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Nadal shoots for more history as Serena prepares to say goodbye

The year’s final Grand Slam tournament is less than one week away, and all eyes will be on Daniil Medvedev and Emma Raducanu to see if they can successfully defend their titles from last year.

Equally, interest will also centre around Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams, with the former aiming to complete the first undefeated Grand Slam season since Rod Laver in 1969, despite having to withdraw from Wimbledon at the semi-final stage due to an abdominal injury.

With 2020 finalist Alexander Zverev absent due to injury, and Novak Djokovic unlikely to participate owing to his COVID-19 vaccination status, Medvedev and Nadal will start as the pre-tournament favourites to set up another championship showdown for the men’s title.

Fellow title contenders Stefanos Tsitsipas and Carlos Alcaraz are also among those to watch, and after they met in the third round last year with the young Spaniard causing an upset five-set victory, their seedings mean they will not face each other until the final at the earliest.

On the women’s side of things, it will be an emotional occasion for Serena Williams, who will contest her final professinal tournament before, in her own words, “evolving away from tennis”, bringing to a close an extraordinary tennis career lasting a quarter of a century.

Serena Williams plays a backhand

(Photo by Fred Lee/Getty Images)

She has one final shot to equal Margaret Court’s record of 24 Major singles titles, but the fact she is unseeded will make her a dangerous floater in the draw.

Her sister, Venus, has been given a wildcard into the tournament, for what could also potentially be her final appearance at her national championships.

Emma Raducanu, currently ranked 11th in the world, has struggled for form this season, failing to make it past the second round at any of the three Majors this year and having not won a title anywhere since her breakthrough in the Big Apple.

Let’s now take a look at some of the men’s and women’s contenders for the final Major of the year, starting with the men’s world No.1, and defending champion, Daniil Medvedev.

[1] Daniil Medvedev

US Open history
Best result: Champion (2021)
Last year’s result: Champion (defeated Novak Djokovic in the final)

Grand Slam results in 2022
Australian Open: Runner-up (lost to Rafael Nadal in the final)
French Open: Fourth round (lost to Marin Cilic)
Wimbledon: Did not play

Titles so far in 2022: Los Cabos

The man with the biggest target on his head going into the US Open is reigning champion Daniil Medvedev, who despite his No.1 ranking has had a rather inconsistent season.

The Russian began the year by finishing runner-up to Rafael Nadal at the Australian Open, where he had held a two-set lead and held several break points to go up a break in the third, before falling foul of the Spaniard’s extraordinary comeback.

Later on he became just the fifth different man since February 2004 to ascend to the top of the world rankings, before going on to reach the fourth round at the French Open where he was upended by former US Open champion Marin Cilic in straight sets.

He was then forced to sit out Wimbledon owing to the tournament’s ban on the participation of Russian and Belarussian players, but returned to the tour shortly after and went on to win his first title for the season in Los Cabos.

Daniil Medvedev celebrates winning the US Open

(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

A second round loss to Nick Kyrgios in Toronto followed, before he reached the quarter-finals at Cincinnati where he was beaten by bitter rival Stefanos Tsitsipas in three sets.

The 26-year-old will now bear the pressure of being a defending champion at a Major for the first time, but while his form has been up and down this year he will make a good run for the title, only to run into Rafael Nadal in the championship match.

Prediction: Runner-up.

[2] Rafael Nadal (ESP)

US Open history
Best result: Champion four times (2010, 2013, 2017, 2019)
Last year’s result: Did not play

Grand Slam results in 2022
Australian Open: Champion (defeated Daniil Medvedev in the final)
French Open: Champion (defeated Casper Ruud in the final)
Wimbledon: Semi-finals (withdrew due to injury)

Titles so far in 2022: Melbourne, Australian Open, Acapulco, French Open

Rafael Nadal returns to Flushing Meadows for the first time since 2019, having missed the past two tournaments due to COVID-19 concerns and a foot injury.

His last appearance in the Big Apple saw him stave off Daniil Medvedev to claim his fourth US Open title, and 19th Major title, with a five-set victory in the championship match.

The Spaniard has enjoyed a phenomenal 2022 season, claiming his first Australian Open title since 2009 by coming from two sets to love down to edge out Daniil Medvedev in a five-set thriller, before continuing his mastery at Roland Garros with a straight-sets demolition of Casper Ruud in the final.

The 36-year-old was on the verge of setting up a championship showdown against Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon, before being forced to withdraw before his highly-anticipated semi-final showdown against Nick Kyrgios due to an abdominal strain.

He returned to action at the Cincinnati Masters last week, only to drop his first match against world No.152 and eventual champion Borna Coric in three sets, this being his third defeat from five meetings against the Croat.

At stake for Nadal is the opportunity to extend the record he holds for the most Major men’s singles titles with a 23rd title, and fourth at Flushing Meadows, and pull clear of Novak Djokovic (21) and Roger Federer (20).

Further, despite his withdrawal from Wimbledon, the Spaniard has the chance to complete what would be the first undefeated Grand Slam season – something Djokvic or Federer have never achieved – since Rod Laver swept the Grand Slam calendar year in 1969.

With so much at stake, expect the Spaniard to return to top form with a fifth title in New York.

Prediction: Champion

Notable absentees: Alexander Zverev, Gael Monfils, Reilly Opelka.

Other contenders: Carlos Alcaraz, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Casper Ruud.

The women’s tournament has the potential for unpredictability, given world No.1 Iga Swiatek has stumbled in recent weeks, while all eyes will be on Serena Williams to see if she has any more fight left in her before she bids farewell to the tennis world.

One player who could loom as a potential dark horse is Romanian veteran Simona Halep, who has climbed back into the top 10 after recently winning the Canadian Open, weeks after reaching the semi-finals at Wimbledon.

Just as interesting will be how Emma Raducanu fares in her title defence, and with 2000 points on the line the Brit runs the risk of potentially dropping out of the top 80 with an early loss.

All eyes will also be on reigning Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina, who is seeded 25th, as well as perennial contenders Maria Sakkari and Paula Badosa, while two-time champion Naomi Osaka is not to be counted out, though she will be unseeded due to her poor form this year.

Here is your preview of the women’s contenders.

[1] Iga Swiatek (POL)

US Open history
Best result: Fourth round (2021)
Last year’s result: Fourth round (lost to Belinda Bencic)

Grand Slam results in 2022
Australian Open: Semi-finals (lost to Danielle Collins)
French Open: Champion (defeated Coco Gauff in the final)
Wimbledon: Third round (lost to Alize Cornet)

Titles so far in 2022: Doha, Indian Wells, Miami, Stuttgart, Rome, French Open.

After compiling a 37-match winning streak in the first half of the season, including winning her second Major title at Roland Garros, world No.1 Iga Swiatek has stumbled in recent weeks, failing to reach the quarter-finals at either Toronto or Cincinnati.

But if there’s ever a time for the Pole to rediscover her best form, it’s at Flushing Meadows, where last year she recorded her best result at the tournament, reaching the fourth round where she lost to recently minted Olympic Gold Medallist Belinda Bencic.

The 21-year-old had set the world on fire earlier this year, claiming titles in Doha, Indian Wells, Miami, Stuttgart and Rome before saluting at the French Open for the second time with a clinical victory over Coco Gauff in the final.

Iga Swiatek of Poland

(Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

She came crashing back to earth at Wimbledon, losing to French veteran Alize Cornet, ending her hopes of becoming the first woman since Serena Williams in 2015 to complete the Channel Slam.

A win at the US Open will see her become the first woman since Angelique Kerber in 2016 to win multiple Majors in the one season; on that occasion, the German bookended the year with wins at the Australian and US Opens, with a runner-up showing at Wimbledon in between.

Despite the expected challenges expected to come her way, Swiatek should go all the way in New York for the first time.

Prediction: Champion

[7] Simona Halep (ROU)

US Open history
Best result: Semi-finals (2015)
Last year’s result: Fourth round (lost to Elina Svitolina)

Grand Slam results this year
Australian Open: Fourth round (lost to Alize Cornet)
French Open: Second round (lost to Zheng Qinwen)
Wimbledon: Semi-finals (lost to Elena Rybakina)

Titles so far in 2022: Melbourne, Toronto.

Though she may be approaching her 31st birthday, Simona Halep has proven this year that she is far from a spent force on the WTA Tour.

The Romanian kicked off the year by winning the Melbourne Summer Set, putting an end to a 15-month title drought with her previous title before that coming at the rescheduled Italian Open in 2020.

Though she lost early at the Australian and French Opens, the 30-year-old rediscovered top form at Wimbledon, thrashing fourth seed Paula Badosa for the loss of just three games en route to reaching the semi-finals where she was beaten by eventual champion Elena Rybakina.

Winning the Canadian Open for the third time saw her re-enter the world’s top 10, and ensures she will be a genuine threat to Iga Swiatek and co. at the US Open, which is the only major tournament she’s yet to reach a final at.

Her most recent outing, in Cincinnati, saw her withdraw from the second round due to a thigh injury she picked up in the opening round, thus leaving the Romanian to race the clock in her bid to be fit for the final Major of 2022.

Her best result at Flushing Meadows was reaching the semi-finals in 2015, where she was beaten by Flavia Pennetta, who went on to defeat countrywoman Roberta Vinci in an unprecedented all-Italian major final.

Given her seeding, she will not have to face top seed Swiatek until the quarter-finals at the earliest, and despite her injury hiccup in Ohio should carry her form to the business end of the tournament.

Prediction: Quarter-finals

Notable absentees: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Elina Svitolina.

Other contenders: Maria Sakkari, Paula Badosa, Naomi Osaka.

The US Open gets underway on Tuesday morning (AEST), with play starting at 1:00am daily. Domestic coverage will be carried by the Nine Network via its sister channel 9Gem.

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