Women’s stars make the U.S. Open worth watching


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Shapo is out, but there’s still plenty to watch at the U.S. Open

Denis Shapovalov’s run at the U.S. Open is over. After becoming the first Canadian man to reach the singles quarter-finals at the Grand Slam event, the 21-year-old lost a four-hour, five-set marathon to Spain’s Pablo Carreno Busta that didn’t end until after 1 a.m. ET last night (today?).

Shapovalov was Canada’s last hope for a title in New York this year. Bianca Andreescu decided not to defend her women’s championship, and every other Canadian entered in the men’s and women’s singles and doubles draws (including Shapo himself in men’s doubles) was eliminated in the quarter-finals or earlier. No Canadians are in the wheelchair tournaments, which start tomorrow.

But, despite the lack of CanCon, there are a few reasons to keep watching. On the men’s side, there’s guaranteed to be a first-time Grand Slam winner. Four of the six players remaining at our publish time had never even made a Slam final. No. 2 seed Dominic Thiem has reached three, including this year’s Australian Open, while No. 3 Daniil Medvedev has played in one — at last year’s U.S. Open. Top seed Novak Djokovic, you may have heard, was disqualified in the fourth round for hitting a linesperson in the neck with a ball between points. This ensured that, for the first time in four years, there will be a men’s singles Slam champion not named Djokovic, Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer. Those three guys combined to win the last 13 in a row.

The women’s tournament is even more interesting because of its star power and the potential for a marquee showdown for the title. Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka — the two biggest names in women’s tennis and the two highest-paid female athletes in the world — are on course to meet in the final. They’re on opposite halves of the draw, and they’re the two highest seeds remaining in a tournament that’s been weakened by upsets and most of the world’s top 10 players electing to skip the event.

Serena, who’s ranked eighth in the world but seeded No. 3 for this tournament, advanced to the semifinals today by rallying to beat unseeded Tsvetana Pironkova in three sets. She’ll face either 16th-seeded Elise Mertens or unseeded Victoria Azarenka in tomorrow’s semifinals. The latter is a two-time Australian Open champion and a former world No. 1. But she’s about seven years removed from her prime and is now ranked 27th in the world. Osaka, who’s ranked ninth and seeded fourth, faces 41st-ranked Jennifer Brady in the semis.

If Osaka and Serena end up meeting, it’ll be a rematch of the infamous 2018 U.S. Open final. That’s when Williams, down a set to her then 20-year-old opponent, lost her cool over being called for a series of code violations — first for receiving coaching, then for smashing her racket, then for calling the chair umpire a “thief” because he “stole” a point from her with the second call. The third resulted in Williams forfeiting an entire game, and she went on to lose in straight sets as the heavily pro-Serena crowd jeered. That put Osaka in the awkward position of feeling like she needed to apologize (she tearfully told the fans “I’m sorry”) during what should have been the happiest moment of her life. This was Osaka’s first Grand Slam title, and it made her the first player from Japan ever to win a singles tennis major. To her credit, Serena put her arm around Osaka, who idolized her growing up, and urged the crowd to stop booing.

Osaka went on to win the 2019 Australian Open for back-to-back Slam titles, which pushed her to No. 1 in the world rankings. But, until this week, she hadn’t reached even the quarter-finals of a Slam since then.

Williams’ last Slam title came at the 2017 Aussie Open — about seven months before the birth of her first child. She’s 0-4 in finals since then, including last year’s loss to Andreescu. Still, she’s maintained a remarkably high level of play for someone who will turn 39 in a few weeks (young in the normal world, but ancient by women’s tennis standards). And if she can win one more Slam, she’ll match Margaret Court’s all-time singles record of 24, which was largely accumulated before professional players were allowed in the majors. That’s the last hill left for Serena to climb.

WATCH | Serena Williams advances to U.S. Open semis:

After dropping the first set, Serena Williams battled back to defeat Tsvetana Pironkova 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 in their quarter-final match. 1:08

Quickly…

The Raptors face elimination tonight. The defending NBA champs are down 3-2 in their second-round series vs. Boston after no-showing Game 5. Key role player Serge Ibaka is questionable for tonight’s game with a sprained ankle. Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet have carried the Raptors in this series, and they’ll likely need to play big minutes again tonight after resting late in the Game 5 blowout. Tip-off time is 6:30 p.m. ET. At 9 p.m. ET, Jamal Murray and the Denver Nuggets will try to avoid going down 3-1 in their series vs. the L.A. Clippers.

The Milwaukee Bucks went out early again. This is a recurring nightmare. Last year, the Bucks posted the NBA’s best regular-season record and Giannis Antetokounmpo won the MVP, but they lost in the Eastern final to Toronto. This year, Milwaukee again had the best record, and Giannis is expected to win his second straight MVP, but the Bucks were upset in the second round by Miami. The Heat finished it in a stunning five games with last night’s 103-94 win, which came with Antetokounmpo sidelined by an ankle injury that also caused him to miss most of Game 4. The consequences of this year’s defeat could be much more dire for Milwaukee. Giannis has one year left on his contract, so he’ll soon have the opportunity to flee the Bucks’ soft supporting cast and the rigid coaching of Mike Budenholzer — both of which seem to work fine in the regular season but fall apart in the playoffs. Giannis says he wants to stay, but everyone says that.

Dallas goalie Jake Oettinger made his NHL debut last night. So what’s the big deal? Well, when the Stars yanked starter Anton Khudobin after the second period and put in Oettinger, the backup became the first goalie in 55 years to see his first NHL action in the round before the Stanley Cup final. Oettinger stopped all five shots he faced, but by that time Vegas was well in control at 3-0 and went on to win by that score to even the series 1-1. Tonight at 8 p.m. ET, Tampa Bay will try to go up 2-0 on the Islanders after crushing them 8-2 in the opener. Get caught up on the NHL’s conference finals by watching Rob Pizzo’s two-minute recap video here.

The Canadian men’s soccer team’s World Cup qualifiers were delayed again. Instead of beginning in the international-match windows in October and November, Canada’s massive regional qualifying tournament won’t start until March due to health/travel concerns related to the pandemic. Canada is a longshot to reach its first men’s World Cup since 1986, but anticipation for the qualifiers is unusually high this time because of the rise of young stars Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David. The road will be long. In the first round, Canada needs to win a group that also includes Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, Aruba and Suriname. That should happen, but then comes a home-and-home matchup against, likely, Haiti, which is closer to Canada in the world rankings.  If Canada survives that round, it moves to an eight-team final stage that includes the top five countries in the region — Mexico, the U.S., Costa Rica, Jamaica and Honduras. The teams with the three best records qualify for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, and the fourth-place team earns another shot to make it via an intercontinental playoff. Read more about Canada’s path here.

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