Novak Djokovic launches his quest for a 24th Grand Slam singles title on Monday as the US Open gets underway with the Serb needing only a first round victory to reclaim the world number one ranking.
The 36-year-old Serbian star makes a long-awaited return to the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center after missing the 2022 tournament due to his refusal to get vaccinated.
Second seed Djokovic headlines the night session on the 23,000-seater Arthur Ashe Stadium with what should be a straightforward opener against France’s world number 84 Alexandre Muller.
A victory will guarantee Djokovic returns to the top of tennis’s global rankings, regardless of how the rest of the US Open fortnight pans out.
Djokovic needs just 20 points to regain the No.1 ranking after defeating current No.1 and defending US Open champion Carlos Alcaraz in the Cincinnati Open earlier this month.
Alcaraz, who defeated Djokovic in a five-set Wimbledon final classic in July, opens his US Open campaign on Tuesday.
While most neutrals are hoping that Alcaraz and Djokovic can progress through to another blockbuster showdown in the men’s final on September 10, Djokovic says he is looking no further than Monday’s opener.
“You can’t really be thinking about what happens in three or four days,” Djokovic said on the eve of the tournament.
“It’s also in a way disrespectful to your next opponent if you’re already thinking about your finals matchup…that kind of mindset never really resonated with me.”
History suggests however that Djokovic’s opener on Monday should be a formality: the Serb has not lost in the first round of a Grand Slam since the 2006 Australian Open.
– American drought –
In other men’s matches on Monday, American 10th seed Frances Tiafoe and ninth seed Taylor Fritz open their campaign dreaming of ending the host nation’s two-decade long wait for a Grand Slam title.
No American man has won a Grand Slam singles crown since Andy Roddick lifted the 2003 US Open.
Tiafoe takes on compatriot Learner Tien, while Fritz faces Steve Johnson in another all-American match-up.
In the women’s draw meanwhile, defending champion and world number one Iga Swiatek faces Sweden’s Rebecca Peterson in her opener on Arthur Ashe as she sets out her bid for a fifth career Grand Slam.
Swiatek went out in the semi-finals of the lead-in tournaments in Montreal and Cincinnati, but believes she is better prepared this year than in 2022.
“I get more positive vibes, for sure than before last year’s tournament,” she said.
“But being the defending champion is not easy, so I’m kind of taking it easy, trying to do everything step by step.”
Elsewhere in the women’s draw on Monday, US teenager Coco Gauff takes center-stage with a night game against German qualifier Laura Siegemund, looking for a breakthrough first major win.
The 19-year-old American arrives in New York in blistering form after winning titles in Washington and Cincinnati.
Gauff’s win in Cincinnati — her first WTA 1000 title — also included a psychologically useful first ever win over Swiatek, who she could meet in the quarter-finals in New York.
“I think now I’m going in with a lot more confidence,” Gauff said of her recent resurgence in form.
“I feel like no matter the scoreline in the match, I can be able to problem solve and troubleshoot my way out.
“I know I can win matches not playing my best game now… I do feel I’m much more confident in my B or C game.”