Ash Barty and Naomi Osaka at centre of $80 million drama at US Open

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Ash Barty and Naomi Osaka, pictured here in action at the Cincinnati Masters.
Ash Barty and Naomi Osaka headline the women's contenders at the US Open. Image: Getty

Ash Barty and Naomi Osaka will take centre stage at next week's US Open with a share of $80 million in prize money on the line.

Osaka will be seeking her third US Open title in four attempts as the final grand slam of the year begins on Monday.

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Top-ranked Wimbledon winner Ash Barty will lead a host of rivals for Osaka's crown having won her fifth title of the year at last week's Cincinnati Masters.

But it remains uncertain is whether New York will see Osaka rediscover the dominant form that saw her win the past two grand slam events she played to the finish.

The 23-year-old lit the flame in the Olympic cauldron at the Tokyo Games, but has played only two matches since Japan ahead of the Open.

"I know there are a lot of things I need to fix within my game, so in a weird way I'm kind of glad that I lost, because there are so many things that I want to fix before New York," Osaka said.

"I feel like my level is not that far off... if I want to keep being more positive with myself, I need to think about the things that I could improve on. There are definitely a lot of things."

Osaka pulled out of the French Open after being fined for not talking to reporters after her first match, saying it was damaging for her mental health. 

She then skipped Wimbledon but spoke with the media after matches in her US Open tuneup at Cincinnati.

"I felt like it was something I needed to do for myself," Osaka said. 

"I'm proud of what I did and I think it was something that needed to be done.

"Sometimes we feel like really sad, and I feel like maybe there should be a rule that we could maybe take a sick day from (answering questions)."

Barty, currently in her 83rd-consecutive week as World No.1, has rolled to wins at Wimbledon and Cincinnati and put her on best form entering the Flushing Meadows major.

The 25-year-old's 2021 titles also include Miami, Melbourne and Stuttgart and boosted her career total to 13.

"I feel comfortable and ready," Barty said. "I feel good, I feel ready. Certainly been a big year and we've still got a bit to go yet."

One boost for Barty and Osaka is the withdrawal of Serena Williams, who announced on Wednesday that she hasn't fully recovered from a hamstring injury suffered at Wimbledon.

Serena Williams, pictured here in action at Wimbledon.
Serena Williams in action at Wimbledon. (Photo by Adam Davy/PA Images via Getty Images)

US Open champion set for prize money decrease

The men's and women's singles champions will earn 35 per cent less than in 2019, the last time the grand slam tennis tournament allowed spectators.

But prize money for qualifying and the first three rounds of the main draw will rise as part of an overall increase.

A year after banning fans entirely because of the coronavirus pandemic and lowering prize money due to lost revenue, the US Tennis Association announced that it would boost total player compensation to a record $57.5 million ($A80 million), slightly more than the $57.2 million ($A79 million) in 2019.

The figure was $53.4 million ($A74 million) in 2020.

Each singles title winner will be paid $2.5 million ($A3.5 million), down from $3 million ($A4.2 million) last year and $3.85 million ($A5.3 million) two years ago.

It is the lowest amount for the top prize at Flushing Meadows since 2012, when the singles champs each received $1.9 million ($A2.6 million).

This year's singles runners-up will be paid $1.25 million ($A1.7 million), a decrease from $1.5 million ($A2.1 million) in 2020 and $1.9 million ($A2.6 million) in 2019 - and the lowest since $950,000 ($A1.3 million) in 2012.

with agencies

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