2022 US Open Preview: Serena Williams set for farewell at Flushing Meadows

On the cusp of her retirement, Donnovan Bennett explores what Serena Williams has meant to the game of tennis and beyond, from inspiring athletes of all colours and genders to redefining what it means to be a Black female athlete and advocate.

The city lights in New York are already buzzing.

The final major of the calendar has arrived in timely fashion, and an enthralling two weeks of tennis from Flushing Meadows will soon capture the hearts and imagination of fans across the globe.

There are many intriguing storylines heading into the Grand Slam tournament with a final send off for the legendary champion Serena Williams, Rafael Nadal returning to a hunting ground he has long been fond of, and a host of other players seeking a breakthrough.

Here are five storylines to keep an eye on at the 2022 US Open:

Serena’s Last Stand

It was 23 years ago that Serena Williams won her first career grand slam singles title, breaking through with a triumphant victory at the 1999 US Open at the age of 17.

It was a historic title, the first by an African American woman in the Open Era, and one of six US Open singles trophies Serena would go on to capture.

How fitting it feels that Williams will play the final tournament of her career on these very same courts at Flushing Meadows.

The recently soon-to-be 41-year-old mother announced her farewell from the sport just two weeks ago in Vogue Magazine, dancing around the word retirement to say that she will be ‘evolving away from tennis’.

“Believe me, I never wanted to have to choose between tennis and a family,” writes Williams, who almost reluctantly reveals that now is the time to step away from the sport she has given so much.

Serena’s storied greatness and legacy transcend tennis, as her record-breaking victories, accolades and fame rose her to the height of a global sporting icon.

Beyond her competition in singles this fortnight, which opens with a match against world No. 80 Danka Kovinic, she will also reunite with sister Venus to again compete in doubles.

The sister duo are 14-time grand slam doubles champions and will play alongside one another for the first time since the 2018 French Open.

Venus Williams, who is over a year older than her sister, has made no such announcements on retirement, but is equally deserving of a tremendous send off from the New York crowd.

Rafa eyes No. 23, Medvedev seeks to defend title

While an abdominal tear abruptly halted his run at the Wimbledon championships, Rafael Nadal has recovered in time to compete at one of his most beloved majors on the calendar, the US Open.

Nadal’s a four-time major winner in New York, though his body has kept him out of the event the last two seasons.

His last appearance in 2019 resulted in an immense five-set victory over Daniil Medvedev in the finals, his 19th singles major.

Nadal has tallied three more since.

While the Spaniard hardly had an optimal lead up to the tournament, playing just one match in Cincinnati and losing in three sets to Borna Coric, he has always looked comfortable and spry on the courts at Flushing Meadows.

He is 64-11 lifetime at the US Open, and with the absence of Novak Djokovic (vaccination status) and Roger Federer (knee injury), carries by far the most experience and pedigree of any athlete in the field.

He has been outstanding in 2022 with a 35-4 record, four titles, and two majors in Australia and France.

A victory in New York would not only push his grand slam lead two above Djokovic, but also return him to the World No. 1 ranking for the first time since January of 2020.

Daniil Medvedev holds the top seed and has the immense challenge of defending his maiden slam title from last year, when he stopped Novak Djokovic’s quest for a calendar slam with a straight sets win.

It’s been an uneven 2022 for svelte, yet powerful serving Russian.

Medvedev finished runner-up at the Australian Open, coughing up a two sets-to love lead against a ruthlessly determined Rafael Nadal.

Then a hernia sidelined him for the bulk of the clay-court season and his nationality kept him out of Wimbledon eligibility.

Medvedev finally captured his first title of 2022 three weeks ago, winning the ATP250 in Los Cabos.

After faltering in Montreal to Nick Kyrgios, he advanced to the semifinals of Cincinnati, and appears to be rounding into his superfluous hard-court form.

He’s made the semifinals or better in each of the last seasons in New York.

Is Auger-Aliassime ready to take next step?

He is the highest-ranked Canadian in the world, male or female, and will also carry the strongest seed of his young career into the US Open.

Montreal’s Felix Auger-Aliassime holds the 6th seed entering this year’s event, a spot well deserved for his dogged consistency on the calendar season.

The 22-year-old has one singles title, one final, four Masters 1000 quarterfinals, an Australian Open quarterfinal, three top 10 wins, and an ATP Cup victory on the resume this season.

It’s a testament to a steady on-court maturity from the young talent, but also leaves one to desire more.

The Canadian has placed himself in prime positions many times this season, missing out on match point against Daniil Medvedev in Australia, losing in five sets to Nadal at Roland Garros, and falling in a tight three-set semifinal just a few weeks ago to Cameron Norrie in Los Cabos.

The numbers suggest a true breakthrough is on the horizon – Auger-Aliassime has landed in a packed quarter featuring Medvedev, Wimbledon finalist Nick Kyrgios, and Montreal champion Pablo Carreno Busta.

If Felix’s progression is one of steady growth, compatriot Denis Shapovalov’s might be described as trendless.

The peaks and valleys have been head-scratching in 2022 for the talented left hander.

He reached the quarterfinals of the Australian Open early in the season, bowing out in a tough five-setter to Nadal.

He advanced to the semifinals in Dubai, quarterfinals of Rome, and played a big hand in Canada’s ATP Cup win.

The lowlights feature an extended slump from May until early August, where he dropped nine of 10 matches, which included a first-round exit at Roland Garros and a second-round departure from Wimbledon.

Shapovalov finally showed signs of life at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati last week, defeating Grigor Dimitrov and Tommy Paul to reach the round of 16.

His aggressive game-style lends itself to greatness and turmoil.

Let’s root for the former at Flushing Meadows, where he reached the quarterfinals in 2020.

Andreescu and Fernandez lead Canadians

One is a former US Open champion and the other is last year’s finalist.

Bianca Andreescu and Leylah Annie Fernandez should both be budding with confidence at the prospect of returning to Flushing Meadows, the site of the very best memories of their young tennis careers.

Andreescu made Canadian tennis history three years ago on these courts, dismantling seven opponents en route to the first major singles title in the country’s history.

Fernandez came one shy of the identical feat last year, winning six matches to reach the final before losing to surprise qualifier Emma Raducanu.

Andreescu has shown steady growth since returning from a six-month tennis layoff.

The Mississauga native is 14-9 on the season, with a runner-up finish at the Bad Homburg Open on grass.

Recently in Toronto, she tallied two tough match wins over Daria Kasatkina and Alize Cornet before losing exiting in the round of 16.

Andreescu is unseeded here which poses its challenges, but she’ll be a heavy favourite in her opening round clash against France’s Harmony Tan.

Fernandez is returning from a layoff of her own, as she missed the entire grass-court swing including Wimbledon due to a foot fracture. It was an unfortunate injury that came at an inopportune time, suffered in the quarterfinals of Roland Garros.

Fernandez has just one win in three matches since getting back on the tour, so one can temper expectations at Flushing Meadows.

The 14th seed does find herself in one of the lightest quarters of the draw. She meets Oceane Dodin of France Monday night.

Toronto’s Rebecca Marino is also in the field, and her recent play of late has pushed her back inside the top 100 of the rankings. She opens against Magdalena Frech of Poland.

Ottawa’s Gabriela Dabrowski will compete in women’s doubles with Giuliana Olmos of Mexico.

Swiatek No. 1, while Halep, Garcia, Pegula and Gauff arrive with confidence

It’s not outlandish to suggest that upwards of 40 women’s players will have a true stake at the women’s singles crown in New York this season.

The parity on the women’s tour has resulted in 28 different singles champions so far in 2022.

One player has certainly risen above the pack, as world no. 1 Iga Swiatek has had a remarkably dominant season.

Swiatek has won six singles titles this season, including her second major at Roland Garros, and tallied an extraordinary 37-match winning streak from late February to early July.

The 21-year-old, however, has finally shown signs of vulnerability on the circuit, losing her opening round match at the National Bank Open in Toronto, and falling in the round of 16 in Cincinnati.

Swiatek is a contender here, but one of many.

France’s Caroline Garcia has been one of the hottest players on the circuit the last few months, collecting hardware on all three surfaces.

She won a grass-court title in Germany in June, a clay court crown in Poland in July, and closed her North American hard-court swing with a WTA1000 triumph in Cincinnati.

The Frenchwoman has potent baseline power and a terrific serve, attributes that took her to a career-high ranking of No. 4 back in 2018.

Veteran and two-time slam champion Simona Halep is coming off a hard-earned title in Toronto from the National Bank Open presented by Rogers.

The victory moved the 30-year-old back inside the top 10 for the first time since July of 2021. Her best result in New York was making the semifinals in 2015.

American Jessica Pegula has had notably consistent results throughout 2022 with two grand slam quarterfinals appearances, and she most recently made the semifinals in Toronto and quarterfinals in Cincinnati.

She’s also half of the great American doubles pairing alongside Coco Gauff.

The team has won two WTA1000s in Qatar and Toronto, and finished runner-up at the French Open.

Pegula’s clean ball-striking should prove fortuitous on the hard courts of New York.

Gauff should also fancy her chances at the last slam of the calendar year, after notching impressive wins over Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina and former world no. 2 Aryna Sabalenka in Toronto.

Her athleticism and movement are spellbinding, and the two-handed backhand is a decisive weapon in critical junctures of matches.

Gauff is also a crowd favourite and will no doubt feed off the electric atmosphere that envelops the New York stadiums.

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