Australia is certain to lose either Nick Kyrgios or Thanasi Kokkinakis in the first round of the US Open after the part-time doubles partners were drawn to play each other in the men’s singles.
It promises to be the most entertaining match of the first round but is also a cruel blow to Aussie fans hoping for both men to make an impact on the tournament.
After finishing runner-up at Wimbledon and putting together a fine US hard court season, Kyrgios is the fourth favourite to win the men’s singles.
But he was handed another blow when he landed in the same section of the draw as world number one and tournament favourite Daniil Medvedev.
Kyrgios will take confidence from having beaten Medvedev in their most recent meeting but would have liked to avoid such a tall task as early as the fourth round.
And it won’t be straight forward getting that far. The Aussie could potentially face Ugo Humbert in the second round – a man who famously took him to five sets at the 2021 Australian Open.
And 16th-seed Roberto Bautista-Agut – who knocked Kyrgios out of last year’s US Open in straight sets – looms in the third round.
Medvedev will face American Stefan Kozlov in his first match while second seed Rafael Nadal starts against Australia’s Rinky Hijikata.
Those pairings were set in the US Open draw unveiled Thursday by the US Tennis Association for the year’s final Grand Slam event, which begins Monday on the New York hardcourts.
Nadal, a 22-time Grand Slam champion seeking his fifth US Open title, could face Britain’s Cameron Norrie in the quarter-finals and countryman Carlos Alcaraz, the third seed, in the semi-finals.
The Spaniard has drawn a favourable path to the title that is no longer blocked by Novak Djokovic whose refusal to get vaccinated has ruled him out of a second major this year.
Nineteen years after making his debut, the 36-year-old Nadal drags his injury-prone body into a tournament he won in 2010, 2013, 2017 and 2019, the year of his last appearance.
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.
Since an abdomen injury forced him to hand Kyrgios a walkover into the Wimbledon final, Nadal has played just once – a first-up loss to Borna Coric in Cincinnati.
“I need to move forward and just start to think about the energy that the crowd give me in New York,” said Nadal, who has already captured two of the season’s three Slams at the Australian and French Opens.
“It’s a very special place for me, and I enjoy it. There have been unforgettable moments there, and I’m going to try my very best every single day to be ready for that.”
Nadal has become accustomed to overcoming setbacks, winning a 14th French Open in June despite playing the whole tournament with painkilling injections in his foot.
An added incentive for Nadal is the opportunity to reclaim the world number one spot from defending champion Daniil Medvedev, the man he defeated in the 2019 final.
While Nadal trains in New York, career-long rival Djokovic will remain in Europe after finally giving up hope of a last-minute change of Covid policy by the US authorities.
The famously unvaccinated Djokovic, who won the last of his three US Open crowns in 2018, is barred from entering the United States for refusing to take the vaccine.
“Sadly, I will not be able to travel to NY this time for US Open,” tweeted Djokovic, 90 minutes before the tournament draw took place on Friday.
“Good luck to my fellow players. I’ll keep in good shape and positive spirit and wait for an opportunity to compete again. See you soon tennis world!”
Tennis legend John McEnroe had blasted the Djokovic ban as a “joke” “At this point, in the pandemic, we’re two and a half years in, I think people in all parts of the world know more about it, and the idea that he can’t travel here to play, to me is a joke,” said McEnroe.
Ironically, during the height of the pandemic in 2020 and 2021, Djokovic was allowed to compete at New York where he was champion in 2011, 2015 and 2018.
The 35-year-old, who saw his bid for a first men’s calendar Grand Slam since 1969 ended by Medvedev in the 2021 US Open final, hasn’t played since securing a seventh Wimbledon title last month, a victory which extended his Slam record to 21.
His controversial vaccination stance also saw him deported from Melbourne in January where he had been hoping to defend his Australian Open title.
With Roger Federer still absent from the tour and with question marks over Nadal’s fitness and Djokovic’s absence, the race for the men’s title is likely to be as open as recent years.
Marin Cilic, Stan Wawrinka, Dominic Thiem and Medvedev have all broken the New York stranglehold of the Big Three since 2014.
Medvedev will be especially fired up having been banned from Wimbledon along with all other Russian players following the invasion of Ukraine.
On his reappearance on the tour following the All England Club cold shoulder, the 26-year-old claimed the hardcourt title in Los Cabos.
World number two and 2020 runner-up Alexander Zverev misses out through injury while fourth-ranked Alcaraz, a quarter-finalist in 2021, looks to convert potential into a maiden Slam triumph at 19.
Apart from Felix Auger-Aliassime, a semi-finalist last year, the rest of the current top 10 have endured a bittersweet relationship with New York. Stefanos Tsitsipas, Casper Ruud, Cameron Norrie and Hubert Hurkacz have all yet to make the second week.
If he gets past Kyrgios, defending champion Medvedev could meet Greek fourth seed Tsitsipas in the semi-finals and Canadian sixth seed Auger-Aliassime in the quarter-finals.
Serena gets one lucky break but not two
In the women’s singles, Serena Williams will face world number 80 Danka Kovinic of Montenegro in her first round match at her farewell tournament.
Williams, the 23-time Grand Slam title winner, was lucky to draw an unseeded player who has not won a singles match since this year’s French Open first-up but that’s where her good fortune ran out.
The 40-year-old American superstar, whose first Grand Slam title came at the 1999 US Open, would meet second seed Anett Kontaveit in the second round if both win their opening matches.
Williams, who is one title shy of the all-time record 24 Slam crowns won by Margaret Court, could have quite a path to the final were she to make a shock run on the Flushing Meadows hardcourts.
She could face Canada’s 14th-seeded Leylah Fernandez, a 19-year-old who was last year’s US Open runner-up, in the fourth round and Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur, this year’s Wimbledon runner-up, in the quarter-finals.
The winner from Kontaveit’s quarter of the draw could meet Greek third seed Maria Sakkari or Romania’s seventh-seeded Simona Halep in the semi-finals.
The other half of the bracket features top seed Iga Swiatek of Poland, this year’s French Open champion, and Spanish fourth seed Paula Badosa.
Swiatek could meet US eighth seed Jessica Pegula in a quarter-final while Badosa could face sixth seed Aryna Sabalenka.
Japan’s Naomi Osaka, a four-time Grand Slam champion, is also in Badosa’s quarter of the draw.
She would meet defending champion Emma Raducanu, the 11th seed from Britain, in a third-round showdown and Sabalenka in the round of 16.
Victoria Azarenka, a two-time Australian Open winner, could meet Badosa in the third round.
Venus Williams, a seven-time Grand Slam champion, could meet Sabalenka in the third round, meaning she could only face younger sister Serena in a US Open final, likely meaning the siblings have faced each other for the final time in a major singles draw.
Serena indicated in interviews earlier this month that she is ready to move on with other areas of her life, including possibly having a second child.
– with AFP