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US Open top seeds Williams, Djokovic coming off injuries

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NEW YORK (AP) Serena Williams is “starting to feel a little better.” Novak Djokovic is “getting there.”

The U.S. Open’s top seeds in both singles brackets are coming off injuries, and neither has played since an early loss at the Olympics. Friday was the first time either had discussed the health problems that stymied them in Rio de Janeiro and forced them to withdraw from the hard-court warmup at Cincinnati.

For Williams, it’s a sore right shoulder that she revealed started bothering her almost immediately after her Wimbledon victory. She said she practiced for just two days before the Olympics and has spent little time on court since as she undergoes physical therapy.

For Djokovic, it’s a sore left wrist that he revealed he hurt in Rio a few days before his first-round Olympic loss to Juan Martin del Potro, a player who knows plenty about how that injury hinders a righty’s two-handed backhand.

“I’m just hoping that Monday when the tournament starts I’ll be able to get as close to the maximum of executing my backhand shot as possible,” said Djokovic, who sounded a bit more optimistic than Williams on Friday.

Williams acknowledged she’d prefer to have played more coming into the Open – she’s had just three singles matches since Wimbledon – and needs to practice more.

“I’m just now starting to feel a little better,” she said. “Hopefully just every day I will keep going higher.”

It wasn’t a physical problem that burdened Djokovic during his third-round Wimbledon loss to 41st-ranked Sam Querrey, he acknowledged. Asked that day if he was 100 percent healthy, the 12-time major champ replied: “Not really. But it’s not the place and time to talk about it.”

On Friday, Djokovic conceded “it was some other things that I was going through privately.” He wouldn’t elaborate other than to say that now “everything is fine.”

Speaking of left wrist injuries, Rafael Nadal said his keeps getting better but still isn’t 100 percent. Because the 14-time Grand Slam champ is a lefty, his issue is the forehand.

When he first came back, he recalled, “you try to find movements to avoid the pain.” Now he can start to hit his normal forehand again, but it “still needs time to feel that I am more confident in my wrist.”

Both Djokovic and Williams face a former Grand Slam semifinalist in the first round. Williams opens her bid for a record-breaking 23rd major title against Ekaterina Makarova, who’s coming off an Olympic doubles gold medal.

The Russian made two straight major semis – at the 2014 U.S. Open, losing to Williams 6-1, 6-3, and the 2015 Australian Open. With her ranking slipping to 36th, she just missed a seed at Flushing Meadows.

Doing an interview shortly after the draw was set, Djokovic joked he wasn’t “mentally ready” to see his bracket quite yet and wanted to wait until “I’m alone.” What he’ll see is a meeting with Jerzy Janowicz, a 2013 Wimbledon semifinalist who’s been ranked as high as 14th. After struggling in recent years and missing much of this season because of injuries, Janowicz is No. 228 in the world and used a protected ranking to get into the U.S. Open.

Nadal is a potential semifinal opponent for Djokovic, the defending champ, while Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka are in the other half of the bracket.

Williams could face fourth-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska in the semis, which is also when she could potentially meet sister Venus. Australian Open champ Angelique Kerber and French Open winner Garbine Muguruza are on the other side of the draw.

Earlier in the tournament, Williams could run into opponents who have eliminated her at past majors. In the third round, she could meet Ana Ivanovic, who beat her at the 2014 Australian Open. And in the fourth round, she could face Sam Stosur, who stunned her in the 2011 U.S. Open final.

Del Potro, the 2009 U.S. Open champ, is ranked just 142nd after three left wrist surgeries. Last week, Steve Johnson, the highest-ranked U.S. men’s player, questioned whether the U.S. Tennis Association should award del Potro the wild card he’d need to get in because the Argentine could possibly defeat an American in the first round. That scenario won’t occur – del Petro meets countryman Diego Schwartzman in his opener. But the 19th-seeded Johnson could face the Olympic silver medalist in the second round.

Between Wimbledon and the Rio Games, del Potro defeated three of the U.S. Open’s top four seeds.

Madison Keys rallies late to take 1st Cincinnati title

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MASON, Ohio (AP) Madison Keys rallied late in both sets and beat Svetlana Kuznetsova 7-5, 7-6 (5) for her first Cincinnati championship Sunday, sending her into the U.S. Open on a one-week upswing.

By winning her first hardcourt final since the 2017 U.S. Open, she’ll be No. 10 when she returns to New York. Keys entered the tournament on a streak of early flameouts in her last three tournaments.

At 34, Kuznetsova was the oldest finalist in the Western & Southern Open’s history. Keys broke her late in both sets to win the title. Kuznetsova beat three top-10 players during the week, her best showing of a season that started late as she recovered from a knee injury.

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Djokovic loses in Cincinnati

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MASON, Ohio (AP) Ashleigh Barty’s chance to move back to No. 1 was only one victory away. At the end of an up-and-down week, she didn’t have another comeback left.

Neither did Novak Djokovic, who went away with yet another disappointment in Cincinnati.

Barty lost to Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-2, 6-4 in the semifinals of the Western & Southern Open on Saturday. Djokovic ended the day with another stunner, getting overwhelmed by Daniil Medvedev’s serve as the Russian pulled out a 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory.

It’s been that kind of week in Cincinnati, with top players in both brackets either struggling or hurt heading into the U.S. Open.

The women’s bracket has a lot questions with New York just around the corner. No. 1 isn’t one of them.

Barty’s seven-week run atop the field ended when Naomi Osaka edged ahead of her in the latest ranking. A victory Saturday would have moved Barty back ahead for the U.S. Open. Instead, she dropped the opening set for the third straight match and this time, there was no digging out.

“A week that we battled through,” Barty said. “I think at times I played some good stuff. At times, I played some pretty awful stuff.”

Which will it be for Barty at the Open? And will Osaka be in good enough shape to defend her title?

Osaka dropped out of her semifinal match Friday with discomfort in her left knee that caused her worry. She still plans to play in New York, but it’s unclear whether the knee will be a problem.

And then there’s Serena Williams, who retired in the finals at Toronto last Sunday because of back spasms. She also withdrew from Cincinnati before her first match, but stuck around to cheer sister Venus until her loss in the quarterfinals.

A resurgent Kuznetsova gave Barty no openings, knocking off a top-five player for the second time this week to reach her first final of the season. The 153rd-ranked player is recovering from seven-month layoff because of a knee injury.

In her ninth tournament of the season, she got her game together, winning her first Premier-level semifinal since 2017 at Madrid.

“Well, sometimes in life it’s like this,” Kuznetsova said. “It’s like really small things change everything. Definitely it’s different momentum I have now.”

She’ll face Madison Keys , who beat Sofia Kenin 7-5, 6-4 with the help of 14 aces. Keys ended her streak of failing to make it past the second round of her last three tournaments, playing through heat and humidity all week without problem.

“I feel really good” she said. “Every day I’m kind of waking up, hoping that everything still feels like it’s in one piece and it feels really good.”

In the men’s bracket, Djokovic overcame concerns about his right elbow but couldn’t prevail over Medvedev’s 14 aces. Djokovic got the muscles around his right elbow rubbed during his quarterfinal win on Friday night and showed no sign of a problem a day later.

Djokovic won the tournament for the first time last year, getting the only Masters 1000 title that had eluded him. This one slipped away in the second set.

Medvedev reached the final at Montreal last week and lost to Rafael Nadal. He’s back to a title match again after fighting off a break point midway through the second set and closing with a flurry, winning 12 of the last 14 points to even the match and take the momentum.

He’ll face David Goffin, who reached his first Masters 1000 final by beating Richard Gasquet 6-3, 6-4 . Goffin also is on an upswing after falling to No. 33 in the ATP rankings on June 10, his lowest since September 2014.

“Of course, it was a tough period there,” Goffin said. “I was coming back from injuries. I had some trouble with my confidence. I couldn’t find my rhythm, my game. So it’s great now. I’m feeling great. I’m back at my best tennis.”

The men’s bracket also took several notable hits throughout the week.

Originally billed as a reunion of the Big Four – Djokovic, Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray together for the first time since January – it quickly lost its luster. Nadal dropped out after winning the Rogers Cup, citing fatigue. Murray played singles for the first time since hip surgery in January and lost his opening match.

And Federer, the seven-time champion, failed to reach the weekend, losing in the quarterfinals.

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