Serena Williams could make a run. Rafael Nadal has ideal matches

The first thing most of the tennis world looked for Thursday when the US Open draws came out was where Serena Williams landed in her final tournament.

As it turns out, it’s not bad at all.

Williams, the six-time US Open champion, will theoretically have the chance to make a small run by facing 80th-ranked Danka Kovinic in the first round and very vulnerable No. 2 Anett Kontaveit after that.

The question is whether Williams’ body will hold up well enough to string back-to-back matches together – something she hasn’t had much success with since returning to tennis at Wimbledon.

In fact, since the 40-year-old Williams announced on August 9 that she was retiring from professional tennis, her form has not been good. Although she scored one win in Canada over Nuria Parrizas-Diaz, she was handed very big losses to top 15 players Belinda Bencic and Emma Raducanu while battling what appeared to be knee pain.

Serena Williams prepares to serve during the Western & Southern Open on August 16.

Serena Williams prepares to serve during the Western & Southern Open on August 16.

It’s hard to know what to expect from Williams, but the New York crowd will be a huge plus. And she ended up in a lucky section of the draw alongside Kontaveit, No. 14 Leylah Fernandez and No. 23 Barbora Krejcikova who have all struggled in recent months to return from health problems. On paper, one of these three should be in the quarter-finals. But given their current form, it’s anyone’s game.

Expecting something special to happen for Williams in this event is too high a bar to set. But given the draw, it seems much more realistic now that he sneaks into week two.

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Here are five more facts from the men’s and women’s draws:

Most wide open in recent memory

This is the rare case in tennis where you could have as many as a dozen different men holding the trophy and maybe twice as many women and not be terribly surprised by the outcome.

With an unvaccinated Novak Djokovic sitting at home unable to enter the US, Rafael Nadal’s health a major question mark and both No. 1 seeds looking vulnerable in their final tournaments, this will be a huge opportunity to see for the first time Grand Slam Winners in both draws.

No. 1-ranked Daniil Medvedev, the defending champion, seems to be enjoying the conditions in New York more than anywhere else in the world. He is 18-2 at the US Open since 2019, with both losses coming against eventual champions. But since his heartbreaking loss to Nadal in the Australian Open final this year, Medvedev’s game has not been as sharp as we expected.

Medvedev also looks set to have a tough road back to the final. In the fourth round, he could face Nick Kyrgios, who is having a career year and just beat Medvedev in Canada earlier this month. The quarterfinals will likely pit him against Canadian Open champion and two-time US Open semifinalist Pablo Carreño Busta or No. 8 Felix Auger-Aliassime. For fun, a semi-final between Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas — who don’t particularly like each other going back to a famous incident in Miami five years ago — would be a very entertaining matchup.

For women’s No. 1 Iga Swiatek, it’s been a little rough since her 37-match winning streak, which included the French Open title, ended. Swiatek recently complained about the Wilson balls used by the USTA, which are a bit lighter and then harder to control with her heavy topspin game.

If that’s on her mind, Swiatek could be vulnerable to an early upset.

Nadal got an almost perfect draw

Rafael Nadal returns a shot during the Western & Southern Open on August 17.

Rafael Nadal returns a shot during the Western & Southern Open on August 17.

Although the possibility of a Grand Slam for the calendar year faded when Nadal exited in the Wimbledon semifinals, no one has beaten him at the majors this year. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen much of Nadal since then as he tries to recover from a torn abdominal muscle.

Nadal took just one warm-up match in Cincinnati, losing in three sets to eventual champion Borna Coric. The big problem for Nadal with this injury has been his serve, and it is still unclear how much it is affecting him now and whether he will re-ignite playing a series of best-of-five matches.

That said, there are no obvious turns in the quarter draw. If he’s relatively healthy, it’s hard to see the four-time US Open champion being seriously challenged until the quarterfinals, where he could theoretically line up against No. 7 Cameron Norrie. If the tennis gods favor us, we’ll have Nadal in the semifinals against Spain’s Carlos Alcaraz, the 20-year-old who won his first major Grand Slam at last year’s US Open and wowed the New York crowd. way to the quarterfinals.

Huge bets on last year’s surprise finalists

The women’s tournament a year ago captivated die-hards and casual fans alike as charismatic teenagers Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez reached a final that no one could have predicted.

That result catapulted both their careers into a different stratosphere, but the downside is that they return to the US Open with a lot at stake in the rankings, which are calculated on a rolling 12-month basis. Raducanu, for example, is currently No. 11. But if she were to lose in the first round to Alizé Cornet — and that’s certainly a match she could lose — all those points she got for winning title last year would go out and drop to No. 80. Likewise, Fernandez would drop from No. 14 to 45 if she lost in the first round.

Fernandez got a much more favorable opening matchup with Oceane Dodin and landed Williams fourth, which doesn’t look so scary on paper. But the foot injury Fernandez suffered at the French Open has been an issue during the hard-court season, as she has gone just 1-2 since returning.

Lots of discovery possibilities this year

When looking at the most likely candidates to win their first Grand Slam title, you have to start with 21-year-old Italian Jannik Sinner. He’s always had the raw tools and tremendous power, but his game has gone up a notch this year since Darren Cahill (who also works as an ESPN analyst) joined his coaching staff. Sinner is starting to move steadily deeper into the majors, including at Wimbledon, where he beat Alcaraz and was two sets down against Djokovic in the quarterfinals before his inexperience showed. He could end up facing Alcaraz again here in the quarterfinals in one of the top rivalries of the next decade.

There’s also a case for top American Taylor Fritz, who has a draw to work with here. Fritz looked very good in Cincinnati until he met Medvedev in the quarterfinals, collecting wins over Kyrgios and Andrei Rublev. At the US Open, he lands in the same quarter as No. 5 Kasper Rudd and No. 4 Stefanos Tsitsipas, both of whom are more comfortable on clay than on a fast hard court. Tsitsipas, for some reason, never made it past the third round in New York.

On the women’s side, you could almost pick names out of a hat at this point. Jessica Pegula, the top-ranked American, had such a solid year but no singles titles to show for it. Coco Gauff can look like the best player in the world one match and then fail to keep her forehand on the court the next. Brazil’s Beatriz Haddad Maia has been an incredible story, climbing from No.80 at the end of last year to No.15 after some amazing results, including the Canadian Open finals. Carolina Garcia has also been hot, winning 26 of her last 30 fights. She could face 2019 champion Bianca Andreescu in the third round.

There aren’t many sexy matches in the first round

Two-time US Open champion Naomi Osaka comes into this event on one of the worst runs of form of her career with just a 1-3 record during the North American hard court swing. It’s hard to know if he’s even healthy after dealing with an Achilles problem this spring and more recently a back problem. She will face this year’s Australian Open finalist Danielle Collins, who has also been battling a neck injury and hasn’t had much success of late.

If you like hard hitting, two-time Grand Slam champion Garbiñe Muguruza against Danish teenager Clara Tauson will be a match where neither will stop. Although her sister has grabbed all the attention, Venus Williams is also back at the US Open for perhaps the last time, facing the solid Alison Van Uytvanck.

The star-studded men’s first round is 2020 champion Dominic Thiem vs. Carreño Busta. Thiem is trying to get back to the top after two injury-plagued seasons but is making slow progress and it would be a huge upset if he beats an in-form Carreño Busta.

There are some excellent second-round possibilities, such as Auger-Aliassime vs. exciting 20-year-old British prospect Jack Draper, a potential young American matchup in Tommy Paul vs. Sebastian Korda and Coric vs. Jenson Brooksby, who made the fourth round last year. .

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: US Open draw: Serena Williams to face Danka Kovinic in first round

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