The curtain will soon come down on one of the greatest careers the world of sport has ever seen and Flushing Meadows, the home of the US Open, will provide a fitting stage for Serena Williams’ final act.
Williams announced earlier this month that she would “evolve away from tennis” after this year’s US Open, saying that she has “never liked the word retirement.”
How to watch Serena's farewell tour at the US Open
Now 40 years of age, Williams’ career will come full circle as her final match is to be played at the site of the first of her 23 grand slam singles wins, the 1999 US Open. Then just a teenager, Williams burst onto the scene to stun world No. 1 Martina Hingis in the final and lay the first stepping stone on her path to two decades of dominance.
“If I could just pick one thing that she possesses incredibly strongly compared to other players and champions, it’s a strong determination to go through difficult stages and to win no matter what, year after year,” Marin Cilic, the 2014 US Open men’s champion, told CNN Sport.
“I’m hoping that she’s going to have a fantastic US Open and to give the best farewell is to go with the win. So [I’m] hoping that she can do it.”
Serena won her first-round singles match on Monday against Montenegro’s Danka Kovinic in Arthur Ashe Stadium. Williams is also set to play her first doubles match with sister Venus on Wednesday.
Since returning to the circuit back in June after a year out through injury, Williams has managed to win just a single match and has been unable to get close to the form that helped her win her last grand slam title in 2017.
Even if she cannot achieve a dream final flourish by lifting the title at Flushing Meadows, Williams’ 23 grand slam singles titles will go down as the most by any player in the Open Era and just one shy of Margaret Court’s all-time record.
Williams’ greatness is not only limited to the singles court, having won every doubles grand slam title at least twice and winning two of four mixed doubles grand slam titles. She has also achieved more than $94 million in on-court career earnings.
Few tennis players have transcended the sport like Williams and her presence will undoubtedly be missed on the Tour.
One of the many young talents that will likely be plugging that gap is defending US Open champion Emma Raducanu. The teenager stunned the world of sport last year by becoming the first qualifier in history to win a grand slam title in what was only her second appearance in the main draw of a slam.
Raducanu and Williams crossed paths for the first time two weeks ago at the Cincinnati Masters, with Raducanu coming out on top in straight sets.
However, that was one of just 12 wins that Raducanu has mustered in a season that has been blighted by injuries and patchy form. She’s shown flashes, though, of the player that triumphed at Flushing Meadows last year, most notably in the recent demolition of two-time grand slam champion Victoria Azarenka in Cincinnati.
Two thousand of the 2,756 ranking points that currently have Raducanu 11th in the world – and as high as 10th back in June – came from her US Open win, and failure to get close to defending her crown will see the 19-year-old plummet down the WTA world rankings.
Raducanu’s run in Cincinnati was ended at the hands of world No. 8 Jessica Pegula, but it was a closely-fought contest to finish a week that will likely give Raducanu increased confidence going into the US Open.
Among the stars hoping to snag Raducanu’s New York crown will be Poland’s world No. 1 Iga Swiatek, who has won a remarkable six singles titles in 2022.
The two-time French Open winner goes into the tournament as the bookmakers’ favorite, but has only ever reached the fourth round at Flushing Meadows and has struggled for form on the hard court in the lead up to the US Open.
However, Swiatek did reach the Australian Open semifinals at the start of the year and won three successive WTA 1000 hard court events earlier in the season, so she no doubt has the ability to go all the way in New York.
Rafael Nadal aims for No. 23
In the men’s draw, all eyes will be on Rafael Nadal as he looks to add to his men’s record 22 grand slam titles.
However, the 36-year-old has played just one match, a first round defeat to Borna Ćorić at the Cincinnati Masters last week, since withdrawing from the Wimbledon semifinals with an abdominal injury and it remains unclear just how fit Nadal is ahead of the US Open.
“The main thing for me is to stay healthy,” Nadal told reporters after the defeat. “It has been a difficult injury to manage, to be honest.
“The last month and a half hasn’t been easy because, having a tear on the abdominal, you don’t know when (you will be) 100 percent over the thing, so that affects me a little bit in terms of not (being) sure if you are able to try your best in every serve.”
But New York has been a happy hunting ground for Nadal over the years with the Spaniard winning the title on four occasions, most recently in 2019 when he came through a five-set epic against Daniil Medvedev.
Russia’s Medvedev, competing under a neutral flag since his country’s invasion of Ukraine, is the bookmakers’ favorite to lift the trophy and retain the crown he won in 2021 to mark his maiden grand slam victory.
The 26-year-old’s lone title in 2022 came on the hard court in Mexico earlier this month, but Medvedev did reach the Australian Open final at the start of the year, agonizingly losing out after holding a two-set lead over Nadal.
Alexander Zverev, who would have been among the favorites to win, confirmed earlier this week that he was pulling out of the US Open after failing to recover from injury in time.
The world No. 2 underwent surgery back in June on torn ligaments in his ankle, which he sustained after landing awkwardly in the French Open semifinals against Nadal.
Zverev’s absence from the draw moves all those players ranked below him up a place in the seedings, meaning Nadal and Medvedev can now only face each other in the final.
Novak Djokovic confirmed on Thursday that he would not be competing at Flushing Meadows in 2022. The United States’ vaccination rules for non-US citizens meant the Serbian would not have been granted a visa to enter the country, so Nole will wait at least one more year before returning to the Big Apple.
The world No. 6 triumphed at Wimbledon earlier this year to win his 21st grand slam title and move to within one of long-time rival Nadal, but has been unable to play in any of the Tour’s US Open warmup events in the States or Canada.
The US Open will be the second grand slam this year that Djokovic will miss out on due to his unvaccinated status, after he twice had his visa revoked ahead of the Australian Open in January.
“Sadly, I will not be able to travel to NY this time for US Open,” Djokovic wrote on social media. “Thank you #NoleFam for your messages of love and support.
“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!”
With a wide open field, the men’s draw will be fascinating to watch – will it be Nadal tying Serena on 23 grand slam singles titles or will another rise up to reign in New York?