The closing Grand Slam of the season is upon us in New York and there is a lot on the line. Here’s a look at some of the main talking points at this US Open.
This is expected to be Serena Williams’ final tournament as a professional tennis player. The 23-time Grand Slam champion will take on Montenegro’s Danka Kovinic in a night session first round showdown on Monday, and is also signed up for the doubles event alongside her sister Venus.
The Williams sisters have won 14 Grand Slam doubles titles together and are getting the band back together for what is likely going to be the last time.
Opening night in New York is the hottest ticket in town at the moment as Kovinic attempts to usher Serena into retirement.
“I was happy; I won’t lie,” Kovinic told the Associated Press about her reaction to her first-round draw. “It’s a privilege to share the court with Serena.”
Fierce battle for men’s top spot
Five men have the chance to conclude the US Open as the world No.1.
Defending champion and current No.1 Daniil Medvedev could be replaced by Rafael Nadal, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Carlos Alcaraz or Casper Ruud at the summit in two weeks’ time.
There are multiple scenarios for each player to secure the top ranking and title. If Nadal and Medvedev square off in the final, or Medvedev, Tsitsipas or Ruud take on Alcaraz in the final, the winner would snag the world No.1 ranking.
Pressure mounting but not everyone is feeling it
Britain’s Emma Raducanu insists she isn’t feeling any pressure ahead of her title defense in New York, while four-time Grand Slam winner Naomi Osaka admits she is a bit anxious.
Raducanu became the first qualifier in history to win a Grand Slam when she stormed to the title in New York last year and the teenager has shot to global stardom since then. She didn’t feel great during her practice session on Friday but said she has no real concerns ahead of her opener against Alize Cornet on Tuesday.
“I think you guys are thinking probably more about pressure and ranking than me,” Raducanu told reporters on media day.
“I think defending a title is just something that the press makes up. I’m just taking it one match at a time. Like, every single player is very capable in this draw. I just focus on what I’m doing, my own trajectory. As I said last year, I’m just going to do things my way.”
Meanwhile, former world No.1 Osaka, who triumphed at the US Open in 2018 and 2020, said that in her personal experience, being a defending champion is “more stressful” because you feel the need to replicate the success from the prior year.
Osaka, who is unseeded this fortnight and is ranked 44 in the world at the moment, admitted she felt nerves have begun to creep in on Saturday ahead of her Tuesday first round against Australian Open finalist Danielle Collins.
“I feel like I would have lied, like, a day ago or so and said that I was really relaxed. But actually, like, when I practiced today I felt very anxious. I think it’s ’cause I really want to do well ’cause I feel I haven’t been doing well lately,” the Japanese star said on Saturday.
“It’s tough. Of course, you don’t want to lose in the first round of a Slam. I feel like I always do pretty well here. It’s kind of, like, taking the pressure off of myself, but it’s always going to be there. I think the opponent I’m going to play is also really tough, so it adds a little bit extra. I’m just trying to enjoy the time that I have here.”
Both draws are wide open
While we’re used to expect the unexpected on the women’s side at the majors, it’s fair to say that the men’s draw feels just as open in New York this year.
Novak Djokovic is unable to participate due to his vaccination status, Nadal is returning from an abdominal injury, Medvedev is not necessarily in top form and there are many young contenders looking to hit new milestones on the Grand Slam stage.
Asked if the men’s draw feels as open as people are making it out to be, Medvedev said on Friday: “If I look back maybe I would say five years ago when I was probably not even on the tour yet, when there was the ‘Big Four,’ Andy, Novak, Roger, Rafa, especially if they would be the top four seeds, some tournaments was the case, for sure. I’m not sure how other guys reacted, but it was tough. You know you’re going to get them in quarters, first rounds. There were some Slams where they occupied the semifinals. It must not have been easy.
“If we look at this perspective, maybe it is (open this year). At the same time, if we take the last two, three years at the Slams, I have to say on hard courts it was a lot of times me there, Stefanos a few times. Australian Open, Sascha (Zverev) was there. Sometimes in the final. Dominic (Thiem).
“It’s not like I feel like we saw any huge surprise in the latest Slams. It’s not easy to answer. I think it is (open). But talking from my perspective, I just want to play good, just try to win as many matches as possible no matter the opponent, no matter the draw.”
Nadal chasing history
The Spaniard has already won two majors this year to take his men’s record tally to 22 Grand Slams won. Should he clinch a 23rd here, he would equal Serena’s Open Era record.
Nadal hasn’t played in New York since he won a fourth US Open title in 2019. He has lifted the trophy on Arthur Ashe Stadium in two of his last three appearances at the tournament.
Juicy first rounds
Osaka versus Collins is not the only exciting first round on the menu in New York. Wimbledon finalist Nick Kyrgios will open his campaign against his doubles partner and good friend Thanasi Kokkinakis, just a few months after they won the Australian Open doubles crown.
The 2020 champion Dominic Thiem will face two-time semifinalist and recent Montreal champion Pablo Carreno Busta.
Rising Chinese star Zheng Qinwen tackles former French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko, Raducanu has a tough opponent in Cornet who snapped Iga Swiatek’s 37-match winning streak at Wimbledon earlier this summer, while third-seeded Maria Sakkari will play Wimbledon semi-finalist Tatjana Maria.