanna Konta

Aryna Sabalenka v Danielle Collins

Caroline Wozniacki v Sam Stosur

Daria Kasatkina v Timea Babos

Jelena Ostapenko v Andrea Petkovic

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Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic land in same quarter - Things learned from US Open men's draw

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NEW YORK — Roger Federer predicts that this year’s US Open will be “epic” and the draw, which was conducted privately on Thursday morning and revealed to the public later in the afternoon, certainly indicates that the Swiss’ prophecy might come true.

Defending champions Rafael Nadal and Sloane Stephens joined ESPN’s Chris Fowler and Tracy Austin, who was a champion in New York in 1979 and 1981, at the draw unveiling and the Spanish top seed says he’s well-rested and ready to go after skipping Cincinnati last week.

“Rafa’s going to win the tournament,” said Stephens when asked who she thought was the US Open favourite.

Here are the things learned from the 2018 US Open men’s draw.

DJOKOVIC LANDS IN FEDERER’S QUARTER

Seeded No. 6 this upcoming fortnight, two-time US Open champion Novak Djokovic fell in Roger Federer’s quarter of the draw. A blockbuster quarter-final between the pair would be a rematch of their Cincinnati final last week, where Djokovic beat Federer in two sets to become the first-ever player to win each of the nine Masters 1000 tournaments at least once.

Federer won the US Open five years in a row between 2004 and 2008 but he hasn’t lifted the trophy here since, while Djokovic hasn’t triumphed in New York since 2015.

They’ve both won Grand Slams this season though – Federer in Melbourne and Djokovic at Wimbledon – and are two of the main contenders for the title.

The Federer and Djokovic rivalry has a long history at the US Open, where they’ve faced off six times. Djokovic defeated the Swiss on his way to both titles won in New York while Federer topped the Serb in 2007 in what was Djokovic’s first Grand Slam final. They are 3-3 head-to-head at the tournament.

NO MERCY FOR ANDY

2012 champion Andy Murray is unseeded and is back at the US Open – using a protected ranking – for the first time in two years, having skipped last year’s event with a hip injury, that later required surgery in January.

Ranked 378 in the world and just seven matches into his comeback, Murray was handed a tough path as he opens against Australia’s James Duckworth before a possible second round against either Feliciano Lopez or Fernando Verdasco, and then No. 3 seed Juan Martin del Potro potentially awaits in the third round. Looks like it’s going to be far from a smooth ride for Murray.

Others in that quarter of the draw include Stefanos Tsitsipas, Borna Coric, Milos Raonic, Stan Wawrinka and Grigor Dimitrov.

DEJA VU FOR STAN AND GRIGOR

Speaking of Wawrinka and Dimitrov, the duo will square off in the first round for a second consecutive major after the former upset the latter in their Wimbledon opener last month. Wawrinka, up to 101 in the world and playing the US Open courtesy of a wildcard, won the tournament in 2016 and is finally finding his form after double-knee surgery kept him out of the game for six months last year, and three more months this season.

The Swiss three-time Grand Slam champion made the quarters in Cincinnati last week, where he lost a tight three-setter to Federer and has defeated the likes of Kei Nishikori, Diego Schwartzman and Nick Kyrgios in the last three weeks.

Dimitrov on the other hand showed some rise in form in Toronto (lost to Nadal) and Cincinnati (lost to Djokovic) but will be far from pleased with yet another brutal Slam draw.

LAND MINES FOR FEDERER

Before Federer even thinks of reaching the quarter-finals and possibly meeting Djokovic, he might have to take out unorthodox Frenchman Benoit Paire in the second round and Kyrgios in the third. Chung Hyeon or Fabio Fognini potentially await in round four.

Federer is 2-1 against Kyrgios and eight of the nine sets they’ve played against each other have gone to tiebreaks. Definitely a third round to look out for.

FERRER’S FANCY FAREWELL

David Ferrer told Spanish press last month that he will play the US Open like it’s his last Slam, even though he hasn’t made any official announcements regarding his retirement, which is expected to take place next year in either Barcelona or Madrid.

If it is indeed his last major, then his first round against Nadal is probably a great opportunity for Ferrer to bow out from Grand Slam tennis with one last epic battle with a long-time rival, friend and team-mate like Nadal. They’re already preparing Arthur Ashe stadium for this one.

ZVEREV’S CHANCE

Armed with a new coach in Ivan Lendl, and searching for a first Grand Slam semi-final, the fourth-seeded Zverev was handed a very manageable draw before a possible tricky quarter-final against Marin Cilic. The young German has got Nishikori and Schwartzman in his section but has avoided the likes of Kyrgios, Dominic Thiem and Tsitsipas.

PROJECTED QUARTER-FINALS (BY SEED)

Rafael Nadal [1] v Kevin Anderson [5]

Juan Martin del Potro [3] v Grigor Dimitrov [8]

Marin Cilic [7] v Alexander Zverev [4]

Novak Djokovic [6] v Roger Federer [2]

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