First-round matchups to watch at the 2020 US Open

The 2020 US Open will be like no other. However, despite no fans in attendance due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the action on the courts should be as competitive as ever.

First-round matches at the 2020 US Open will be played Monday and Tuesday, and many of the biggest names in the sport will face early tough tests. Here’s a look at 10 first-round matches to keep an eye on:

Women’s First Round:

Kristie Ahn vs. No. 3 Serena Williams
All eyes are on Serena as she resumes her quest for a record-tying 24th career singles Grand Slam title. It’s been a rocky return to tennis this summer, as Williams lost to Shelby Rogers in the quarterfinals of the Top Seed Open in Lexington, Ky., and then got bounced in the third round at the Western & Southern Open by Maria Sakkari. Williams is in a tough quarter of the draw—she’ll potentially have to get past Madison Keys, Amanda Anisimova and Sloane Stephens to reach the semifinals. But first she must face a worthy first-round challenge. Ahn—who was born in Flushing Meadows, home of the US Open—made it to the fourth round as a wild-card entrant last year, defeating Jelena Ostapenko along the way.

No. 20 Karolina Muchova vs. Venus Williams
While Serena chases history, sister Venus owns plenty of US Open history herself. She’s played more US Open matches over the years than any other player. While that’s a testament to her ability, it also speaks to age. When the 40-year-old Venus played her first US Open in 1997, Muchova wasn’t even born. The 24-year-old Czech went further than Venus in Flushing Meadows last year: While Venus was ousted in the second round, Muchova advanced to Round 3 (before losing to Serena).

(WC) Kim Clijsters vs. No. 21 Ekaterina Alexandrova
Clijsters is a three-time US Open women’s singles champion, but she hasn’t played Flushing Meadows since 2012 (thus the wild-card entry). The return from her second retirement was delayed by the pandemic, but the 37-year-old Belgian showed flashes this summer playing World TeamTennis. That said, she also battled an abdominal injury that forced her to sit out the Western & Southern Open. Clijsters’ first-round opponent was 7 years old when she won her last US Open title. More importantly, the 24-year-old Russian is no stranger to knocking off former US Open champs in the first round: Just last year, Alexandrova defeated 2011 champion Samantha Stosur in the opening round.

Coco Gauff vs. No. 31 Anastasija Sevastova
Sevastova was a US Open semifinalist as recently as two years ago, so it won’t be easy for last year’s Open darling to reach the second round. The 16-year-old Gauff was the youngest competitor in New York last summer, when she reached the third round and lost a memorable match against then-No. 1 Naomi Osaka. Gauff continued her rise with a win over Osaka at the 2020 Australian Open, also defeating Venus Williams before losing a fourth-round match to eventual champion Sofia Kenin.

(WC) Robin Montgomery vs. No. 23 Yulia Putintseva
The 15-year-old Montgomery takes the mantel from Gauff this year as the youngest player in the tournament. Montgomery rose to No. 5 as a junior last year before dipping her toes into the pro circuit this year. The American tennis prodigy could become the next US Open darling, but she won’t have an easy Flushing Meadows main-draw debut. The 25-year-old Putintseva advanced to the third round in New York last year, with a victory over ranked opponent Aryna Sabalenka.

Alex Zverev at the 2019 Nitto ATP Finals.

Men’s First Round

Kevin Anderson vs. No. 5 Alexander Zverev
Zverev was a first-round victim last week at the Western & Southern Open, but the 23-year-old German had his best Grand Slam finish earlier this year, reaching the semifinals at the 2020 Australian Open. Expectations are high for him at the US Open, where he enters as the No. 5 seed, but first he must get past a tough veteran. The 34-year-old Anderson has struggled of late, but the 6-foot-8 South African did reach the US Open final three years ago.

Jannik Sinner vs. No. 11 Karen Khachanov
Khachanov enters the US Open as the No. 11 seed, and he’s got some momentum, thanks to a nice run at the Western & Southern Open. The 24-year-old Russian actually has five years on his first-round opponent, but Sinner’s fast rise up the rankings in the past year makes him a dangerous opponent. Although the 19-year-old Italian stumbled in the Western & Southern qualies last week, he is worth watching. Sinner began 2019 ranked No. 551 in the world and, by the end of the year, was the youngest player in the ATP's Top 100.

Steve Johnson vs. No. 16 John Isner
It’s been 17 years since Andy Roddick won the 2003 US Open men’s singles title—the last American man to be crowned champion. With some notable players absent from this year’s draw, can this be an opportunity for the American players to step up? Isner is the highest-ranked American, currently at No. 21. The 6-foot-10 Isner has reached the quarterfinals twice at Flushing Meadows, most recently in 2018. But if he’s to advance in this first-round matchup, he’ll end up knocking off a fellow American. Easier said than done, however: The 30-year old Johnson owns a 5-4 record against Isner and has won their last four meetings.

Reilly Opelka vs. No. 7 David Goffin
Opelka’s main-draw debut at the US Open last year pit him against No. 11 Fabio Fognini, and the 6-foot-11 American right-hander with the most dominant serve in tennis came away with the upset. Opelka, who just turned 23, faces another highly ranked opponent in the first round this year. Goffin enters the fortnight ranked No. 10 in the world and seeded seventh. The 29-year-old Belgian has reached the fourth round of the US Open in each of the last three years.

(WC) Andy Murray vs. Yoshihito Nishioka
Murray may be ranked No. 134 in the world right now, but he’s a former US Open champ—one of only three in this year’s men’s draw (along with Novak Djokovic and Marin Cilic). But the 33-year-old Scot, who has missed the last four Grand Slam events after hip surgery, hasn’t reached the third round of a major since a quarterfinal run at Wimbledon in 2017. If he is to recapture the magic, he’ll have to get past a dangerous first-round opponent in Nishioka. Not long before the shutdown this year, the 24-year-old lefty reached the final at Delray Beach.

Video: Chasing the Dream: Yoshihito Nishioka