The first thing most of the tennis world looked for on Thursday, when the US Open draws were released, was where Serena Williams landed in her final tournament.
As it turns out, not in a bad place.
Williams, a six-time US Open champion, will theoretically have a chance to face 80th-ranked Danka Kovinic in the first round and the very vulnerable No. 2 Anett Kontaveit after that.
The question is whether Williams’ body will hold up well enough to hold back-to-back matches – something she hasn’t had much success with since returning to the tennis tournament at Wimbledon.
In fact, since Williams, 40, announced Aug. 9 that he was stepping back from professional tennis, his form hasn’t been good. Although she scored a win in Canada over Nuria Parrizas-Diaz, she was defeated by top 15 players Belinda Bencic and Emma Raducanu while struggling with what appeared to be a painful knee.
It’s hard to know what to expect from Williams, but the New York crowd will be a huge asset. And she ended up in a fortunate part of the draw alongside Kontaveit, seed #14 Leylah Fernandez and seed #23 Barbora Krejcikova, who have struggled in recent months to recover from health issues. On paper, one of those three should be in the quarterfinals. But given its current form, it’s kind of anyone’s ball game.
Expecting something special to happen for Williams at this event is too high a standard to set. But given the tie, it seems much more realistic now for her to enter week two.
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Here are five more tips from the men’s and women’s sweepstakes:
Most open Opened in recent memory
This is the rare circumstance in tennis where you can have up to a dozen different men holding the trophy and maybe twice as many women and not be too surprised by the result.
With the unvaccinated Novak Djokovic sitting at home because he cannot enter the US, Rafael Nadal’s health is a significant question mark and the two No. Slam for the first time Slam winners in both draws.
Ranking No. 1 Daniil Medvedev, the defending champion, seems to enjoy the conditions in New York more than anywhere else in the world. He has 18 wins and 2 losses at the US Open since 2019, with both losses against the eventual champions. But since his painful loss to Nadal in this year’s Australian Open final, Medvedev’s play has not been as strong as we had hoped.
Medvedev looks like he will also have a tough road back to the final. In the fourth round, he can face Nick Kyrgios, who is a year into his career and just beat Medvedev in Canada earlier this month. The quarterfinals would likely pit him against Canadian Open champion and two-time US Open semifinalist Pablo Carreño Busta or No. 8 Felix Auger-Aliassime. For the sake of entertainment, a semi-final between Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas – who are not very fond of each other from a famous incident in Miami five years ago – would be a very entertaining matchup.
For Iga Swiatek, the women’s No. 1 seed, it’s been a little difficult since ending her 37-game winning streak, which included the French Open title. Swiatek recently complained about Wilson balls being used by the USTA, which are slightly lighter and subsequently more difficult to control with their heavy topspin game.
If that’s on her mind, Swiatek could be vulnerable to an early comeback.
Nadal got an almost perfect draw
While the possibility of the calendar year’s Grand Slam died when Nadal withdrew from the Wimbledon semifinals, no one has beaten him this year in the majors. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen much of Nadal since then as he tried to recover from an abdominal muscle injury.
Nadal had just one prep game in Cincinnati, losing in three sets to eventual champion Borna Coric. The big problem for Nadal with this injury was serve, and it’s still unclear how much that affects him now and if that will resurface again by playing a best-of-five series of games.
That said, there are no obvious speed bumps in your tie room. If he’s relatively healthy, it’s hard to see the four-time US Open champion being seriously challenged all the way to the quarterfinals, where he would theoretically be lined up against 7th seed Cameron Norrie. If the tennis gods look kindly on us, we’ll have Nadal in the semifinals against fellow Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz, the 20-year-old who made his first major Grand Slam at last year’s US Open and thrilled the New York crowd throughout year. way to the quarterfinals.
Big bets for last year’s surprise finalists
The women’s tournament from a year ago captivated hardcore and casual fans alike as charismatic teenagers Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez ended up in a final no one could have predicted.
That result has thrown the two careers into a different stratosphere, but the downside is that they return to the US Open with a lot at stake in the rankings, which are calculated over 12 rolling months. Raducanu, for example, is currently number 11. But if she loses in the first round to Alizé Cornet – and that’s certainly a match she could lose – all the points she got from winning the title last year would go away and she’d drop. down to number 80. Likewise, Fernandez would drop from number 14 to around 45 if he lost in the first round.
Fernandez had a much more favorable opening match against Oceane Dodin and landed in Williams’ room, which doesn’t look so scary on paper. But the foot injury Fernandez suffered at the French Open was a problem during the hard court season as she’s only been 1-2 since she returned.
Many innovative possibilities this year
When you consider the most likely candidates to win your first Grand Slam title, you have to start with 21-year-old Italian Jannik Sinner. He’s always had the raw tools and massive power, but his game has leveled up this year since Darren Cahill (who also works as an analyst for ESPN) joined his coaching staff. Sinner is starting to consistently delve into major championships, including Wimbledon, where he beat Alcaraz and was two sets behind Djokovic in the quarterfinals before his inexperience showed up. He could end up facing Alcaraz again here in the quarter-finals in what must be one of the main rivalries of the next decade.
There’s also a case to be made for high-ranking American Taylor Fritz, who has a tie he can work with here. Fritz looked great in Cincinnati until he faced Medvedev in the quarterfinals, earning victories over Kyrgios and Andrey Rublev. At the US Open, he lands in the same room as number 5, Casper Ruud, and number 4, Stefanos Tsitsipas, who are more comfortable on clay than they are on a hard and fast court. Tsitsipas, for some reason, never made it past the third round in New York.
On the women’s side, you could almost pick names from a hat at this point. Jessica Pegula, the best American, had such a consistent year, but no singles titles to show for it. Coco Gauff can look like the best player in the world in one game and not be able to keep her forehand on the court the next. Brazilian Beatriz Haddad Maia has an incredible history, rising from 80th at the end of last year to 15th thanks to some fantastic results, including the Canadian Open finals. Carolina Garcia was also on fire, winning 26 of her last 30 matches. She could face 2019 champion Bianca Andreescu in the third round.
There aren’t many sexy clashes in the first round
Two-time US Open champion Naomi Osaka arrives at this event in one of the worst form streaks of her career, with just a 1-3 record during her swing on the North American hard court. It’s hard to know if she’s healthy, having battled an Achilles problem this spring and, more recently, a bad back. She will face this year’s Australian Open finalist Danielle Collins, who also struggled with a neck injury and hasn’t had many good results lately.
If you like to hit hard, the two-time Grand Slam champion Garbiñe Muguruza against the young Dane Clara Tauson will be a match where neither of you hold back. While her sister has received all the attention, Venus Williams is also back at the US Open, perhaps for the last time, facing solid Alison Van Uytvanck.
The men’s first round with the most star power is 2020 champion Dominic Thiem vs. Carreño Busta. Thiem is looking to get back on top after two injury-plagued seasons, but it’s been slow progress, and it would be a big surprise if he beat Carreño Busta in fine form.
There are some excellent second-round possibilities, including Auger-Aliassime against promising 20-year-old Brit Jack Draper, a potential young American showdown in Tommy Paul v Sebastian Korda, and Coric against Jenson Brooksby, who made it to the fourth round last year.
This article originally appeared in USA TODAY: US Open Draw: Serena Williams will face Danka Kovinic in the first round