US Open 2021: Odds, storylines, and how to watch

·6 min read

The US Open is back where it belongs, in late August/early September. It's been just over two months since Wimbledon, but a lot has happened. There were unexpected finishes at the Olympics. New injuries could impact would-be champions. And both the men's and women's field will be missing some very familiar names. 

Let's dive in, shall we?

Setting the stage: Change is coming

While this year's schedule is mostly back to normal due to COVID-19, there was still one big change: the Tokyo Games. Olympic tennis nosed its way into the schedule between Wimbledon and the US Open, and a number of players opted to use that time to rest and recover instead of heading to Tokyo.

That didn't end up helping much. Roger Federer dropped out of the Olympics due to a recurrent knee injury, but now he's out for the season. The same thing happened to Rafael Nadal and his foot. Serena Williams, who tore her hamstring during her first round at Wimbledon, missed the Olympics as well. Venus Williams didn't participate. Now both Williams sisters are out of the Open with injuries. 

The absence of Federer, Nadal, Serena, and Venus sets an important landmark in tennis.

The guard is changing. It's not a quick change, but it is happening. Novak Djokovic is still at his peak, dominating his competition at will, and Serena seems determined to keep trying to win Grand Slam 24 until she's physically unable to, but the next generation of players are starting to take center stage. Stafanos Tsitsipas. Mario Berrettini. Coco Gauff. Maria Sakkari. Sofia Kenin. And players like Naomi Osaka and Ash Barty have already been making names for themselves. 

This year's US Open could be our first peek at what the next few years have in store. The end of the Big Three and the Williams sisters' dominance is a reason for pause, but it's ushering in a new era with new stars, new styles, and new rivalries. Bring it on. 

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - AUGUST 28: Novak Djokovic of Serbia returns the ball during a practice session prior to the start of the 2021 US Open at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on August 28, 2021 in the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
Novak Djokovic will try to make history at the 2021 US Open. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

Key Storylines

Men's singles: Everything's breaking Novak's way

After Novak Djokovic's triumph at Wimbledon, his third Grand Slam win of the year, it looked like he would cruise onto the gold medal podium at the Tokyo Olympics before taking Flushing Meadows by storm and accomplishing only the second Golden Slam in history.

Reality stepped in at the Olympics, though. The seemingly unbeatable Djokovic lost to Alexander Zverev in the bronze medal match, then pulled out of his bronze medal mixed doubles match due to a shoulder injury. After that, Djokovic pulled out of the Western & Southern Open. We've seen precious little of him since Tokyo, so we have no idea whether his shoulder injury is severe or if it's healed. With how dominant Djokovic has been this year, an injury may be the only way to beat him. 

Women's singles: Welcome back Ash Barty

The women's field continues to be wide ranging competition between as many as 10 different players, but one has started to hoist herself above the others: Ashleigh Barty. Most people weren't expecting a lot from her after her second-round exit at the French Open, but at Wimbledon she wowed everyone with her strength, consistency, and confidence. That led to her first Wimbledon title (and her second-ever Grand Slam) in June. 

Barty got eliminated early on at the Olympics, but came back from Tokyo in great form, winning the Western & Southern Open. She's coming in on a roll, but the 2020 defending champion, Naomi Osaka, will also be battling her way to the top after a difficult few months on the court. 

The odds: Who's the favorite?

Men's singles

Even after his Olympic hiccup, Djokovic is still far and away the favorite to win at Flushing Meadows. But his competitors have narrowed the gap somewhat. No. 2 seed Daniil Medvedev and No. 4 seed Alexander Zverev have much better odds to win here than they did at Wimbledon. If Djokovic's shoulder injury isn't fully healed, both could have a chance. 

Courtesy of Bet MGM and Yahoo Sportsbook, here are the odds for the top five seeds.

  1. Novak Djokovic -135

  2. Daniil Medvedev +400

  3. Stefanos Tsitsipas +1100

  4. Alexander Zverev +600

  5. Andrey Rublev +3300

MASON, OHIO - AUGUST 22: Ashleigh Barty of Australia celebrates match point against Jil Teichmann of Switzerland during the final of the Western & Southern Open at Lindner Family Tennis Center on August 22, 2021 in Mason, Ohio. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Ash Barty has an opportunity to assert herself as the woman to beat in the WTA. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Women's singles

Barty is the third woman to win a Grand Slam this year, and despite her late-season surge at the Western & Southern Open, the competitiveness of the women's field means she's definitely not running away with it. She's the favorite to win, but not by too much. Osaka is nipping at her heels.

Courtesy of Bet MGM and Yahoo Sportsbook, here are the odds for the top five seeds.

  1. Ashleigh Barty +325

  2. Aryna Sabalenka +1200

  3. Naomi Osaka +650

  4. Karolina Pliskova +1800

  5. Elina Svitolina +4000

How, where, and when to watch

ESPN is the home of the 2021 US Open whether you're watching on your TV, computer, or mobile device. ESPN and ESPN2 will be airing wall-to-wall coverage of the singles competition, starting with the first matches of the day at 11:00 a.m. ET and ending when the final matches of the day end around 12 hours later. 

Watching on ESPN's terrestrial TV channel means you're subject to the whims of the network. They'll be featuring the biggest stars of the game, cutting from match to match depending the significance or who's playing. But on the ESPN app (or going to espn.com/watch on your computer), you're in control. Through the first four rounds, matches on 16 courts will be featured on the app or through ESPN+. That number will drop to 12 courts on Sept. 9, which is when the semifinals start. 

Once the tournament reaches the semifinal stage, ESPN takes over exclusively. They'll air the women's semis on Thursday, Sept. 9 at 7 p.m. ET and the women's finals on Sept. 11 at 4 p.m. The men's semis will air on Friday, Sept. 10 at 3 p.m. ET and 7 p.m. ET, and the men's finals will air Sunday, Sept. 12 at 4 p.m. 

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