Ever since Ash Barty’s retirement, the eyes of Australian tennis have gained a laser-focus on Nick Kyrgios – for better or for worse.
After his stunning run to the Wimbledon final while unseeded, the Canberran heads into the final Slam of the year, the US Open, with growing expectations he can go one better in New York.
He’s helped enormously by the fact the only man who could stop him in London, Novak Djokovic, is not allowed in the United States due to his continued objection to lifesaving, safe coronavirus vaccines.
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Of course, Djokovic is not the reigning champion, after having his bid for a calendar Slam ended last year by Daniil Medvedev; and Kyrgios will almost certainly need to beat Medvedev in the fourth round if he’s to claim his first slam.
Strangely enough Medvedev is one of three reigning champions in the men’s draw – in the sense that 2020 champion Dominic Thiem didn’t play the event in 2021, while 2019 winner Rafael Nadal has missed each of the last two editions.
Off his favored grass court (though he’s no slouch on hard either), Kyrgios is given a 3.4 per cent chance of winning the US Open by highly-regarded stats website Tennis Abstract.
That places him 10th behind emerging superstar Carlos Alcaraz (18.2%), Nadal (14.2%), Medvedev (13.7%), Jannik Sinner (11.4%), Stefanos Tsitsipas (8.6%), Cameron Norrie (4.7%), Taylor Fritz ( 4.6%), Casper Ruud (3.6%) and Andrey Rublev (3.5%).
Not bad considering he’s the 23rd seed, and given he’s got Medvedev in his way, one upset would open his path enormously.
And as if Kyrgios wasn’t getting enough attention, he drew a mouth-watering first round match-up with doubles partner, fellow Australian Open champion and best mate Thanasi Kokkinakis – which’ll take place at an Australian-friendly time of roughly 10 or 11am AEST on Tuesday.
Kyrgios is facing an allegation of common assault against his former girlfriend, which was recently adjourned in a Canberra court until October 4. It carries a maximum sentence of two years in jail.
Meanwhile on the women’s side, the greatest player of all-time is retiring. No big deal or anything.
Get a full look into Serena Williams’ final grand slam tournament and more below in our US Open ultimate guide.
WHEN IS THE US OPEN ON?
The final tennis grand slam of the season, the US Open, begins on Tuesday August 30 at 1am AEST.
Most days TV coverage will run from 1am until 1pm AEST and primarily be broadcast on 9Gem, though Nine may choose to show major matches during the tournament on its main channel.
The women’s final is on the morning of Sunday September 11 with the men’s final on the morning of September 12.
WHAT IS THE US OPEN PRIZE MONEY?
The men’s and women’s US Open champions will claim $ 3.72 million, double the prize packet of the runners-up. Making the semi-finals earns you $ 1.01 million.
The men’s and women’s doubles champions will earn $ 986,240, with Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis hoping to repeat their run to Australian Open glory as the eighth seeds.
US OPEN SEEDS AND FAVORITES
1. Daniil Medvedev (Russia)
2. Rafael Nadal (Spain)
3. Carlos Alcaraz (Spain)
4. Stefanos Tsitsipas (Greece)
5. Casper Ruud (Norway)
6. Felix Auger-Aliassime (Canada)
7. Cameron Norrie (United Kingdom)
8. Hubert Hurkacz (Poland)
9. Andrey Rublev (Russia)
10. Taylor Fritz (USA)
18. Alex de Minaur (Australia)
23. Nick Kyrgios (Australia)
1. Iga Swiatek (Poland)
2. Anett Kontaveit (Estonia)
3. Maria Sakkari (Greece)
4. Paula Badosa (Spain)
5. Ons Jabeur (Tunisia)
6. Aryna Sabalenka (Belarus)
7. Simona Halep (Romania)
8. Jessica Pegula (USA)
9. Garbiñe Muguruza (Spain)
10. Daria Kasatkina (Russia)
WHO THE AUSSIES PLAY IN ROUND 1
Nick Kyrgios (23) vs Thanasi Kokkinakis
Alex de Minaur (18) vs Filip Krajinović
Jordan Thompson vs Lorenzo Sonego
John Millman vs Emilio Nava
James Duckworth vs Chris O’Connell
Alexei Popyrin vs Tseng Chun-hsin
Jason Kubler vs Mikael Ymer
Rinky Hijikata vs Rafael Nadal (2)
Jaimee Fourlis vs Qualifier
Daria Saville vs Elena-Gabriela Ruse
Ajla Tomljanović vs Karolína Muchová
TOURNAMENT PREVIEW via AFP
Serena Williams will take center stage as the US Open gets under way on Monday (US time) with the 23-time Grand Slam winner preparing to bid an emotional farewell to tennis.
After announcing earlier this month that the countdown to her retirement had begun, Williams will step on court at Arthur Ashe Stadium at Flushing Meadows for what could be her final appearance in a Grand Slam singles event.
The 40-year-old sporting and cultural icon won the first of her Grand Slam titles at the same venue in 1999, lifting the trophy as a fresh-faced 17-year-old.
In Monday’s sold-out night session, which starts at 7:00 pm (2300 GMT), Williams will face Montenegro’s Danka Kovinic, the world number 80.
Whether Williams is able to extend her US Open campaign beyond that match remains to be seen.
In her last outing at the Cincinnati Masters earlier this month, Williams was thumped 6-4, 6-0 by Britain’s Emma Raducanu – who herself was knocked out of the Australian Open by Kovinic in January.
Win or lose on Monday, Williams won’t be departing the US Open stage immediately.
On Saturday, organisers confirmed that she and elder sister Venus Williams had been given a wildcard into the women’s doubles tournament, which starts on Wednesday.
It is the first time the Williams sisters have played doubles since 2018, reuniting a partnership that has yielded 14 Grand Slam titles and three Olympic gold medals.
Whenever Serena Williams does leave the stage, she will do so after a career that has left a lasting legacy on her sport.
“I just think she’s the biggest thing that will ever be in the sport,” said Japan’s Naomi Osaka on Saturday.
“It’s just really an honor just to watch her play. She’s giving us a chance to watch her more. “
Elsewhere in the women’s draw, Poland’s world number one Iga Swiatek will look to claim her second Grand Slam title of 2022.
The French Open champion won six straight tournaments earlier this season but has struggled to recapture that dominance during the North American hardcourt swing, making early exits at both the Cincinnati Masters and Canadian Open.
Swiatek launches her US Open campaign on Tuesday against Italy’s Jasmine Paolini.
In the men’s draw, Spanish great Rafael Nadal is chasing a fifth US Open crown and 23rd Grand Slam title in a draw that is missing Novak Djokovic.
Djokovic was barred from entry to the United States over his refusal to get vaccinated against Covid-19, putting him at odds with US government travel restrictions for overseas visitors.
With Djokovic out of the picture, Nadal’s biggest opponent over the next fortnight may well be his own injury-prone body.
The Spaniard has had to sit out the US Open four times in his career and there are once again fresh doubts over his physical ability to survive a gruelling two weeks at Flushing Meadows.
Nadal has played just once since an abdominal injury forced him to withdraw from his Wimbledon semi-final with Nick Kyrgios – a first-up loss to Borna Coric in Cincinnati.
Nadal admitted on Friday that he had been protecting his injury in Cincinnati but had been able to practice with intensity in the build-up to the US Open.
“I take it very easy in the Cincinnati, too, in the practices. The match, I try my best without putting all the effort there on the serve, ”Nadal said.
“I hope to be ready for the action. That’s the only thing that I can say. “
Nadal begins his US Open campaign against Australia’s Rinky Hijikata on Tuesday (US time).