US Open 2020: Djokovic and Serena have records in their sights

By Sports Desk August 29, 2020

The second grand slam of 2020 gets underway on Monday as a very different US Open begins in New York.

The coronavirus pandemic means there will be players skipping the tournament, fans not allowed into the venue and strict protocols put in place for those who have chosen to take part.

Defending men's champion Rafael Nadal will not be playing and Roger Federer is out until next year after undergoing surgery, meaning Novak Djokovic has a strong chance of claiming an 18th major title.

Serena Williams will resume her quest for a 24th singles triumph at a grand slam, a task perhaps made easier by the fact six of the WTA's top-10 players are not in the draw.

History beckons for both Djokovic and Williams at Flushing Meadows, as Opta data shows...

1 - This will be the first major since Djokovic's professional debut in 2005 where two of the 'Big Three' are missing. Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have won each of the past 13 slams between them (Djokovic 5, Nadal 5, Federer 3).

3 - Djokovic has won five of the past seven majors but three of his most recent seven defeats at those events have come against unseeded players, as many as in his first 36 such losses.

8 - The Serbian has reached the last four in 11 of his previous 12 US Opens and has been in the final eight times, the best tally in the open era alongside Ivan Lendl and Pete Sampras.

14 - The last American man to reach the US Open final was Andy Roddick in 2006, when he lost to Federer. Sam Querrey (2017) and John Isner (2018) are the only players from the United States to reach the men's' quarter-finals since the beginning of 2012.

15 - Of the past 16 winners of the men's title, 15 have been European. The exception is Argentine Juan Martin del Potro, who won in 2009. Before that, 10 of the previous 11 champions had been non-European.

- Andy Murray (2012 final) is the only player due to attend the US Open in 2020 to have beaten Djokovic at Flushing Meadows.

5 - Since reaching the quarter-finals at Wimbledon in 2017, Murray has only played two grand slam tournaments and has failed to progress beyond the second round each time. However, he has reached the quarter-finals in five of his previous seven US Open appearances.

1 - The US Open is the only men's grand slam in the open era that has not seen a player win the competition without dropping a set en route to the title.

17 - Conversely, women have won the US Open without dropping a set on 17 occasions. The last to do so was Serena Williams six years ago.

33 - Flavia Pennetta (33 years, six months and 18 days) is the oldest winner of the women's singles title in the open era. This year, Serena Williams will be 38, while sister Venus will be 40.

4 - Top seed Karolina Pliskova has not reached the quarter-finals in any of her past four grand slams, the longest spell for her since she first made it to the last eight in a major for the first time at the US Open four years ago.

23 - Serena Williams will draw level with Margaret Court on 24 grand slam singles titles with a triumph at Flushing Meadows. She has not won any of the previous 12 slams, though, losing four finals in that run. It is her longest such drought since 1999.

1 - Naomi Osaka is the only woman to win consecutive grand slam singles titles (US Open 2018 and Australian Open 2019) over the past 18 tournaments. She has not gone beyond the fourth round of a major since that win in Melbourne.

5 - Reigning Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin has failed to get beyond round three in her five appearances at the US Open.

6 - With defending champion Bianca Andreescu not taking part, this will be the sixth consecutive year where there will be a different winner of the women's title. Serena Williams is the last woman to win consecutive US Opens, claiming three in a row from 2012 to 2014.

0 - The US Open is the only slam where Petra Kvitova has never gone beyond the quarter-finals, and she has only reached that stage twice in 12 attempts. In seven of her previous nine visits to Flushing Meadows, she has been eliminated by a lower-ranked player.

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  • Man Utd have stopped scoring against the big sides – that must change at Liverpool Man Utd have stopped scoring against the big sides – that must change at Liverpool

    Manchester United's record against the so-called 'big six' of the Premier League this season reads zero wins, two defeats and two draws.

    They have conceded seven goals, six of them at home to Tottenham, and scored just once – a Bruno Fernandes penalty two minutes into that 6-1 hammering in October.

    Fernandes scored their previous goal in these encounters from the spot, too, in a 1-1 draw at Spurs last June. In fact, you have to go back to March 2020 and their 2-0 win at home to Manchester City, the last Old Trafford game played in front of a crowd, for the previous occasion that they scored a goal against a big-six team that wasn't a penalty.

    They might be top of the league heading into Sunday's showdown with Liverpool but, for a manager that made an early habit of extracting big performances against the best sides, that stat should be of serious concern to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

     

    BIG ZERO SIX

    Since the end of the 2019-20 shutdown, United have played seven games against the big six and won none of them, if you include domestic cup losses to Chelsea and City.

    In league football alone, they have drawn against Tottenham, Chelsea and City and lost to Spurs and Arsenal, with just two Fernandes penalties to show for it. All their previous three such games were at home and they have not scored in any of them.

    In their first 14 league games against these sides under Solskjaer, United won six times and lost only four, scoring 16 goals and conceding 13 – a decent record given their real problems with consistency.

    The strange thing is United's winless run against the best has coincided with a general upturn in form since the previous season restarted last June. Taking only results in that time into account, United have played 26, won 17, lost just three, scored 56 goals and conceded 30. That's the best record of any side in the league and seven points better than Liverpool.

    In fact, narrow that down to results against teams in the top half of the table in the same time frame, and United have lost the fewest games (two) of any side, with 21 points taken from 13 games, just three behind Jurgen Klopp's side.

    So, why the recent drop-off against the very best?

    Solskjaer's most dependable attacking weapons have been Fernandes, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford, all three of whom will almost certainly start at Liverpool, barring injury.

    They were all involved in their last big-six contest in the league, a 0-0 draw at home to City in December. Rashford managed only one shot all game and created no chances for anyone else; Martial, a late substitute, created one chance but had no shots himself. Fernandes, ever the fulcrum of United's attack, had four shots and created two chances.

    The previous game was a staid goalless draw with Chelsea that made the derby look positively thrill-a-minute. That day, with Martial banned, Rashford was more involved, with three attempts at goal and two chances created; he was outdone by Fernandes (three shots, four chances created).

    They don't exactly look like imperious figures, but they actually fall in line with their per-90-minute numbers for this season. On average, Rashford attempts 2.7 shots per game and creates 1.3 chances; Martial has 2.9 shots and creates 1.2 chances; Fernandes musters 3.6 shots and creates 3.4 chances.

    Put succinctly, based on this season's performances, Fernandes should be expected to create between three and four goalscoring opportunities in every league game he starts for United. In other words, he was bang on his average against City and Chelsea. Rashford's numbers are similarly close to the mean.

    United's best attackers, then, are keeping their performance levels consistent against the big six. They're just meeting greater resistance. That becomes clearer looking at expected goals.

    In their most recent three league games against these sides, United have had xG of 0.6 against City, 0.7 against Chelsea and a lowly 0.4 in a 1-0 loss to Arsenal. In those same fixtures in 2019-20, those figures were 1.6 (in a 2-0 win against City), 2.2 (in a 4-0 win over Chelsea) and 0.9 (in a 1-1 draw with Arsenal). Interestingly, though, Chelsea and Arsenal had higher xG numbers in those games last season, even though they suffered worse results, and City's only increased this term by 0.7.

    This reflects a general balancing out in these matches. They are, for the most part, more attritional and less unpredictable affairs settled by fine margins – exactly the sort of contest you'd expect between true heavyweights. United are not significantly under-performing each time; they're just not quite tilting the odds in their favour.

    How, then, might they change that against Liverpool? There is one simple way.

    SLAB EXPERIMENT

    United have one particular weakness, regardless of opposition: set-pieces. This season, they have conceded 11 goals from set-plays; only Wolves (12), Brighton and Hove Albion (14) and Leeds United (16) have a worse record. They have shipped four goals from corners, the same number as Liverpool, but the champions have only conceded eight times from dead-ball situations overall.

    At the other end, United have scored 10 goals from set-pieces, a tally bettered by just four teams: Aston Villa and Southampton (11), and Chelsea and Liverpool (12). Only Chelsea (34) have created more dead-ball chances than United (31).

    There is an argument to say they should have more set-piece goals than anyone else. It's an argument that centres around their captain – the man who might be the very thing United need to get back to scoring against, and winning against, big-six opposition.

    Since the start of last season, Harry Maguire has won 73 per cent of his aerial duels in the Premier League. That's the best rate of anyone who has contested at least 300 in that time. In fact, he has lost only 98 of the 341 he has been involved in, which is the lowest number of losses across the same period within that elite group.

    However, in an attacking sense, the world's most expensive defender doesn't seem to have his head on straight. Since the start of 2019-20, he has attempted 27 headed shots, hit the target with just nine of them, and scored with two. Of players with at least 20 headed shots in that time, only four have hit the target less often.

    On Sunday, Maguire will face a Liverpool side without Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and possibly Joel Matip. He will rarely have a better chance of stealing a march at set-plays and, if he does, he could well end United's wait for a goal – and a win – against the best. Sometimes, those fine margins are the width of a forehead.

  • Australian Open players forced into quarantine after two coronavirus cases Australian Open players forced into quarantine after two coronavirus cases

    A group of Australian Open players and staff will quarantine for two weeks after two people on their flight to Melbourne tested positive for coronavirus.

    About 1,200 players and staff are arriving in Melbourne ahead of the delayed Australian Open starting on February 8.

    But one flight, from Los Angeles which landed on Friday, has led to two positive COVID-19 tests, a letter shared by players Pablo Cuevas and Santiago Gonzalez said.

    "Unfortunately, we have been informed by the health authorities that two people on your flight QR7493 from LAX that arrived at 5.15am on Friday 15 January have returned positive COVID-19 PCR tests on arrival in Melbourne," part of the letter read.

    "The chief health officer has reviewed the flight and has determined that everyone on board needs to isolate and will be confined to their rooms for the 14 day quarantine period."

    The two positive tests were reportedly a crew member and a participant who is not a player.

    Players were due to be allowed to train for five hours per day, but those on that flight will now quarantine for two weeks.

    Victoria on Saturday recorded its 10th consecutive day with no locally acquired cases of coronavirus.

  • Mentality Monsters: Jurgen Klopp approaches 200 Premier League games in charge Mentality Monsters: Jurgen Klopp approaches 200 Premier League games in charge

    Cast your mind back to May 2, 2010. Exactly 200 Liverpool Premier League games before Jurgen Klopp took charge of the club.

    The Reds, led by Rafael Benítez, fell to a 2-0 home defeat against eventual champions Chelsea to leave themselves seventh in the table and confirm that they had failed to earn qualification for the Champions League for the first time since the 2002-03 season, when they finished fifth.

    Klopp is now set to lead Liverpool for the 200th time in the Premier League. And it comes against fierce rivals Manchester United on Sunday.

    The transformation in the club's fortunes under the German has been dramatic. In their 200 league games before his arrival, a spell that encompassed Benítez’s final two matches in charge as well as the reigns of Roy Hodgson, Kenny Dalglish's second spell and Brendan Rodgers, Liverpool picked up 94 wins, 48 draws and 58 defeats.

    By contrast, Klopp has already won 127 of his 199 league matches in charge, drawn 47 and lost just 25. That is 33 more wins and 33 fewer defeats than the 200 games before he joined. And 98 more points earned.

    Even before his 200th match, Klopp's 127 wins stack up remarkably well among the most in any manager's first 200 Premier League games.

    Only Tottenham boss Jose Mourinho, who took former club Chelsea to the title in both of his first two seasons in charge, won more times in his first 200 Premier League outings (137) than Klopp with Liverpool.

    That output is made all the more remarkable given Liverpool's record before Klopp arrived at the club. Just compare it to his rivals in the above table.

    Mourinho took over a Chelsea side that had finished the previous season second in the Premier League.

    Alex Ferguson was six years into his Manchester United tenure when the Premier League began, while Pep Guardiola took over a Manchester City side that had won two league titles in five seasons prior to this arrival, only finishing below second once in that spell.

    Even the Liverpool side that Benitez took charge of had finished in the top four in eight of the previous 10 seasons before the Spaniard's reign.

    But when Klopp joined Liverpool, the club could boast just one top four finish in the last six seasons. His starting point with Liverpool was significantly tougher than that of his counterparts with the most wins in their opening 200 Premier League matches.

    His impact has been exceptional. He has guided the Reds to Champions League qualification in all four of his full seasons in charge, ultimately securing their first league title in 30 years last season.

    Indeed, Klopp's success has been such that in Liverpool's history, a history that boasts 19 First Division/Premier League titles, his win ratio is comfortably the best of any Reds manager in the top-flight.

    Over seven per cent above Dalglish, who won three league titles as Liverpool boss, and over seven better than Bob Paisley, who won six in just nine years in charge.

    Klopp arrived at Liverpool with a reputation of success against the odds. A promotion to the Bundesliga with Mainz in 2004, two consecutive Bundesliga titles with Borussia Dortmund in 2011 and 2012. The job he did at both clubs stood him in good stead for turning around Liverpool's fortunes.

    His progress as a manager is clear. In his first 200 Bundesliga matches (102 of which were with Mainz, 98 with Dortmund), Klopp won 81, drew 57 and lost 62. In his first 200 league games in charge at Dortmund alone, he won 117, drew 48 and lost 35.

    Impressive figures, but he has reached new heights with his 127 wins as Liverpool manager in the Premier League – already the most by any Reds boss in the competition since it began in 1992.

    But what of his players? Tellingly, three of the five who have made the most Premier League appearances for Liverpool under Klopp were at the club before the German arrived in October 2015.

    Klopp's most used Premier League players

    Roberto Firmino, a signing made under Rodgers, has been Klopp's go-to man ever since he joined the Reds, featuring in 93 per cent of Liverpool's league matches under the German.

    Then there is captain, Jordan Henderson and vice-captain James Milner.

    Signed for Liverpool by Dalglish and Rodgers respectively, both players have made more Premier League appearances under Klopp than with any of their previous managers, with Henderson having debuted in the competition with Sunderland in 2008 and Milner with Leeds United in 2002.

    How Klopp has brought on and developed the players he inherited in 2015 has been crucial to the success of his Liverpool side. Henderson won the FWA Footballer of the Year award in 2019-20 having captained the club to a first league title in 30 years. Few would have tipped him for such success when he replaced Steven Gerrard as permanent club captain.

    But the German's record in the transfer market has also been impeccable. Key signings such as Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah have propelled Liverpool's fortunes.

    Along with Firmino, they have formed a triumvirate that boast 183 league goals since they first played together in August 2017. In Europe's top five leagues, no other club's top-scoring three players have scored more than Mane, Firmino and Salah have for the Reds since the start of the 2017-18 campaign.

    Joint-top with Liverpool's front three for the top-scoring trios since 2017-18 are Barcelona's Lionel Messi (106 goals), Luis Suarez (62) and Philippe Coutinho (15) – also netting 183 goals combined. The latter of which, Coutinho, is the most significant departure for Liverpool under Klopp, leaving for the Spanish giants in 2018.

    Still fourth for most Premier League goal involvements by Liverpool players under Klopp, Coutinho's sale paved the way for Klopp to make two hugely influential signings at the other end of the field: centre-back Virgil van Dijk and goalkeeper Alisson Becker.

    Before Van Dijk's Premier League debut for Liverpool in January 2018, the Reds had shipped 110 goals in 91 league matches with Klopp at the helm, or 1.2 per game. Since his debut, that figure has fallen to 0.8 goals conceded per match (86 in 108 games).

    Alisson arrived slightly later, in the summer of 2018. He has conceded an even lower 0.7 goals per Premier League match he has played (57 in 81 appearances). In fact, Alisson's rate of conceding every 127 minutes he plays in the Premier League is the best ratio of any goalkeeper with 5,000 or more minutes to their name in Premier League history.

    Then there is Klopp's full-back pairing, Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold. The former was signed from a relegated Hull City side, while the latter is a product of Liverpool's academy. The duo have reinvented the full-back role.

    Robertson has 33 Premier League assists for Liverpool and Alexander-Arnold has 28. Since they first lined up in the same side in September 2017, that ranks both of them in the top four for most Premier League assists, keeping company with Kevin De Bruyne (45) and team-mate Salah (30). Not bad for two defenders.

    Put all of this together, and it is clear how Klopp has struck a balance in each area of the field. A fierce front three, leadership in midfield, the creativity of the full-backs and a strong core to piece it all together.

    It is fitting that Klopp’s 200th Premier League game comes against United. The only club with more English top-flight crowns than Liverpool. The club Liverpool have lost to more than any other in the Premier League.

    Indeed, Klopp's Liverpool side average just 1.22 points per game against their rivals – fewer than they do against any other opponent.

    The winner of their meeting at Anfield on Sunday is guaranteed to finish the day top of the table. As if Klopp needed any more motivation for his 200th Premier League game.

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