efe-epaBy Sonia Salazar New York

Top-ranked Naomi Osaka of Japan returns to the US Open where last year she outplayed American star and top favorite Serena Williams in the final to secure the title.

A year after the Japanese player lifted her first Grand Slam crown depriving Serena of her US Open seventh title and a record-tying 24th Major singles title, Osaka will play this year’s edition even though she is not at her best.

The 21-year-old sustained an injury during the 2019 Premier 5 Cincinnati Masters, which forced her out of the quarterfinals.

Osaka, who continued her success in the top four Majors in the beginning of this season by claiming the 2019 Australian Open trophy, will kick-off her US Open title defending run against young Russian Anna Blinkova.

Provided that Osaka competes at a high level and advances to the third round, she may face tennis' most highly touted youngster, 15-year-old Cori Gauff, who made a big splash at Wimbledon before bowing out in the fourth round to eventual champion Simona Halep.

The Japanese player could also square off against seventh-seeded Dutch Kiki Bertens if both make the quarters, after which she could take on number four seed Halep in the semis.

A copy of the 2018 US Open final could occur with Osaka competing against Serena in this year’s final, as the 37-year-old American is in the last quarter of the draw being the eighth-seeded.

Twenty years after her first-ever Grand Slam honor at the expense of Swiss legend Martina Hingis at the 1999 US Open, Serena will start this year’s edition with a blockbuster first-round match against her fellow former world No.1 Russian Maria Sharapova.

Sharapova, 32, who has five Major titles under her belt, is also a former US Open champion when she lifted the trophy in 2006 after beating former Belgian player Justine Henin.

Although the Russian is currently ranked world No. 87 and trailing in their head-to-head record with 19-3 (including one walkover), Sharapova could pose a real threat to Serena’s hopes on the latter’s home soil, especially if the American is not at the top of her game.

Due to a back-injury, Serena recently retired from the final match of the 2019 Rogers Cup held in Toronto and then did not participate in the following Cincinnati tournament.

However, tennis experts say that Serena could be chasing former legend Margaret Court's 24 Grand Slam-winning record.

There is no doubt the American is in better physical shape than her young counterparts who have overtaken her in the WTA ranking.

Serena also seems to command authority at the US Open, given organizers decided that Portuguese umpire Carlos Ramos will not officiate any matches for Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, according to the newly-appointed US Tennis Association Chief Executive, Stacey Allaster.

The tournament also will see additional and young contenders for the title, such as the likes of Australian Ashleigh Barty, the second-seeded and the 2019 Roland Garros winner, No.3 seed Czech Karolina Pliskova, Tenth-seeded American Madison Keys and 2016 US Open champion Angelique Kerber.

However, they are thought to have fewer chances of winning the UP Open title than Serena if her results this year are anything to go by. EFE-EPA