Serena starts latest bid for 24th Slam at US Open


New York (AFP)

Six-time winner Serena Williams enters the fray Tuesday at a US Open like no other, being played without spectators and with stringent measures to prevent Covid-19 infections.

Williams continues her protracted pursuit of a record-equalling 24th singles Grand Slam title on day two at Flushing Meadows with a first-round tie against 96th-ranked Kristie Ahn.

The 38-year-old will take to an empty Arthur Ashe Stadium that has been decorated with Black Lives Matter banners and artwork by black artists in honor of the movement against racial injustice.

It has been more than three years since Williams won her 23rd Grand Slam title at the 2017 Australian Open -- when she was already pregnant with daughter Olympia.

She has come close since, reaching four major finals only to come away empty-handed.

Williams needs one more to equal Margaret Court's record and her chances should be improved by the absence of several top players because of coronavirus concerns or injury.

World number one Ashleigh Barty, the second-ranked Simona Halep and Canadian Bianca Andreescu -- who stunned Williams in last year's final -- are all absent from the behind-closed doors tournament.

A title win for Williams would also see her become the most decorated women's player at the US Open in the modern era.

She is currently tied with Chris Evert for most US Open women's titles with six.

Also up on Tuesday is former men's world number one and 2012 US Open champion Andy Murray.

The Scotsman, who is battling back from a string of injuries that have ravaged the past three years of his career, takes on Japan's Yoshihito Nishioka.

The men's second and third seeds, Dominic Thiem and Daniil Medvedev respectively start their quests for a first Grand Slam title on Tuesday.

They are high up in the draw due to the absence of Rafael Nadal, over coronavirus fears, and Swiss legend Roger Federer due to injury.

Theim of Austria and Medvedev of Russia enter the tournament after overwhelming favorite Novak Djokovic progressed to the second round in straight sets on Monday.

In the women's competition Tuesday, second seed Sofia Kenin takes on Yanina Wickmayer of Belgium and in a "Battle of Britain" contest ninth seed Johanna Konta is up against Heather Watson.

The US Open is taking place in a spectator-free bubble at the US National Tennis Center in New York.

Players movements are tightly controlled and everyone onsite is being tested regularly to minimize the risk of infection.

France's Benoit Paire was withdrawn on the eve of the tournament Sunday after returning a positive test.