Amid the chaotic state of men’s tennis, five different players can earn the No. 1 ranking if they win the US Open, which begins Monday at Flushing Meadows.
Defending champion Daniil Medvedev, the current No. 1, is a favorite to repeat – and keep the No. 1 ranking – as Novak Djokovic is on vacation unvaccinated, Rafael Nadal has one game under his belt since abdominal surgery and Roger Federer will return after knee surgery next month at the Laver Cup.
Stefanos Tsitsipas, runner-up in the latest tune-up in Cincinnati, Spanish rising star teenager Carlos Alcaraz, Norway’s Casper Ruud on clay and Nadal can also move up to the top spot with an open crown on Sept. 11.
It’s one of the most unpredictable men’s draws in Open history, perhaps the start of a new era. Even Nick Kyrgios, who has always been an Open flop, has a shot at making the Wimbledon final after Nadal lost the semi-final match.
“If I look back, I’d say five years ago – I probably wasn’t even on the tour yet – there was the Big 4: Andy [Murray], Novak, Roger, Rafa and they would be the four seeds,” Medvedev said. ” It was hard. You know you’re going to have them in the quarters, first rounds.
Medvedev – along with all Russian and Belarusian players – was banned from playing at Wimbledon due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He enters the Open without a major in 2022 and with only one ATP title.
He made the Australian Open final, but lost to Nadal. He was once a villain at the US Open – in 2019 – but he earned a lot of respect when he silenced Ashe Stadium last September to derail Djokovic’s bid for a historic Grand Slam. In the end, Medvedev heard this wall of noise from Flushing.
“I love coming back here,” said Medvedev, who will face Stefan Kozlov in the opener at Arthur Ashe Stadium at noon. “I kind of feel at home right away. I remember [the final] like it was yesterday. I want to try to relive moments like this because it’s a special moment to win a slam. I’m motivated to try to do it again.”
Medvedev has an unorthodox basic game, with a wide mix of spins and speed. It was enough to confuse Djokovic last September. Djokovic, the Wimbledon champion, has decided not to get vaccinated and is barred from entering the United States
“It’s a shame he’s not here,” Medvedev said. “It would be a great story for tennis. This is the rule of the US government. Completely understandable too.”
Djokovic’s absence allows Nadal to increase his chances of finishing his career with the most majors. He is 22 – one ahead of Djokovic. If he wins his fifth Open, Nadal will be hard to beat.
But his compatriot Alcaraz, 19 and world number 4, can put the tournament on his ear with a run to the final. Dubbed ‘The Next Nadal’, Alcaraz could face the Spanish legend in the semi-finals.
Alcaraz, an unknown when he reached the quarter-finals of the Open last year and then won the prestigious Miami Open and three other titles, has fallen but a shaky field makes things ripe for winning his first major.
Alacaraz lost to Montreal in the first round, losing after having match point against Tommy Paul as the No. 2 seed.
“I think in Montreal I felt the pressure and tried not to think about it, just to enjoy it,” Alcaraz said. “My pressure here is to enjoy every game, to show my best game. It’s a very important tournament for me. But I know if I don’t feel that pressure like a bad game.
Then there’s 24-year-old American Taylor Fritz, who won the Indiana Wells title in March and could be ready to infuse American tennis with a big Open stand.
“I think this year I’m approaching the tournament with more confidence, more faith in what I can do here than any other year,” said Fritz, a native of Palos Verdes, Calif. “That’s really how I feel about the ball.”
Yet Medvedev presents himself as the Flushing Force. He ticked off the Australian crowd in January, calling them “disrespectful” for lack of support. He expects a warmer welcome here.
“I feel like, yeah, in New York I have a special relationship with the crowd,” Medvedev said.