Serena Williams’ 1st opponent at US Open is Danka Kovinic

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NEW YORK (AP) — Serena Williams’ first opponent at what is expected to be the last tournament of her career, the U.S. Open, will be Danka Kovinic.

Win that, and Williams could face No. 2 seed Anett Kontaveit of Estonia in the second round.

The brackets for the women’s and men’s singles events were released Thursday by the U.S. Tennis Association.

Play begins Monday; first-round matches will be held that day and Tuesday. There was no immediate word on when Williams will compete.

The 23-time Grand Slam champion, who turns 41 on Sept. 26, announced this month she was preparing to step away from her playing career. She did not explicitly say when she planned to stop but made it sound as if the U.S. Open would mark her farewell.

Williams has won the hard-court tournament in Flushing Meadows six times.

She is just 1-3 this season, having recently returned to singles action after a year away following a first-round injury exit at Wimbledon in 2021.

Her first match back came at the All England Club in late June, and she lost her opener there in a third-set tiebreaker to 115th-ranked Harmony Tan.

Kovinic is a 27-year-old from Montenegro who is 80th in the WTA rankings this week and has been as high as 46th. Williams and Kovinic have never played each other in singles.

After winning a match at a tournament in Toronto, Williams was eliminated in straight sets there by Tokyo Olympics gold medalist Belinda Bencic, then lost again in straight sets at Cincinnati against reigning U.S. Open champion Emma Raducanu.

Because Williams has said she’s preparing to wind down her tennis career, her every move will be the focus at the start of the U.S. Open.

While Williams has spent more than 300 weeks at No. 1, her lack of activity has contributed to a slide; she is 410th this week.

That meant she would not be seeded in New York and could have been placed anywhere in the field — and against any player.

Other possible opponents for Williams, should she progress through the tournament, include No. 27 seed Martina Trevisan of Italy in the third round and 2021 U.S. Open runner-up Leylah Fernandez of Canada or 2021 French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic in the fourth.

She could face her sister Venus only in the final, because they are on opposite sides of the bracket.

No. 1 Iga Swiatek, a two-time French Open champion, will meet Jasmine Paolini in the first round, while Raducanu will begin her title defense against Alize Cornet.

Potential quarterfinals are Swiatek vs. No. 8 Jessica Pegula, and No. 4 Paula Badosa vs. No. 6 Aryna Sabalenka on the top half of the field, and Kontaveit — or, perhaps, Williams — vs. Wimbledon runner-up Ons Jabeur, and No. 3 Maria Sakkari vs. No. 7 Simona Halep or French Open runner-up Coco Gauff on the bottom half.

Shortly before the draw announcement, some expected news arrived: Novak Djokovic tweeted that he would not be in New York for the U.S. Open.

The 35-year-old from Serbia, who owns 21 Grand Slam titles, is not vaccinated against COVID-19. Foreign citizens who have not received the shot are not allowed to enter the United States.

In the men’s draw, defending champion Daniil Medvedev is seeded No. 1 — the first Grand Slam event since 2004 in which Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer or Andy Murray didn’t hold that spot. He will start by taking on Stefan Kozlov of the United States.

No. 2 Nadal, whose 22 Grand Slam titles are a record for a man, was drawn to face Australian wild-card recipient Rinky Hijikata.

Potential men’s quarterfinals are Medvedev vs. No. 6 Felix Auger-Aliassime, No. 4 Stefanos Tsitsipas vs. No. 5 Casper Ruud in what would be a matchup between the past two French Open runners-up, Nadal vs. No. 7 Cam Norrie, and No. 3 Carlos Alcaraz vs. No. 8 Hubert Hurkacz.

Wimbledon runner-up Nick Kyrgios, who is seeded No. 23, could meet Medvedev in the fourth round. In the first round, Kyrgios will play his fellow Australian, good friend and doubles partner Thanasi Kokkinakis.

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