NEW YORK: The final Grand Slam of the tennis season begins on Monday in New York with defending champions Carlos Alcaraz and Iga Swiatek searching for US Open repeats, while Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur is looking to go one further than her runner-up showing from last year.
Here are some of the main talking points to look out for in Queens this coming fortnight.
Next chapter in Alcaraz-Djokovic rivalry?
There’s a 16-year age difference between them and they’ve only squared off in four previous meetings, yet it’s impossible to argue against the fact that the rivalry between world No. 1 Alcaraz and No. 2 Novak Djokovic is the most exciting thing in men’s tennis right now.
They’ve split their four previous clashes and even though they can only play each other in the final, as the top two seeds, everyone is already salivating at the thought of Alcaraz and Djokovic fighting for the US Open trophy in the championship match in two weeks’ time on Arthur Ashe stadium.
Alcaraz, already a two-time Grand Slam champion at the age of 20, is bidding to become the first man to successfully defend his US Open crown since Roger Federer won five in a row in New York between 2004 and 2008.
Djokovic is looking for another slice of history as he targets Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 majors won.
The Serb, who lost in five close sets to Alcaraz in the Wimbledon final last month, missed the US Open in 2022 due to his vaccination status and will be keen to make up for lost time at this event.
A three-time champion in New York, Djokovic’s last appearance at the event was a heartbreaking final defeat to Daniil Medvedev, who stopped him from completing a historic calendar-year Grand Slam.
“I don’t know how many more Slams I’ll have. I’ll still keep going. I don’t have an end in my mind at the moment. I also understand that things are different when you’re 36, so I have to be more appreciative, a bit more present, treating every Grand Slam as maybe your last one in terms of commitment and performance,” Djokovic told reporters at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on Friday.
“I see this every Grand Slam that I play right now as really a golden opportunity to make more history. Of course, there’s a big significance to that.”
The No. 1 ranking has swapped hands six times so far this season and will likely switch again by the end of the US Open. Given he has no points to defend at the tournament while Alcaraz is defending 2,000 points for winning last year, all Djokovic has to do to dethrone the Spaniard is win his first round in New York.
Is it Coco’s time?
Since her opening-round loss at Wimbledon to Sofia Kenin last month, 19-year-old Coco Gauff has won 11 of 12 matches, dominating the North American hard-court swing by winning the WTA 500 tournament in DC, and a maiden WTA 1000 trophy in Cincinnati, where she claimed a statement victory over world No. 1 Iga Swiatek in the semifinals.
With a new team in her corner — comprised of Andre Agassi’s former coach Brad Gilbert and Spanish former top-70 player Pere Riba — and new-found confidence that is palpable the second you watch her hit a ball on court, Gauff arrives in New York as one of the favorites for the US Open title.
“I think I’m obviously a lot more confident and I think the mindset is different,” said Gauff on the eve of the US Open.
“Having like that first-round loss at Wimbledon shows that it wasn’t really as bad as it could happen, so I’m not going into this tournament worried if I lose early or not. I can’t really control that result.
“I think now I’m going in with a lot more confidence. I feel like no matter the score line in the match, I can be able to problem solve and troubleshoot my way out.
“I know I can win matches not playing my best game now. I think I wasn’t playing my best in every single match in DC and Cincinnati, it’s impossible. I do feel I’m much more confident in my B or C game.”
Already a Grand Slam finalist, at Roland Garros last year, Gauff is seeded No. 6 this fortnight and starts her campaign against recent Warsaw finalist Laura Siegemund. She is in the same quarter of the draw as Swiatek and the duo are on collision course for a highly anticipated potential last-eight clash.
Can Jabeur bounce back?
Tunisian fan favorite Ons Jabeur admits her Wimbledon final defeat to Marketa Vondrousova last month “still hurts” but she has taken her time to refresh mentally and has played just one tournament — Cincinnati, where she made the quarters — prior to the US Open.
A finalist in three of her past five Grand Slams, Jabeur will begin her quest for a maiden major title against Colombia’s Camila Osorio on Tuesday.
The No. 5 seed is in world No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka’s quarter of the draw. Should they meet in the last eight, it would be a third consecutive tournament where Jabeur has taken on the Belarusian.
“I wasn’t ready to come back soon on tour because I felt like I needed time for myself,” said Jabeur of opting out of playing the WTA 1000 event in Canada post-Wimbledon.
“They say time heals. I’m still waiting a bit. The Wimbledon loss still hurts. It’s much better than a month ago, for sure. I’m 28 years old now (turns 29 on Monday), I’ve learned from the mistakes of playing, playing, playing tournaments all the time. I think I was really proud of myself to just take a step back, enjoy time with my family, and get ready for the next tournaments.”
Can Tiafoe end American men’s drought at the majors?
It’s been 20 years since ex-world No. 1 Andy Roddick won the US Open title and no American man has won a Grand Slam singles title since.
Frances Tiafoe put in a fantastic effort in New York last year, defeating Rafael Nadal and Andrey Rublev en route to a maiden major semifinal, before losing in five close sets to Alcaraz.
The 25-year-old has since cracked the top 10 for the first time and has high ambitions for this US Open. He will take on 17-year-old American Learner Tien during the day session on Arthur Ashe stadium on Monday.
After losing to Grigor Dimitrov in straight sets in the Wimbledon third round last month, Tiafoe says that he plans on approaching this US Open with a different mindset.
“I think sometimes you have such high expectations, you put so much pressure on yourself, you want to do well. You don’t perform and you’re like, ‘Whoa, what was that?’” said Tiafoe of his Wimbledon performance.
“I think sometimes people make the moment bigger than what it needs to be. At the end of the day it’s a tennis match. We played many of them. Just go out and do what you do, enjoy the game. You’re going to hopefully get that shot many more times to be in that position.
“No need to be like, ‘This is the time right now or the world is going to end.’ I think that’s kind of what happened there. Totally different approach now. I’m just going to be me, have fun. Whatever the result is, it is. I can live with it at the end of the day, no matter what.”
A fifth Slam for Swiatek?
After successfully defending her French Open title in June, Swiatek now has another defense to attend to, this time in New York.
Since her quarter-final loss to Elina Svitolina at Wimbledon, the 22-year-old Pole has won her home tournament in Warsaw before suffering semifinal exits in Canada and Cincinnati.
As she bids for a fifth Grand Slam trophy, Swiatek explains her approach to arriving at the US Open as the reigning champion.
“Remembering this is a totally different chapter always helps. I also want to just take a lesson from last year. I learned a lot during the US Open. This was probably the most important tournament in terms of me believing in myself and progressing on hard courts,” she said.
“I’ll try to just focus on that, take everything step by step.”
Swiatek’s No. 1 ranking is once again under threat and she will need to go at least one round better than her closest rival Sabalenka if she wants to extend her tenure at the summit.