The tennis world will serve up its final Grand Slam event of 2013, as the U.S. Open starts Monday Aug. 26.
Thus far, six different players on the men’s and women’s sides -- Novak Djokovic and Victoria Azarenka in Australia; Rafa Nadal and Serena Williams at the French; Andy Murray and Marion Bartoli with Wimbledon -- have captured the singles titles at the majors in 2013.
Will Williams defend her 2012 U.S. Open crown and can Nadal continue his undefeated hard court run and add another American major to his 2010 triumph? They are the betting favorites.
Meanwhile, Americans Mike and Bob Bryan, who currently hold the "Golden Slam," are looking to win the calendar Grand Slam in 2013 by finishing first at Flushing Meadows.
However you slice it, the Open should be grand and a quartet of networks -- ESPN2, Tennis Channel, CBS and CBS Sports Network -- will combine to present more than 230 live and first-run hours. That total doesn’t include extensive match encores, highlights and digital coverage.
The top-seeded Williams has already won eight titles in 2013, matching her previous best annual haul. Her 60-4 match record is highlighted by a Roland Garros victory over Maria Sharapova. The 31-year-old Williams, who won the first of her 16 Slams in New York back in 1999, opens her defense against 2010 French Open champion Francesca Schiavone. Williams has a couple of up-and-coming Americans in her path. No. 23-seed Jamie Hampton is a potential third-round opponent, while No. 15 Sloane Stephens, who toppled a back-injured Williams in Melbourne, perhaps awaits in the fourth. If form holds, Williams -- who could potentially face her big sister, if Venus were to overcome her ailments and opponents-- would meet No. 8 Angelique Kerber in the quarterfinals.
Azarenka -- who won her second straight Australian by beating 2011 French Open champ Li Na, following a controversial win over Stephens, -- is looking for revenge in Queens. Vika served for the championship against Serena at 5-4 in the third set last year, before dropping the final three games. But the world No. 2 has taken Williams out twice in 2013, including a third-set tiebreak win at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati on Aug. 18. Azarenka is slated to meet No. 7 Petra Kvitova in the quarters.
The women’s draw and the networks lost some sugar, when the telegenic, world No. 3 Sharapova withdrew from the tourney with a right shoulder injury.
Bartoli, the unlikely Wimbledon champion, recently retired, while the runner-up at SW 19, Sabine Lisicki, who handed Williams her other 2013 loss at The Championships, is seeded 16th. The other prospective quarters by seed: No. 3 Agnieszka Radwanska against No. 5 Na, and fourth-ranked Sara Errani and sixth-ranked Caroline Wozniacki.
On the men’s side of the net, there are six former Open champions in the hunt. The top story line, though, tips toward Nadal. Rafa, who last year at this time was recovering from a knee injury that sidelined from a second-round loss at Wimbledon through this past February, is on the ascent of what has been a rollercoaster ride in 2013. He’s 54-3 on the campaign, his comeback spotlighted by a hard-court triumph in Indian Wells, Calif. in March and an eighth King of Clay designation at the French Open. The Nadal nadir came at Wimbledon, where he was ushered out in the first round. Subsequently, he didn’t play until Montreal, but added that Masters 1000 title and his first-ever Southern & Western hardware a week later. That victory pushed his mark to 15-0 on hard courts in 2013 and past Murray to the No. 2 ranking entering the Open.
In Cincy, Nadal beat rival Roger Federer in a tight, three-setter in the quarters, which is where they would meet if the seedings hold in the Big Apple. The 32-year-old Federer, the all-time men’s Grand Slam king with 17, has been fading. He lost in the second round at Wimbledon, ending a record run of 36 straight quarterfinal appearances at majors, followed by a pair of early exits in Europe. The Swiss maestro disavows retirement speculation, but he has never played Nadal at the U.S. Open. This could be the first/only/last time – just not in the round tennis fans had hoped for all these years. John Isner, the highest-seeded American at No. 13, stands tall as a possible fourth-round opponent for Nadal, who beat the giant server in the Cincy final.
Some believe fellow bombers No. 10 Milos Raonic, who was crushed by Rafa in the Montreal finale, and No. 14 and Wimbledon semifinalist Jerzy Janowicz might have a chance to make a semifinal run in the other portion of the bottom half of the draw. Headed by No. 4 seed David Ferrer, who was crushed in his first major final by Nadal in Paris, and No. 8 Frenchman Richard Gasquet, this quadrant is widely considered to be the most wide open.
In the top half, a rematch of last September's final would have to materialize in the semifinals. Murray, after winning Olympic gold in London, claimed his first major by beating Djokovic at the 2012 U.S. Open. Nole returned the favor versus the Scot Down Under, winning his third straight Australian Open in January. Murray then aced the ultimate breakthrough -- ending the U.K.’s 77-year drought at Wimbledon -- by defeating Djokovic in three sets.
To get there, Murray might have to beat No. 5 Tomas Berdych, while Djoker, the 2011 U.S. U.S. Open winner, could need to reprise his quarterfinal victory from last year against No. 6 Juan Martin del Potro. Lleyton Hewitt, the 2001 Open king, is also in the the Argentine's part of the draw. DelPo ended Federer’s five-year run in Flushing Meadows with a five-set win in the 2009 final.
Should any of the Big 3 add to their Open collection, they would be considered the player of the men's player of the year. Should Nadal prevail, he also would be poised to regain the world No. 1 ranking.
Two crowns will be needed should the top-seeded Bryans win in New York. Adding a third straight Wimbledon to their trophy case in July, the twins, who won gold at the 2012 London Games, became the first doubles team in the Open era to hold all four majors concurrently as part of their “Bryan Slam.” Now, the 35-year-old brothers are taking aim at the calendar Grand Slam.
Perhaps fittingly, ESPN2, which gains exclusive rights to the tourney in 2015, will televise the men’s doubles championship for the first time on Sept. 8 at 12:30 p.m. (ET). All told, ESPN2 and WatchESPN platforms will present over 100 hours of live coverage during the fortnight, while broadband service ESPN3 has 400 more in store for the sport’s devotees.
The doubles final will serve as a cross-network, lead-in of sorts to CBS’s coverage of the women’s championship at 4 p.m., which is part of a revised tourney schedule that also will see the network’s Super Saturday focus solely on the men’s semifinals on Sept. 7. After complaining that the U.S. Open was the only major where they had to play the semis and finals on back-to-back days, the men’s final is scheduled for Monday, Sept. 9 at 5 p.m. Weather has pushed the title match to Monday the last five years anyway, and will lead to a retractable roof being erected over Arthur Ashe Stadium in 2017.
With its usual daytime coverage over Labor Day weekend and the marquee matches a week later, CBS will air 36 hours of live Open action in its penultimate year with the tourney. Should the retransmission-consent dispute that boiled over on Aug. 2 when Time Warner Cable pulled 13 CBS-owned stations in eight markets, including New York, continue, 3 million of the MSO’s customers won’t have access to Black Rock’s Open coverage.
National cable service CBS Sports Network, which televised the competition for qualifiers to get into the main draw this week, will for a second year have an on-air presence during the tournament. CBS Sports Network will show alternate third- and fourth-round matches during its broadcast brethren’s 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. windows on Labor Day weekend, Aug. 31 through Sept. 2.
Tennis Channel -- boosting its subscriber count during the tournament to 55 million from 36 million with DirecTV, Dish Network and Time Warner Cable, in blackout-impacted markets, picking up its freeview -- will showcase 75 live or first-run Open hours.
In its fifth year in New York, Tennis, which is launching TV Everywhere service with Verizon FiOS, will dedicate close to 240 hours in total, with live coverage of the event’s first ball on Aug. 26 through Thursday of the second week. The network will feature eight-hour match windows the first week, primetime windows over Labor Day weekend, and encore coverage of the men's and women's singles and doubles semifinals and finals.
Tennis Channel's eight-hour, live-match window runs from 11 a.m.-7 p.m. every day of the first week, while nightly news and highlight show US Open Tonight is scheduled from 11 p.m.-2:30 a.m., trailed by encores from 2:30 a.m.-6 a.m. Breakfast at the Open will bring viewers a morning dose of tournament highlights and updates from 6 a.m.-10:30 a.m.
Check out the full tourney TV schedule here.