The U.S. Open 2022 - What to Look Out ForPublished on 08/22/2022 · 11 min readTennis & Racquet Expert Nicolas Carrero breaks down all the key players and the major storylines heading into the 2022 U.S. Open so you can follow all the drama.
Photo by Jeff Horne courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
The U.S. Open is here! The final Grand Slam of the season is upon us and the Big Apple crowds are ready for the action. Held annually in New York City since 1978, the U.S. Open is a hard-court tournament that features the largest tennis court in the world—Arthur Ashe Stadium. Lots of questions exist as we enter the week of the draw. Arguably the best men's player in the world might not be allowed to play. The No. 1 female player in the world is complaining about the tournament using two different balls for men and women (the only Grand Slam that does this). The men's No. 1 will be looking to defend his title, while the defending champion on the women's side is in danger of falling out of the top 50! Storylines are plentiful, so let’s dive in!
What to Watch in 2022
Will Djoker Play?
The biggest question as we get closer to the tournament is whether the men’s World No. 1 will be allowed to play. Due to his vaccination status, the Serb has been banned from most tournaments this season. He was banned from his favorite major, the Australian Open, at the beginning of the year due to Australia’s strict COVID rules. He was allowed to play in a few clay court warm-ups before getting to the quarterfinals in the French Open. Then he played (and won) his second tournament of the year on the Wimbledon grass—his 7th Wimbledon title and 21st major win. He has not played since as he has not been allowed into the USA for any of the hard-court U.S. Open series tournaments.
The decision on whether or not Novak plays in the tournament will change the outlook of the men’s draw one way or another. If he is allowed to play, he will be the favorite. If he isn’t, the rest of the field has a great opportunity. It would also be another twist in the GOAT race. Speaking of…
How Healthy Is Rafa?
Rafa Nadal did not win Wimbledon, yet he is still undefeated in Grand Slams this season! After the “Miracle in Melbourne” and his 14th French Open title, the Spaniard got through to the Wimbledon semi-finals. During his quarterfinal match against Taylor Fritz, he suffered an abdominal injury and could not serve properly afterward. After withdrawing from the All England Club, the question was whether we’d see Rafa in New York fighting for his 5th Open title.
There may be more questions than answers more than a month and a half later. This past week, Rafa returned for his first competitive match since the injury in Cincinnati for the Western and Southern Open—a warmup Masters 1000 tournament right before the U.S. Open. Yet in a surprising result, Nadal lost to unranked Borna Coric in his first match. And that will be all we see from Rafa until the Open begins! He looked okay against Coric but understandably rusty. Is he healthy enough to win six best-of-five matches in two weeks? Hard to see it, but he’s already performed one miracle this year.
The Next Gen
The rest of the men's field for this U.S. Open is packed with youth and talent. World No. 1 and defending champion, Daniil Medvedev, might just be the favorite to win this event again. The 26-year-old Russian is entering his prime and this is his favorite time of the season—the summer hard-court swing. He lost the final in Australia to Nadal and wasn’t allowed to play at Wimbledon due to a bizarre Russian ban, but this is the tournament he likes the most. Having made the final in 2019 and winning it last year, if Djokovic doesn’t play, it’s Daniil who will be the betting favorite.
That said, a player that recently beat Medvedev a few weeks ago and is having the best year of his career is Australian Nick Kyrgios. The bad boy has toned down the antics and turned up the focus this season. The results? Singles and doubles titles at the Citi Open and a run to the Wimbledon final, where he lost to Djokovic in 4. Kyrgios is playing some of the best tennis on tour, and the New York atmosphere combined with the hard-court surface may mean we see Kyrgios make another deep major run. One thing is for sure, it will be entertaining!
Stefanos Tsitispas is another wild card in this tournament. The 24-year-old Greek had a great tournament in Cincinnati last week and is playing some of the best tennis of his career. He made the finals of the Western and Southern Open, defeating his nemesis Medvedev in the semis. Like Kyrgios, Stefanos has taken up playing doubles when he’s not busy playing singles. The results are a much-improved net game and a lethal serve and volley. With one of the prettiest styles on tour, the seventh-ranked player in the world could be dangerous if he makes it to the second week.
Have to also give a second mention to Borna Coric! Entering the tournament, he was 129th in the world! The Croatian had a shocking run to the title in Cincinnati last week—upsetting Nadal, FAA, Cam Norrie, and Tsitispas on his way to the trophy. Now he is in the top 30! Can he shock the world two tournaments in a row?
The New Kids in Town
Americans are looking to make noise on home soil, too. The best American player in New York will be Taylor Fritz. Fritz lost a battle in the quarters of Wimbledon to Rafa and has had a strong season. At his best in the hard courts in the states, Fritz is one of the rising stars of the sport. The 24-year-old won Indian Wells earlier this year and is getting better with each tournament.
Matteo Berrettini has had a tough year after a career year last season. Injuries have hampered the Italian’s progress and he’s had some bad luck as well, getting COVID and having to withdraw from his favorite tournament, Wimbledon. That said, Berrettini is a very strong hard-court player and his big forehand is one of the more feared shots on tour.
Two youngsters to keep an eye on are rising stars Carlos Alcaraz and Jannik Sinner. Alcaraz has been one of the best players on tour this year, currently No. 2 in the ATP year-end race and having won four titles this season already. Carlitos captured the imagination of the tennis world with his early season run on both hard and clay courts—peaking at the Madrid Open, where he became the only man in history to defeat Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal in the same clay court tournament; and he did it in back-to-back days!
Carlitos has come back down to earth a bit in the last few months. The 19-year-old Spaniard is learning to deal with the pressure of being the new golden boy on tour, having had some really close losses recently; including in the fourth round at Wimbledon, where he lost to Sinner. The Italian has turned out to be a bit of kryptonite for Alcaraz, backing up his Wimbledon victory with a dominant win over Carlos a few weeks later in the Croatia Open final. Sinner has a fantastic two-handed backhand and a great return. After defeating Carlos in Wimbledon, Sinner had eventual champion Djokovic down two sets to love in the quarterfinals. The 21-year-old Sinner is one to watch in this tournament and one of the bright stars of the future.
Canadian 22-year-old Felix Auger Aliassime is another dark horse candidate to win the tourney. Coached by Rafa Nadal’s legendary Uncle Toni, results have been inconsistent for FAA. He lost to Medvedev in the semis last season, so keep an eye on Felix!
The Final Tournament for Serena
Serena Williams, arguably the greatest female tennis player of all time, will be retiring after the U.S. Open. At age 40, Serena’s movement and conditioning aren’t what they used to be, as to be expected after an incredible career. Mother to a now four-year-old daughter, Serena is ready to transition to a life post-tennis. With 23 Grand Slam titles and four Gold Medals to her name, there is nothing left to prove for the legend from Compton. Is there a special ending to a special career in the near future? She has lost her last few matches, yet has only played twice in the last few months and lost in the first round of Wimbledon. Her sister, Venus, has also been included in the tournament as a wild card. Two of the game's greatest and most impactful players will grace the famous Big Apple tournament one more time. There are even rumors that the sisters will team up for a run at the doubles title!
Will The Real Iga Please Stand Up?
Iga Świątek is the current No. 1 player in the world by a long shot and this year’s French Open Champion. On her run to the French title, she won 37 straight matches and was dominating everyone in front of her. So how is it that a few months later there is so much uncertainty and doubt over her game?
Her match streak ended in the third round of Wimbledon, in an upset loss to veteran French player Alize Cornet. It was nothing to worry about though, as grass is her worst surface. But since then, she has lost in the quarterfinals of her home tournament—The Poland Open (clay)—and in the round of 16 of both The Canadian and Cincy Open (hard). It’s not just that she's losing these matches, it’s how she's losing them. In Cincy, she got blown off the court in straight sets by the power of Madison Keys. She complained about the different balls women have to play with as opposed to men during the U.S. Open Series and her body language during matches has been a far cry from what it was earlier in the season. Has Iga been figured out by the tour? Is the fear factor gone? Is she a clay court specialist? These are questions Iga will have to answer in this tournament. Luckily for her, Serena is the center of attention and she may be able to play more relaxed as an under-the-radar player.
Who Is Next?
The women’s tour is as unpredictable as it has ever been. It feels like every tournament has a new winner, and you never have any clue who is going to win. 23-year-old Russian Elena Rybakina won Wimbledon and has to be considered one of the favorites with her great serve and power. But she had won only two titles in her career prior to the improbable run at The All England Club. She defeated 27-year-old Turkish star Ons Jabeur in the final—one of the crowd favorites on tour who has a very well-rounded game.
18-year-old American Coco Gauff has been on tour for what seems like a decade now, but she isn’t even close to reaching her best. Gauff has had a good second half of the season and before an ankle injury forced her to retire in the Cincy Open, she had some of the best odds to win the Open. If she is healthy, she has a great chance to make some noise on home soil.
There are other Americans that are peaking at the right time to be very dangerous in New York. 28-year-old Jessica Pegula and 27-year-old Madison Keys both had deep runs in the Cincy Open this past weekend. Keys demolished world No. 1 Iga Swiatek and has all the tools to make a deep run in this tournament. Unlike Iga, she likes the different balls the U.S. Open uses and feels right at home in this tournament. With big weapons, don’t be surprised if both of these ladies make it far.
Pegula defeated the reigning U.S. Open Champion, Emma Raducanu, in the round of 16 this past weekend in Cincinnati. The 19-year-old British star Raducanu has had a tough year. She exploded onto the scene last year when, as an 18-year-old qualifier, she won the entire tournament. Since then, she has not won three matches in a row at any point this season. Injuries and the pressure from the instant fame have caused a lot of bad results and earned her more critics. That said, she had her best week of the year last week in Cincy, beating two Grand Slam winners back to back in straight sets—Serena and Victoria Azarenka. Maybe there is something about this time of year that brings out the best in her, we’ll see!
Other players who are due for their first major win include fourth-ranked Spaniard Paula Badosa and third-ranked Greek Maria Sakkari. Of the veterans, two-time slam winner and sixth-ranked Romanian Simona Halep is always one to watch. French 35th-ranked Caroline Garcia defeated 28th-ranked Czech player Petra Kvitova in the Cincy Open final this past Sunday, and that bodes well for both of their chances. Pick a name out of the hat!
My Not-So-Confident Predictions?
Keep your eyes on Rafael Nadal and Jessica Pegula.
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