The final major of the year has often been the “random” slam on the tour, with the tendency to defy history a feature of the rockstar US Open.
When we look at the men’s draw for 2022, it is likely to again throw up a few surprises with the absence of Novak Djokovic a significant factor.
Fifteen of the last seventeen slam titles have been won by either Djokovic or Nadal. With the exception being the last two US Opens, won by Thiem and Medvedev. If we take it back further to 2008, nine different players have won the US Open, with thirteen different men appearing in the final.
All of the other majors have had just four winners in the same time frame, with nine (Aus Open), Ten (French Open) and Eleven (Wimbledon) men appearing in those finals.
Dominic Thiem, Juan Martin Del Potro, Marin Cilic and Daniil Medvedev have all won what is so far the only slam of their careers at the US Open, whilst Andy Murray won his first major there in 2012, with Stan Wawrinka claiming his third title in another upset win over Djokovic in 2016.
Since 1997, nine players have won their maiden slam title at the US Open, compared to two at Wimbledon, four at the Australian Open and six at the French. Significantly, no player has gone back-to-back at the US Open on the men’s side since Federer’s five in a row from 2004-2008.
In the years since, it has happened eleven times at the other three majors combined.
Medvedev will lead the charge this year as he aims to break that drought for defending champions in New York. The key for the world No.1 is to overcome any demons from what has been a crazy year for the Russian.
Medvedev lost five consecutive finals after his US Open triumph last year, highlighted by the agonising Australian Open defeat to Nadal in January. His victory in Los Cabos a fortnight ago broke that run of final defeats and he remains the player best suited to these conditions.
With Djokovic out due to vaccine requirements, Rafael Nadal is presented with a big chance to win a third slam of the year. Time on court has been limited though for the 22 time grand slam champion, with Nadal playing just 6 matches since the French Open final. Only one of those has been on hard courts, a first round loss to Borna Coric in Cincinnati last week.
Nick Kyrgios is another we look to with some optimism. The Australian appears to be in the strongest form of his life, and that is coinciding with a difference in attitude and approach from the now seeded 26-year-old.
Wins over Medvedev, Tsitsipas and Rublev this year paint a positive picture, with the challenge of best of five the remaining hurdle for the Aussie.
First up he will meet his good friend and doubles partner Thanasi Kokkinakis in what is one of two all Australian first round match ups (The other is Duckworth v O'Connell).
Forecasting further shows a potential fourth round matchup between Medvedev and Kyrgios, with the Aussie leading their head to head 3-1.
Fellow Australian Alex de Minaur faces a tricky fixture, with the talented Krajinovic first up, a potential meeting with his Wimbledon conqueror Garin in the second round, followed by probably Carreno Busta or Thiem in the third.
Taylor Fritz is another to watch, with the 2022 Indian Wells champion and Wimbledon quarter-finalist threatening to break out of the shadows.
Others in the mix are Hubert Hurkacz, a somewhat resurgent Tsitsipas (who has won titles on three surfaces this year), and the enormous talent that is the (mini-Nadal) Carlos Alcaraz.
Matteo Berrettini needs a bit of luck after an injury and covid ravaged middle part of the year. His preparation hasn’t been ideal and he falls in the Nadal basket of racing the clock to find his best form.
Zverev will again miss a major as he continues to recover from his horror ankle injury at the French Open.
My top 5 chances: Medvedev Kyrgios Hurkacz Nadal Fritz Further roughies: Sinner, Tsitsipas
Interestingly the Women’s draw has been a contrast, which stands out as a surprise given the very open nature of the WTA tour in the last six or so years.
On the Women’s side, we have also had nine individual winners of the US Open since 2008, just like on the men’s side, and seventeen individual finalists. However, we have had ten winners and twenty finalists in Australia, twelve winners and twenty one finalists in Paris and ten winners with sixteen finalists at SW19.
The event has still served as a breakout though, with ten players winning their first slam title at the US Open since 1997. This compares to seven at the Australian Open, six at Wimbledon and a staggering 12 at the French Open.
Five players since 2011 have won what is so far the only slam of their career at Flushing Meadows. These are Sam Stosur, Emma Raducanu, Sloane Stephens, Bianca Andreescu and Flavia Pennetta.
Last year’s decider, between Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez was also the second time in five years where two players reached their maiden career final at the same time.
This year’s women’s draw will be the final event for 23-time grand slam champion Serena Williams who is unlikely to win the title, but could upset a few along the way and reach the second week.
Iga Swiatek remains the player to beat, but the edge has come off her blinding run of form from March to June a little bit in recent weeks. She is still a formidable force, but the challenge is to break through in a major outside of Paris.
She does have three consecutive hard court titles to her name earlier this year, including the Indian Wells/Miami double.
She has a potential banana peel early though, with 2017 champion Sloane Stephens on track to meet her in the second round.
Simona Halep has hit her straps again in recent weeks with a title in Toronto. The US Open is the only slam where she hasn’t reached the final and she would be a decent chance. 18-year old Coco Gauff is having a great season, but a recent ankle injury does cast some doubts. If fit she is right in the mix.
Last year’s champion Emma Raducanu has started to show a few glimpses in recent weeks that the magic of 2021 might still be in her, with ruthless wins over Williams and Azarenka a good sign for her prospects.
A first round meeting with the tenacious Alize Cornet is not the ideal fixture first up.
Only two players have reached at least the quarters of more than one major on the women’s side this year, Swiatek is one and Jessica Pegula is the other. The American is in good form and could again challenge deep.
Ons Jabeur has arguably been the second best player for the year behind Swiatek and she’d be a strong chance to back up her magnificent Wimbledon run. Naomi Osaka is slowly working her way back into the fold but this might be a bridge too far given her limited preparation. She will cop Danielle Collins in the opening round which is a less than perfect start.
Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina started to find some form in Cincinnati, as did the aggressive Sabalenka. Badosa, Sakkari and Kontaveit appear to have a bit of work to do in order to find their best form.
Belinda Bencic is always a roughy at the US Open which has been her best slam by quite a long way over the years with seventeen match victories at Flushing Meadows.
Carolina Garcia, who has struck an extraordinary 286 aces for the year, is a decent chance to go deep, especially if she keeps serving the lights out.
Let’s not forget emerging Brazilian Beatriz Haddid Maia either, who is yet to translate good tour form into deep slam runs, but could reach the second week here.
My top 5 chances: Halep Swiatek Gauff Pegula Garcia Roughies: Haddad Maia, Bencic