LONDON — The tennis tour leaves the grass courts for the hard courts.
Before we know it, the players will be arriving in New York for the US Open, scheduled from Aug. 29 to Sept. 11.
But in what state will they get there? And who will be there? At this very early stage — and we know it’s way too soon to be sure of anything — the only thing we do know is that uncertainty rules.
Will Rafael Nadal, who pulled out before his semifinal at Wimbledon due to an abdominal tear, be fit to go for a third Grand Slam title of the year and 23rd overall? Will Novak Djokovic, who won his seventh Wimbledon title and 21st Grand Slam, be allowed into the country? Will Serena Williams continue her comeback? Will Iga Swiatek reassert her authority at the top of the women’s game? Or is the new Wimbledon champion, Elena Rybakina, ready to win another Slam straight after her first?
With Roger Federer not due to test the waters of his comeback until the Laver Cup, in September, the biggest questions on the men’s side surround the big two.
At the time of writing, Djokovic will not be able to enter the United States because he hasn’t been vaccinated against COVID-19, a prerequisite for arriving in the country.
“I don’t think exemption is realistically possible,” Djokovic said. “I think it’s just whether or not they remove this in time for me to get to USA.”
That opens the door again for Nadal, who took full advantage of his rival’s absence in Australia and then beat Djokovic on his way to the French Open title.
Nadal, one Slam ahead of Djokovic on the all-time list, hopes to be back on court within a week, though his abdominal tear will not allow him to serve for the immediate future.
“It going to be around between three, four weeks, normal thing for these kind of injuries,” Nadal said. “I hope these three, four weeks will allow me to do my normal calendar. In one week I [am] going to be able to play from the baseline. Not serving for a while, of course. In some way that’s a positive thing, that I [am] going to keep being able to practice from the baseline.”
One man who will be there, fitness permitting, is the defending champion, Daniil Medvedev, back after being shut out of Wimbledon due to the ban on Russians and Belarusians over the invasion of Ukraine. And what will Nick Kyrgios be capable of, after his stunning run at Wimbledon?
On the women’s side, it’s a case of will she/won’t she for Williams, who returned to the tour at Wimbledon after a year out, only to lose in the first round.
Noncommittal on her future, Williams will surely not want her defeat by Harmony Tan of France to be her last Grand Slam match. Williams admitted she probably needs more match practice if she wants to go deep in a Slam event again, so watch out for the warm-up tournaments to see if her name appears.
Swiatek took a much-needed — and well-earned — break after losing early at Wimbledon, following 37 straight wins that spanned six tournaments and included a second French Open title.
The Polish player will be a big threat again on hard courts, just as she was earlier this year in winning Indian Wells and Miami; but she has yet to go past the fourth round in New York in three appearances.
Rybakina will carry the confidence of being a Wimbledon champion into the hard-court season, and her coach, Stefano Vukov, believes she is capable of winning on any surface.
“Her game is built for grass, I think, but she’s very versatile,” Vukov said. “The first WTA we won together was on clay, the second one was hard in Hobart. Final in Dubai on hard court, quarterfinals at French Open, she won Wimbledon and quite a lot of finals in hard-court events. There’s not really one surface that she cannot take advantage of.”
And British player Emma Raducanu will be back to defend the title she won so surprisingly 12 months ago, after having lost in the second round at Wimbledon.
“Going back to New York, it’s going to be cool because I have got a lot of experiences playing on big courts, playing with people in the stadium, playing with the spotlight on you,” Raducanu said. “I don’t mind that.”
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