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US Open preview: Ash Barty, Naomi Osaka and others to watch in New York

(Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

The US Open kicks off this week in New York City with a full house of spectators expected to attend. Fans won’t have the honor of watching either of the Williams sisters take the court, as both have withdrawn due to injury. But with Ash Barty and Naomi Osaka both in top form, viewers will be witness to two young stars whose zeniths could finally collide on the grand stage — if they can survive the array of talented competitors that stand in their way.

Here’s who to watch in New York during tennis’ final Grand Slam of the year:

The Favorites

Australia’s Ash Barty is heading into the US Open with all the momentum one could hope for at this point in the North American hard-court season.

The world #1 in rankings recently became the first player to claim five WTA singles titles in a single season since Serena Williams did it in 2014. That fifth trophy came last week at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, where Barty worked her way through several Grand Slam contenders on her way to the title, including Victoria Azarenka, Barbora Krejcikova, and Angelique Kerber. When the 25-year-old won Wimbledon earlier this summer she proved her inaugural Grand Slam title at the 2019 French Open and subsequent number one ranking that persisted through the strange landscape of the pandemic were no fluke. But she has yet to reach the finals rounds of a US Open. Having lost in the round of 16 in both 2018 and 2019 and then opted out in 2020 due to the pandemic, she is poised to make a very deep run this week in New York.

The woman most likely to rain on the 2021 Barty parade is none other than Naomi Osaka. While her trajectory this year has been much more of a roller coaster, she has four hard-court Grand Slam titles to Barty’s zero. Out of the last four Grand Slam tournaments held, Osaka won the first two and then either withdrew or opted out of the next two. She hasn’t lost a single Grand Slam match since January 2020 at the Australian Open, way back in the Before-COVID-Times. Both she and Barty lost early at the Tokyo Olympics, but Osaka also lost in the round of 16 at the Western & Southern Open. Off the court, she continues to figure out how and whether she wants to meet current expectations of a highly publicized life. Only she knows the extent to which those struggles may be impacting her play.

Barty and Osaka are tied 2-2 in head-to-head matches. Even though Osaka dropped a spot from #2 to #3 in overall rankings last week, her and Barty are fortunately on opposite sides of the bracket. Even with a rocky lead up to the last Grand Slam of the year, Osaka is a proven champion with a stellar hard-court record and has a solid claim to the title of best women’s player in the world. Cheers to the tennis gods for a draw that leaves the door open for a Barty v. Osaka US Open final.

Contenders with momentum on their side

One of the most exciting players of 2021 has been Barbora Krejcikova. The 25-year-old from the Czech Republic just recently broke into the top ten and currently sits #9 overall, by far her best ranking in singles.

Krejcikova entered 2021 with two Grand Slam doubles titles from the 2018 French Open and 2018 Wimbledon and has watched her singles success finally take off. This year, she has won three WTA singles titles, including her first Grand Slam at the French Open. She also managed to capture her second French Open doubles championship that same week and then followed that up with a gold medal in doubles at the Tokyo Olympics. While the clay court seems to suit her well, she’s proving the hard court fits nicely too. She won the first hard-court tournament of the year at the Livesport Prague Open and made it to quarters of the Western & Southern Open before losing to Barty. 

In the #12 spot in WTA rankings, Swiss player Belinda Bencic is also enjoying a breakout 2021. Having won the Olympic singles gold medal and then following it up with a strong run at the Western & Southern Open where she lost in the quarters, Bencic is looking like a solid threat as she heads into her strongest Grand Slam event.

Karolina Pliskova and Angelique Kerber are another two to keep your eye on. Pliskova has gone deep in the two hard-court lead-up tournaments to the US Open and was on the opposite side of the net to Barty in the Wimbledon final. Having made it to the quarters, semis, or final of a Grand Slam eight times, she appears to be on the precipice of finally tipping that scale. Kerber, on the other hand, has experienced Grand Slam title glory three times in her career and with appearances in this year’s Wimbledon semis and the Western & Southern Open semis, she is definitely a threat.

The Question Marks

Aryna Sabalenka, the woman who just surpassed Osaka to claim the #2 overall ranking, is still a bit of an unknown heading into New York. She put her name on the map this summer by making it to the semis of Wimbledon and she also got to the semis of one hard-court tourney early in August, but lost in the first round of another. Whether the 23-year-old from Belarus has something special in store for New York is a bit of a guess.

Bianca Andreescu hasn’t had the strong return from injury that many were looking forward to during this hard-court season. The 2019 US Open champion has had a rough showing for 2021, and her recent hard-court tournaments have been no exception. But at only 21 years old and with a new coach on board she has plenty of time to back up her 2019 victory even if it’s not imminent.

Veterans Simona Halep and Victoria Azarenka will also need a bit of luck on their side in order to make a strong run this week. With injuries and early exists from lead-in tournaments, the stars don’t seem to be aligned for either of the two-time Grand Slam champions. 

US Open first-round play begins Monday, Aug. 30 and continues until the two women left standing face off for the title at 4pm ET on Saturday, September 11th.

Clark, Martin Square Off in First Pro WNBA Matchup

Kate Martin #20 of the Las Vegas Aces and Caitlin Clark #22 of the Indiana Fever look on during the game
Things looked a little different Saturday night as the former Iowa teammates went head-to-head in Las Vegas. (Jeff Bottari/NBAE via Getty Images)

Former Iowa teammates Caitlin Clark and Kate Martin shared the court once again on Saturday, this time as professionals.

It was Martin’s Aces that got the 99-80 win over Clark’s Fever in Las Vegas. The pair's former coaches Lisa Bluder, Jan Jensen, Jenni Fitzgerald, and Raina Harmon were all in attendance to watch their Hawkeyes — Clark, Martin, and former national player of the year Megan Gustafson — take the court.

"It’s super special. It’s cool for our program, cool for Lisa, for Coach Jan, for all of them," Clark said in a pregame press conference. "They’ve known me since I’ve been 13 years old and now I’m 22 getting to live out my dream and they’ve been a huge part of that and helping me get here and helping Megan and Kate to get here too. It’s a great moment for them and I’m sure they’re not complaining about a trip to Vegas."

As for her college teammate, Clark had nothing but good things to say ahead of the showdown. 

"I’m just really happy for her and everything Coach [Becky] Hammon says about her is so true," she said. "Every person that played at Iowa and was around her knows that to be true. She’s the ultimate teammate, ultimate person, ultimate leader."

In the end, Martin stole the show with 12 points and seven rebounds in 22 minutes, while Clark amassed eight points, seven assists, and five rebounds over 29 minutes of playing time. 

"It was weird," Martin admitted after the game. "I'm not going to lie — just looking out on the court and seeing her in a different jersey than me, it was obviously different. But it's really fun. We're both living out our dreams right now."

The Aces next meet the fever on July 2nd at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

Barcelona Beat Lyon to Win Back-to-Back Champions League Titles

Barcelona's Aitana Bonmatí and Alexia Putellas celebrating after beating Lyon at the 2024 Champions League final
Ballon d'Or winners Aitana Bonmatí and Alexia Putellas helped Barcelona to a second-straight UWCL title on Saturday. (Ramsey Cardy - Sportsfile/UEFA via Getty Images)

Barcelona was crowned champion of the Champions League on Saturday with a 2-0 win over Lyon in Bilbao.

Alexia "La Reina" Putellas, who recently re-signed with Barcelona, came off the bench to score the team's second goal. Fellow Ballon d’Or winner Aitana Bonmatí provided the team’s first. After the game, defender Lucy Bronze said Putellas was nicknamed "the queen" for a reason.

"Alexia is the captain of the team and she's the queen of Barcelona for a reason,"  defender Lucy Bronze told DAZN. "She's got the quality to do that in the last minute of the Champions League final when we were up against it at the end and it just sealed the win for us. It was amazing."

The victory marked Barcelona's first win over Lyon in a UWCL final, having previously gone up against the French side at both the 2019 and 2022 Champions League finals. It's also Barcelona's second Champions League title in a row.

"It's hard to win it once, but to do it back-to-back, Lyon showed how difficult it is and this team has finally done that," Bronze said. "I think we go down in history as one of the best teams in Europe."

This season, the team also secured a quadruple for the first time in club history, having already won Liga F, the Copa de la Reina, and the Spanish Supercopa. The win ensures that coach Jonatan Giráldez — who has officially departed the team to join the NWSL's Washington Spirit — leaves Europe a champion.

"It was an incredible game. I am really happy, it's one of the best days of my life for sure," Giráldez told broadcaster DAZN after the game. "We did an amazing job. I am very proud of all of them."

Following the win, Putellas said her team "can't ask for anything else."

"Our objective was to win four out of four," the Spain international told reporters. "We have achieved everything we wanted. Every minute of sacrifice has been worth the effort — and I'd say that not after the game, but before, just entering in the stadium, with all the support we had here, it was worth it."

2024 Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year Aitana Bonmatí said that the crowd support made it "feel like Camp Nou."

"I am on cloud nine right now," she said. "It is an historic day which we will remember forever."

Sun’s Alyssa Thomas Ejected After Flagrant 2 on Sky Rookie Angel Reese

Angel Reese said there were "no hard feelings" stemming from Alyssa Thomas's flagrant foul. (Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Angel Reese might have gotten knocked down on Saturday, but she got right back up again. 

Connecticut’s Alyssa Thomas was ejected from the Sun’s 86-82 win over Chicago following a flagrant foul 2 on Reese — the first of her career. While the two were battling for a rebound, Reese took a clothesline hold around the neck courtesy of Thomas before hitting the ground.

After the game, Reese told reporters that there were "no hard feelings" and she appreciated Thomas for playing her hard beneath the basket.

"I know she purposely probably didn’t do it towards me," Reese said. "But just being able to come out there and just be strong and stand on two feet, it was going to be a tough game and that’s what I’m built for. And my teammates had my back throughout the whole game. So I was prepared for it."

She also didn’t buy into the idea that it was a "Welcome to the WNBA" moment, but thanked Thomas "sending a message" because it helped her get back up and "keep pushing."

"It’s not just because I’m a rookie. I’m a player. I’m a basketball player. They don’t give a damn if I’m a rookie. I mean, I want them to come at me every day. I want them to come at everybody," she added. "I mean, they’re not supposed to be nice to me. I hope y’all know that. They’re not supposed to be nice to me or lay down because I’m Angel Reese or because I’m a rookie."

Reese finished the game with 13 points, five rebounds, and two assists over 33 minutes.

Barcelona to Face Lyon in Champions League Rematch This Weekend

UEFA Women's Champions League Final"Barcelona FC - Olympique Lyonnais"
Saturday's game will be the third UWCL final meeting for Barcelona and Lyon, having previously gone up against each other in 2019 and 2022. (ANP via Getty Images)

The UEFA Women's Champions League final kicks off in Bilbao on Saturday, with a couple of familiar foes set to face off for the trophy.

Olympique Lyonnais Féminin, making its 11th final appearance since 2010, will go head to head with a Barcelona side making its fourth final appearance in a row.

This will be the third time these two teams meet in the UWCL title game, having previously appeared in the 2019 and 2022 finals. Lyon won both of those prior games against Barcelona, alongside a total of eight Champions League trophies. That’s double that of any other club, with Eintracht Frankfurt coming in a distant second with four. 

Should Barcelona win, this would be the team's third title — breaking a tie for the third in the UWCL total titles race. 

But as these teams return to the UWCL final, it also marks the end of an era for both clubs. The game will be the last for both club managers, as Barcelona’s Jonatan Giráldez and Lyon’s Sonia Bompastor depart for new jobs after the season's end.

Giráldez is set to leave for the NWSL's Washington Spirit, while Bompastor will take over for incoming USWNT coach Emma Hayes at Chelsea. Both coaches have earned one UWCL trophy during their tenures, while Bompastor also brought two Champions League trophies to Lyon as a player. She was the first coach to win a UWCL trophy as both a coach and player.

This season, Barcelona is looking for its first quadruple, having won a fifth Liga F title alongside the Copa de La Reina, and the Spanish Supercopa. 

"We hope he can go out with the four trophies because we know how competitive and ambitious he is," Barcelona midfielder Patri Guijarro told ESPN. "It has been a winning era with him in charge and for him to go out with all four trophies would be historic and incredible."

But Lyon's Damaris Egurrola is excited about her team's chances of overcoming Barcelona once again — and to do it in front of family and friends.

"Lyon have something special," she told Forbes ahead of the weekend's final. "We have a great team and we have the players with enough talent to win any match."

The game will be a homecoming for Egurrola, who began her professional career with Athletic Bilbao.

"I’ve been thinking of this day and night," she said. "I’ve been dreaming of playing this match. Having the opportunity to play in San Mames is amazing. This is where it all started for me."

The UEFA Women's Champions League final kicks off Saturday, May 25th at 12 PM ET and is free to stream on DAZN.

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