US Open 2022: Four-time champion Rafael Nadal among five men to eye No1 in New York

Nadal, playing for first time since 2019 victory, could play for title and No1 in final with defending champ Medvedev

Rafael Nadal
Rafael Nadal (Photo: Mubadala World Tennis Championship)

World number three Rafael Nadal has not played at the US Open since 2019, when he beat current No1 Daniil Medvedev to win his fourth US title. It took five sets and almost five hours, and by the end of that year, Nadal was No1, where he stayed for three months.

And as he prepares for his ‘defence’ in New York, where he opens against wild card Rinky Hijikata, he can also contemplate the prospect of once again rising to No1. For the Spaniard, who has already won two Majors this year, in Australia and Roland Garros—and reached the semis of Wimbledon too—has no points to defend in New York, unlike his fellow top-five seeds next week.

Aside from Nadal, who else could be No1?

Medvedev faces the biggest drop next week, his 2,000 champion’s points, so will begin his defence a full 745 points behind the Spaniard. Should it come down to the wire between the same two men for the title, they will also play for the No1 ranking. After his 2019 loss, and another five-set marathon loss in this year’s Australian Open final, Medvedev will have to hope he has no scar tissue.

Current world No2, Alexander Zverev, is out of contention because he remains absent following an ankle injury during the French Open.

Next in the seeds, then, are teenage star Carlos Alcaraz and former No3 Stefanos Tsitsipas. With the record-holding former No1, Novak Djokovic, unable to take his place in the draw due to his Covid vaccination status, the No5 seed is Casper Ruud—the final man who could reach No1.

But here’s the rub. All four of Nadal’s competitors for the top spot will have to make at least the final, even if the former champion loses in the first round.

The Alcaraz case

For Alcaraz, whose surge through the ranks arguably took off at last year’s US Open, his first Major quarter-final in his first appearance, even more is on the line: He could become the youngest ever men’s No1.

And make no mistake, his performances during 2022 supports the notion: Champion at the Miami and Madrid Masters, semi-finalist at Indian Wells—indeed four titles from six finals this year already. He got the hard-court motor running at Cincinnati, too, ready for his New York campaign, though his quarter is a hazardous one.

Carlos Alcaraz

Carlos Alcaraz (Photo: Leonard Zhukovsky / depositphotos.com)

The non-seeds in his opening two rounds, beginning with Sebastian Baez, should test, and then the newest Masters champion, Borna Coric, who catapulted into the seedings with his Cincinnati run after a succession of injury hurdles, looms for Alcaraz. Then it could be former champion Marin Cilic, with fellow fast-riser, Jannik Sinner, or former Miami champion Hubert Hurkacz, in the quarters.

That Alcaraz is also in Nadal’s half does not help, though the former champion has had time for just one hard-court outing since his withdrawal from the semis at Wimbledon with an abdominal tear.

Tsitsipas and Ruud quarter

Tsitsipas has not gone beyond the third round before, but he should be feeling optimistic as the No5 seed in a quarter headed by No4 Ruud. The Greek made the final in Cincinnati, and reached the semis the Australian Open for the third time. However to reach the quarters, he may have to beat No13 seed Matteo Berrettini, while former champion Andy Murray is also in this eighth.

Stefanos Tsitsipas

Stefanos Tsitsipas (Photo: Christopher Putnam / FiledIMAGE Photography / depositphotos.com)

And while Ruud’s early successes were focused on clay—and his first Major final came this year at Roland Garros—he also made the final in Miami and the semis in Montreal this year. However, with the returning Kyle Edmund in is opener, and a slew of dangerous big-hitters to follow—Sebastian Korda and Tommy Paul, then former champion Stan Wawrinka or, more likely, the in-form No10 seed Taylor Fritz—Ruud may also have his work cut out to reach the quarters.

Defending champion Medvedev

And what of Medvedev’s hopes of defending his title? There is no denying that the hard courts suit his fast, tactically smart tennis: Twice runner-up in Australia, while in New York, a runner-up, and then a semi-finalist, before winning last year. Five of his Masters titles have come on hard courts, three of them outside. His tally of eight outdoor titles included one this year, in Los Cabos, and a semi run in Cincinnati staved off the Nadal No1 threat there.

His first seeded opponent is the unpredictable Nikoloz Basilashvili, and lurking in Round 4 may be the often-brilliant firebrand Nick Kyrgios, who made his first Major final at Wimbledon, won Washington, and beat Medvedev on his way to the quarters in Montreal. The fly in the Australian’s ointment may come in his opener—against fellow big hitter, friend and compatriot, Thanasi Kokkinakis.

Daniil Medvedev

Daniil Medvedev (Photo: China Images / depositphotos.com)

If Medvedev negotiates his way to the quarters, perhaps the most likely to face him is Canadian No6 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime, but then Pablo Carreno Busta has just won his first Masters in Cincinnati—though plays a notable opener against returning former champion, Dominic Thiem—while Alex de Minaur, as well as the fast-improving Brit Jack Draper, could cause upsets.

Can, and will, Nadal emerge as the new No1 in the company of fellow top seeds who are all aged at least a decade his junior? With Fabio Fognini and Aslan Karatsev in Round 2, Frances Tiafoe scheduled for Round 4, and Andrey Rublev or Cam Norrie lined up for the quarters, it will be no cake walk. But if anyone can, Nadal can.

2022 hard-court winners since July in US Open draw

Atlanta: de Minaur

Washington: Kyrgios

Los Cabos: Medvedev

Montreal: Carreno Busta

Cincinnati: Coric

Winston-Salem: Final Adrian Mannarino, Laslo Djere

Former champions in draw

Nadal (four), Medvedev (defending), Thiem, Murray, Wawrinka, Cilic

Absentees from 32 seeds

No2 Zverev, No6 Djokovic, No25 Gael Monfils, No28 Reilly Opelka

Other absentees

Lloyd Harris

First-round matches to catch

Kyrgios vs Kokkinakis

Carreno Busta vs Thiem

De Minaur vs Filip Krajinovic

Draper vs Emil Ruusuvuori

Maxime Cressy vs Marton Fucsovics

Murray vs Francisco Cerundolo

Lorenzo Musetti vs David Goffin

Baez vs Alcaraz

Norrie vs Benoit Paire

Fognini vs Karatsev

Draws: 128 men, including 32 seeds, 16 qualifiers

Top half, headed by Medvedev; NB top half begins Monday

R1 Stefan Kozlov

R2 Quentin Halys or Arthur Rinderknech

R3 First seed No31 Basilashvili

R4 If seeds hold, No23 Kyrgios or No16 Roberto Bautista Agut

QF If seeds hold, No6 Auger-Aliassime, No12 Carreno Busta, No18 de Minaur, No27 Karen Khachanov

SF If seeds hold, No4 Tsitsipas, No13 Berrettini, No10 Fritz, No5 Ruud; Murray and Wawrinka also here

Bottom half headed by Nadal; NB bottom half begins Tuesday

R1 Hijikata

R2 Fognini or Karatsev

R3 First seed No32 Miomir Kecmanovic

R4 If seeds hold, No14 Diego Schwartzman and No22 Tiafoe

QF If seeds hold, No7 Norrie, No9 Rublev, No19 Denis Shapovalov, No28 Holger Rune

SF If seeds hold, No3 Alcaraz, No8 Hurkacz, No11 Sinner, No15 Cilic

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