When the US Open draws broke out on Thursday, the first thing most of the tennis world looked for was where Serena Williams landed in her last tournament.
Apparently, it’s not in a bad spot at all.
Williams, a six-time US Open champion, would theoretically have a chance to face the 80th-placed Danka Kvinic in the first round and then the very vulnerable 2nd-place Anett Kontaveit.
The question is whether Williams’ body will hold up well enough to put together consecutive matches – something he hasn’t had much success with since returning to tournament tennis at Wimbledon.
In reality, the 40-year-old Williams has not been in good form since announcing his retirement from professional tennis on August 9. Despite a win over Nuria Parrizas-Diaz in Canada, she suffered some pretty major defeats by her top 15 players Belinda Bencic and Emma Raducanu while battling what looked like knee pain.
It’s hard to know what to expect from Williams, but the New York crowd will be a huge asset. And Kontaveit, who has struggled to bounce back from health problems over the past few months, ended up in the lucky part of the draw alongside 14th seed Leylah Fernandez and 23rd Barbora Krejcikova. On paper, one of these three should be in the quarterfinals. But given its current forms, it’s like everyone’s game.
Expecting anything special to happen for Williams at this event is too high to set the bar. But given the draw, his sneaking into week two now looks much more realistic.
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Here are five more packs from the men’s and women’s sweepstakes:
Largest open in recent memory Open
This is the rare case where you can have a dozen or so different men trophy and perhaps twice as many women in tennis and not be too surprised by the result.
With the unvaccinated Novak Djokovic sitting at home due to his inability to enter the US, Rafael Nadal’s health is a big question mark and as both seeds have been frail in their last few tournaments, this will be a great opportunity to see the Grand for the first time. Slam winners in both draws.
The reigning champion, #1-placed Daniil Medvedev, seems to be enjoying the conditions in New York more than anywhere else in the world. 18-2 at the US Open since 2019 and both losses come against the eventual champions. But since his heartbreaking loss to Nadal in the Australian Open final this year, Medvedev’s play hasn’t been as sharp as we’d hoped.
It looks like Medvedev will also have a tough road to the final. In the fourth round, he could face Nick Kyrgios, who has had a career year and had just beaten Medvedev in Canada earlier this month. In the quarterfinals, he will likely face off against Canadian Open champion and two-time US Open semi-finalist Pablo Carreño Busta or No. 8 Felix Auger-Aliassime. For fun, the semifinals between Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas, who don’t particularly like returning to a famous event that took place in Miami five years ago, would be a pretty fun matchup.
It’s been a bit of a struggle for women’s #1 seed Iga Swiatek since her 37-game winning streak, which also included the French Open title, came to an end. Swiatek recently complained about the Wilson balls used by the USTA, which are slightly lighter and then harder to control with heavy topspin play.
If that’s on his mind, Swiatek may be vulnerable to an early upset.
Nadal gets a near-perfect draw
While the prospect of a calendar year Grand Slam was gone when Nadal withdrew from the Wimbledon semi-finals, no one has beaten him in the bigs this year. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen much of Nadal since then because he was trying to get rid of the tears in his abs.
Nadal had just one friendly match under his belt in Cincinnati, losing in three sets to eventual champion Borna Coric. The biggest issue for Nadal with this injury was serving and it is still unclear how much that will affect him now and whether he will flare up again playing a series of best-of-five sets.
Having said that, there are no obvious speed bumps in his tied quarter. If he’s in relatively good health, it’s hard to see the four-time US Open champion battling seriously until the quarterfinals, where he’ll theoretically face 7th-seeded Cameron Norrie. If the tennis gods are looking at us favorably, we’ll take Nadal in the semi-finals against 20-year-old Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz, who had his first major Grand Slam at last year’s US Open and thrilled the entire audience in New York. quarter-finals way.
Big bets for last year’s surprise finalists
The women’s tournament a year ago wowed hardcore and casual fans alike, with charismatic teenagers Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez concluding in a final that no one could have predicted.
This result catapulted both their careers into a different stratosphere, but the downside is that they returned to the US Open with too much danger in the standings calculated on a 12-month basis. For example, Raducanu is currently in 11th place. But if she lost to Alize Cornet in the first round — and that was definitely a match she could have lost — all her points to win the title last year would have dropped, all the way down to 80th place. Likewise, if Fernandez lost in the first round, he would have dropped from 14th to 45th.
Fernandez had a much more advantageous opening game against Oceane Dodin and got into Williams’ quarter, which didn’t look that daunting on paper. But Fernandez’s foot injury at the French Open has been a problem during his hard-court season as he’s only 1-2 years old since his return.
Lots of breakthrough opportunities this year
When you consider the most likely candidates to win their first Grand Slam title, you should start with 21-year-old Italian Jannik Sinner. He’s always had raw tools and tremendous power, but his game has gone up a notch this year since Darren Cahill (who also works as an ESPN analyst) joined the coaching team. Sinner is constantly starting to dig deeper in the majors, including at Wimbledon, where he beat Alcaraz and won two sets against Djokovic in the quarterfinals before his inexperience is revealed. He may face Alcaraz here again in the quarterfinals, which should be one of the most important rivalries of the next decade.
There’s also a case to be made here for top-ranked American Taylor Fritz, who has a partner to work with. Fritz looked very good in Cincinnati until he faced Medvedev in the quarterfinals, collecting victories over Kyrgios and Andrey Rublev. At the US Open, he is in the same quarter as #5 Casper Ruud and #4 Stefanos Tsitsipas, both of whom are more comfortable than a fast hard court. Tsitsipas, for some reason, never made it past the third round in New York.
On the women’s side, at this point, you can almost choose a name from the hat. Best American Jessica Pegula has had such a steady year, but there are no singles titles to show for it. Coco Gauff may look like the best player in the world in one game, then fail to play in the next. Brazil’s Beatriz Haddad Maia has been an incredible story, climbing from 80th to 15th at the end of last year after some terrific results including the Canadian Open finals. Carolina Garcia was also very hot, winning 26 of the last 30 games. In the third round, she could face 2019 champion Bianca Andreescu.
Not too many sexy first-round matches
Two-time US Open champion Naomi Osaka enters this event in one of the worst form runs of her career with a record of just 1-3 in North American hard court hitting. It’s hard to even know if he’s healthy as he has been battling an Achilles problem this spring and more recently a back problem. This year she will face Australian Open finalist Danielle Collins, who has also struggled with a neck injury and hasn’t done well recently.
If you like hard hits, two-time Grand Slam champion Garbiñe Muguruza against Danish teenager Clara Tauson will be a match that neither of them will back down. Even though her sister got all the attention, Venus Williams is facing Alison Van Uytvanck for perhaps the last time at the US Open.
The men’s first round with the most star power is 2020 champion Dominic Thiem against Carreño Busta. Thiem is trying to get back to the top after two injury-filled seasons, but it’s been slow progress and it would be a huge disappointment if he beats a fit Carreño Busta.
There are some excellent second-round prospects, such as Auger-Aliassime against exciting 20-year-old British contender Jack Draper, a potential matchup of young Americans in Tommy Paul and Sebastian Korda, and Coric against Jenson Brooksby, who took the fourth-round last year. .
This article was originally published on USA TODAY: US Open draw: Serena Williams will face Danka Kvinic in the first round