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US OPEN PREVIEW: Rafa Nadal and Iga Swiatek favourites in New York Slam

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The US Open, the fourth and final Slam of the tennis year, gets underway in New York on Monday and promises to be as exciting as ever.

With 21-time major champion Novak Djokovic expected to be absent because of his Covid vaccination status, the men’s singles draw has been blown wide open.

And Emma Raducanu’s Flushing Meadows fairytale 12 months ago in the women’s event proves that anything can happen.

Sportsmail takes you through the potential winners as we buckle up for a fortnight of high quality tennis.

MEN’S DRAW

Daniil Medvedev

US Open best: Champion 2021

World ranking: 1

The United States immigration rules that look set to prevent the unvaccinated Djokovic even entering the country have opened the door for Medvedev to retain his US Open crown.

A year ago, the Russian received plenty of plaudits for the way he took about Djokovic to win the final in straight sets, dropping just one set en route to claiming his maiden major title.

Daniil Medvedev was crowned US Open champion last year after beating Novak Djokovic

Medvedev may have been barred from playing at Wimbledon but he comes into this one in solid hard court form. He won the title at the Los Cabos Open and reached the semi-finals of the Cincinnati Masters last week.

The current No 1 in the world rankings clearly has the game to prosper but sometimes defeats himself mentally. The way he lost to Rafa Nadal in the Australian Open from two sets up certainly took some coming back from.

If he can keep himself together over the next few weeks, he’ll be the favourite to win again with the looming shadow of Djokovic removed.

Rafael Nadal

US Open best: Champion 2010, 2013, 2017 and 2019

World ranking: 3

We should know better than to write Rafa off by now and the absence of Djokovic would give the legendary Spaniard a good shot at winning a 23rd Grand Slam title – extending his lead again in the G.O.A.T. race.

Nadal profited from Djokovic not being allowed to play at the Australian Open but the four-time US Open winner will have to go some to make it five.

Rafael Nadal has an excellent chance in Novak Djokovic's absence to win a 23rd Slam title

Rafael Nadal has an excellent chance in Novak Djokovic’s absence to win a 23rd Slam title

He had a six-week injury lay-off after pulling out of his Wimbledon semi-final and returned with an opening round exit to Borna Coric in Cincinnati.

But Nadal’s sheer strength of will has got him through such situations so many times, especially at the slams, and there’s a reason why many people consider him the favourite here.

John McEnroe believes Nadal is ‘absolutely’ the favourite and even believes he’ll end the year as world No 1, which is astonishing for a 36-year-old.

Carlos Alcaraz

US Open best: Quarter-finals 2021

World ranking: 4

It was at last year’s US Open that the Spaniard, then 18, shot to wider prominence by taking down Stefanos Tsitsipas in five sets before retiring with a leg problem in his quarter-final against Felix Auger-Aliassime.

He has since won the Miami Open and the Madrid Open but things have quietened down a bit following his run to the French Open quarters.

World No 4 Carlos Alcaraz, 19, is a shining light for the future and did well in New York in 2021

World No 4 Carlos Alcaraz, 19, is a shining light for the future and did well in New York in 2021

The general consensus is that his game is still a work in progress, especially on surfaces other than clay, but Alcaraz must still be considered a dark horse here.

He comes into it off the back of a run to the quarter-finals in Cincinnati, where he lost to Britain’s Cameron Norrie.

Stefanos Tsitsipas

US Open best: Third round 2020 and 2021

World ranking: 5

It’s been a decent enough year for the Greek but he let himself down in the Cincinnati final last week when he was beaten by Coric in two sets and suggested afterwards he wasn’t fully focused on court.

That followed not too far behind his explosive defeat to Nick Kyrgios at Wimbledon and has only added to the question being asked of the talented 24-year-old.

Tsitsipas lost last week's final in Cincinnati but should be considered a potential winner

Tsitsipas lost last week’s final in Cincinnati but should be considered a potential winner

Tsitsipas has never been beyond the third round in New York and was outdone over five sets by Alcaraz last year when seeded No 3.

Again, you certainly can’t rule him out but you feel an awful lot needs to go right with both his game and temperament to go all the way.

Nick Kyrgios

US Open best: Third round 2014, 2016, 2018 and 2019

World ranking: 26

Mr Box Office is back. There’s always noise around the Aussie and this week it’s the news the woman he got ejected from Centre Court for having ‘700 drinks’ during the Wimbledon final is suing him for defamation.

But the big question is whether his astonishing but often fractious run to that final, where he lost to Djokovic, is a watershed moment in the career of this obviously talented but deeply flawed athlete.

Nick Kyrgios reached the Wimbledon final but will it prove a breakthrough career moment?

Nick Kyrgios reached the Wimbledon final but will it prove a breakthrough career moment?

Can Kyrgios now kick on and challenge for more Slam titles or was Wimbledon just a flash in the pan? He’s never been past round three at Flushing Meadows so that’s something modest to aim for.

It’s highly unlikely there’s been any change to his character following this breakthrough moment. We can expect him to rant and rave at umpires, spectators and opponents. But whatever you think of him, that’s all part of the package.

Jannik Sinner

US Open best: Fourth round 2021

World ranking: 13

The 21-year-old Italian is among a cohort of talented youngsters all waiting for their moment to take over from the sport’s legendary old guard.

Sinner certainly belongs in the outside candidate bracket for the US Open with his ferocious ball-striking a real asset.

Hard-hitting Jannik Sinner celebrates winning a point at the Western & Southern Open

Hard-hitting Jannik Sinner celebrates winning a point at the Western & Southern Open

This year has seen him reach the quarter-finals of the Australian Open and at Wimbledon, where he was two sets to the good against Djokovic before it slipped through his fingers.

Something similar happened at the Cincinnati Masters, when Sinner had two match points against Auger-Aliassime in the third round only to conspire to lose.

Cameron Norrie

US Open best: Third round 2020

World ranking: 9

Raducanu proved that dreams can come true for Brits in New York and maybe something similar could happen to Cameron Norrie over the next two weeks.

He’s enjoyed a great year, breaking into the top 10 for the first time in April and then reaching the Wimbledon semi-finals, where he lost to Djokovic having taken the first set.

Britain's Cameron Norrie has cracked the world top 10 this year and will fancy his chances

Britain’s Cameron Norrie has cracked the world top 10 this year and will fancy his chances

Five previous cracks at the US Open have always ended in early exits but Norrie is a very different proposition now.

His win over Alcaraz in Cincinnati was an important marker to lay down, even if Coric proved too strong in the semi-final.

WOMEN’S DRAW

Iga Swiatek

US Open best: Fourth round 2021

World ranking: 1

Swiatek is still the clear favourite with most bookmakers despite the imperious form that saw her win 37 consecutive WTA Tour matches come to an end in disappointing fashion at Wimbledon.

The Pole lost in straight sets to Alize Cornet in the third round, which was a shock to everybody, and her form has been shaky ever since.

Iga Swiatek is the one to beat in the women's draw despite her early exit from Wimbledon

Iga Swiatek is the one to beat in the women’s draw despite her early exit from Wimbledon

One thing that will at the back of her mind in New York are the balls, which are generally lighter and harder to control than those used in other parts of the world and different to those used by the men.

‘They fly like crazy, I think these balls are horrible,’ Swiatek said at the Western & Southern Open.

But it’s just one of many factors you’d back her to overcome in the coming days. A third Grand Slam title is definitely there for the taking.

Simona Halep

US Open best: Semi-final 2015

World ranking: 7

First, we must acknowledge the thigh injury scare Halep has just suffered, forcing her to withdraw from the event in Cincinnati.

That must be highly frustrating for the Romanian, who’d just won he 24th title at the Canadian Open, beating Beatriz Haddad Maia and returning to the top 10 in the world.

Simona Halep has suffered an injury scare ahead of the US Open and will hope to be fit

Simona Halep has suffered an injury scare ahead of the US Open and will hope to be fit

And at Wimbledon, Halep cruised through to the semi-finals without even dropping a set before losing to eventual champion Elena Rybakina.

Assuming she can shake off that injury issue, you’d expect Halep to go deep into the tournament.

Coco Gauff

US Open best: Third round 2019

World ranking: 12

18-year-old Coco Gauff will hope to harness home advantage at Flushing Meadows

18-year-old Coco Gauff will hope to harness home advantage at Flushing Meadows

Injury has also hampered the preparation of home favourite Gauff, 18, who rolled her ankle while playing Marie Bouzkova at the Cincinnati Open and left the court in tears.

Gauff has risen to No 12 in the rankings since she lost to Swiatek in the French Open final back in June and that form also carried over to doubles success at the recent Canadian Open.

The teenager will hope to harness home support for a long run in both the singles and doubles tournaments, assuming she can overcome that ankle issue.

She was able to take the court on Wednesday to take part in benefit matches for the victims of the Ukraine war, which is an encouraging sign.

Emma Raducanu

US Open best: Champion 2021

World ranking: 11

It’s a year now since Raducanu stunned the world by winning in New York having come through qualifying in one of sport’s greatest miracles.

It’s fair to say the 19-year-old Brit has been on a rollercoaster ride ever since. There have been changes of coach, injury issues and not too much consistency but it’s all part of the learning curve.

Naturally, there will be sky-high expectations once again as she defends her title but Raducanu will have to really excel to achieve a repeat.

At least victories over former world No 1s Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka in the lead-up to the tournament will supply some confidence.

Emma Raducanu stunned everyone 12 months ago with her astonishing triumph in New York

Emma Raducanu stunned everyone 12 months ago with her astonishing triumph in New York

Elena Rybakina

US Open best: Third round 2021

World ranking: 25

A superb breakthrough year for the Russian-born Kazakh player following her fine win over Ons Jabeur in the final at Wimbledon.

That certainly transformed her life and she was greeted as a national hero on her return to Kazakhstan. It also led to uncomfortable questions about her upbringing in Moscow given the ban on Russian players.

Never flustered on court, Rybakina must be considered among the potential winners purely on the basis of her SW19 win.

But the removal of WTA ranking points from Wimbledon following the Russian player ban leaves her down at No 25 and therefore in danger of meeting higher seeds earlier.

Elena Rybakina is hoping to make it back-to-back Slams after winning at Wimbledon in July

Elena Rybakina is hoping to make it back-to-back Slams after winning at Wimbledon in July

Ons Jabeur

US Open best: Third round 2019, 2020 and 2021

World ranking: 5

The first-ever African and first Arab player to reach a Wimbledon final, Jabeur is a popular figure well beyond her native Tunisia.

Ahead of the US Open, she has vowed to ‘be harder on herself’ when it comes to high standards having failed to get beyond the round of 32 in each of the last three years.

Aged 27, she should have plenty more opportunities to clinch a first Slam title and you feel she’s as close to accomplishing that as she’s ever been.

World No 5 Ons Jabeur will be hoping to build on her run to the final at Wimbledon

World No 5 Ons Jabeur will be hoping to build on her run to the final at Wimbledon 

Jessica Pegula

US Open best: Third round 2020 and 2021

World ranking: 8

Pegula, 28, is the highest-ranked American in the women’s draw and has momentum behind her having cracked the world top 10 back in June.

The daughter of Terry and Kim Pegula, the owners of the Buffalo Bills NFL team, will embrace the support of the crowd in New York and hope for a deep run.

Pegula knocked Raducanu out of the Cincinnati Masters before losing to Caroline Garcia and she consistently reaches the last eight of events without going further.

Jessica Pegula is the highest-ranked American player in the women's draw at the US Open

Jessica Pegula is the highest-ranked American player in the women’s draw at the US Open

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