Novak Djokovic announced the morning of the 2022 US Open draw that he would not play in New York this year due to his unvaccinated status clashing with Covid policy in the United States. That opens the door a little more for 22-time Grand Slam Champion Rafael Nadal, seeded number 2 in this tournament.

In what is anticipated to be her last professional tennis tournament, Serena Williams landed in a section of the draw that could give her a shot– the most looming threat being the 2-seed Annet Kontaveit who hasn’t played well in 2022.

Standing at 21 Grand Slams and coming off a championship at Wimbledon, Djokovic’s decision could have extraordinary career-defining implications for both himself and Nadal, a 4-time US Open champion.

This year’s extravaganza in Flushing, the year’s last major, features a handful of alluring first round matches. On the women’s side, last year’s US Open Queen, Emma Raducanu faces a real headache in feisty Frenchwoman Alize Cornet. In addition, two-time US Open champ Naomi Osaka, fresh in the middle of a marketing and new-ventures blitz, will take on the street-fighter American with almost no marketing: Danielle Collins. With Osaka’s physical and mental struggles this year, Collins is actually the seeded player here and possibly the favorite.

In the 2022 US Open men’s draw, intriguing first-round matchups include Aussie bros and doubles partners Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis, as well as cramp-prone American Jack Sock versus a guy who makes players cramp, Diego Schwartzman.

Nadal’s section, even by conservative standards, is the best he could have hoped for. Seeds in his bracket include Miomir Kecmanovic and Francis Tiafoe. If Nadal is still hurting from his foot or his abdominal injuries, neither would be fun opponents. However, it doesn’t really get rough for Rafa until potentially Andrey Rublev or Holger Rune in the quarterfinals.

Working up the men’s draw, the 3rd quarter appears to be the most open. That’s good news for Carlos Alcaraz, the Spanish phenom seeded number 3 at this year’s US Open. Carlitos might face Cincinnati Champ Borna Coric, who is surging after a comeback, but I think Coric might experience an adrenaline letdown after his triumph. I see Carlitos coming through to meet one of the big servers like Hubert Hurkacz. 2019 semifinalist Grigor Dimitrov has been battling injuries, and I don’t see him as a factor.

The second quarter has got some nice appeal. Stefanos Tsitsipas tops the quarter by seed at number 4, but last year’s quarterfinalist Matteo Berrettini lurks. Matteo lost a close battle to Tiafoe in Cincy, but as long as he’s not injured, I see his lack of reps as an overall positive. It’s hard to pick Stef on hard courts because of his one-handed backhand, and in fact, the US Open courts are playing faster in recent years. I like American Taylor Fritz to play well here with the crowd behind him and his big serve peaking. That might be a little too much for ever-reliable Casper Ruud, who’s also in this section.

The top of the 2022 US Open men’s draw features defending champion Daniil Medvedev. The Russian has been slowly regaining form this hardcourt season, despite losing to Tsitsipas in Cincy and Kyrgios in Montreal before that. An interesting matchup in Round 3 might pit Meddy against the fun upstart Ben Shelton if the American can get through, but that would likely be Daniil in straights. Call it intuition, but something tells me Medvedev continues to be bothered by the events in his home country or other off-court issues. Having to play Kyrgios again in Round 4 is not ideal. Still. He’s the 1 seed, and he’s ridiculously tough on a fast hard court with his huge first step and abbreviated backhand. In a best of 5, I see him outlasting Kyrgios.

My players to watch in the 2022 US Open:

QF: Medvedev, Fritz, Alcaraz, Nadal
SF: Medvedev, Alcaraz
W: Alcaraz

The 2022 US Open women’s draw remains as difficult as ever to predict. If Raducanu comes through her first-round match against Cornet, and that’s a big ‘if,’ I think she will have expended too much mental energy to make it all the way to the quarters. As returning champion, she has so many sponsor and interview obligations. Serena Williams’ retirement takes some media pressure off her, but I’m not sure she fully understands what made her so successful last year, from a tennis standpoint. She has a new coach in Dmitry Tursunov, who has definitely helped, but the Brit needs to play smarter, not harder. And with players like Belinda Bencic, Naomi Osaka, Danielle Collins and 2022 Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina in her quarter, it’s just too tough.

Full disclosure: I’m sentimental, and because I will very likely only be able to watch Serena Williams one more time, I must favor her to come through her section, especially after seeing her comfortable draw. I can’t help it. The 23-time Grand Slam Champion deserves it. It would be fun to see her face her new friend and one time doubles partner Ons Jabeur in the quarterfinals.

The top of the women’s draw is a very real opportunity for American Jessica Pegula. The lowkey workhorse will be playing in her home state. She grinds well on hard courts and plays to situations. World number one Iga Swiatek sits atop the draw, but the Polish superstar has yet to prove herself on this Grand Slam surface. I see them meeting in the quarters and will tip my cap to the American in a close one.

I always like to keep an eye on Coco Gauff, but with her doubles obligations, I think she’ll be too distracted for a deep run in singles. Similar to Coric, the Cincinnati champ Caroline Garcia might face a bit of mental fatigue after such an important breakthrough. Madison Keys is gaining confidence, but I do not like a potential matchup with Simona Halep for her. The two-time Grand Slam champion eats power players for breakfast.

My players to watch in the 2022 US Open:

QF: Pegula, Bencic, Halep, Williams
SF: Pegula, Halep
W: Pegula


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