Serena Williams AP Photo/Andres Kudacki

By Ron Wynn

NASHVILLE, TN — In a year where little has been normal or gone as expected in the sports world, the 2020 US Open will be the first in history played without fans in attendance. The COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to ensuring the stands will be empty, has also wrecked havoc with the field, as many of the top men and women aren’t participating. Yet there’s still enormous interest in the tournament for one main reason. Serena Williams continues pursuing the elusive 24th Grand Slam title, which would tie her with Margaret Court for the most in history. She’s already got the record for the Open era, but winning two more would set her apart from all players, men and women.

The odds for her to achieve this quest are to some extent favorable. Only four of the top 10 ranked women are in the field. Last year’s champion Bianca Andreescu is among the missing. Only Sofia Kenin has recently won a Grand Slam title, and she’s the number two seed. Williams is a slight favorite to win the title according to Las Vegas oddsmakers, but last year’s Australian Open winner Naomi Osaka is a close second, and many feel she’s the top choice for the title. But neither Williams nor Osaka has had a particularly good year.

Osaka has gotten better notices for joining with athletes in other pro leagues and boycotting a match in protest against the shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin than for her play on the court much of the abbreviated year. She’s also entering the event nursing an injured leg. Williams has been defeated in her last two tournaments, losing in Lexington and at the Western & Southern Open. But she seems in prime condition, and has publicly expressed her desire to finally get the 24th. 

There’s also some definite wild cards, particularly last year’s surprise star Coco Gauff, who is maturing and developing into a potential long-term champion. The top seed on the women’s side is Karolina Pliskova, but there doesn’t seem to be much faith in her even reaching the final, let alone winning it.

There’s even less interest in the men’s draw, mainly because neither defending champion Rafael Nadal or top three stalwart Roger Federer are in attendance. That leaves number one ranked Novak Djokovic as perhaps the most overwhelming favorite in modern history. Add to the fact he’s yet to lose a match in 2020, and if he doesn’t take the title it will be the biggest upset of an extremely crazy tennis and sports year. The US Open began play Monday.