US Open: Alcaraz dealt tricky draw, Swiatek, Gauff on collision course

Defending champs face challenging paths in New York

US Open 2018©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT
 - Reem Abulleil

The final Grand Slam of the season is upon us and all eyes will shift to New York, where world No.1s Carlos Alcaraz and Iga Swiatek will be looking to defend their titles.

The men’s and women’s singles draws were unveiled on Thursday and there’s not shortage of compelling storylines to look out for this upcoming fortnight at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Centre in Queens.

Tests ahead for Carlos

For two weeks last year, Alcaraz blew the roof off of Arthur Ashe stadium, playing an explosive brand of tennis that made the rowdy New York crowd fall in love with him all over again after he made a strong impression making the quarters on debut 12 months earlier.

He became the youngest ever ATP No.1 after that and last month at Wimbledon added a second Grand Slam to his fast-expanding trophy cabinet.

In New York, the 20-year-old Alcaraz will be looking to become the first man to successfully defend the US Open title since Roger Federer won five in a row between 2004 and 2008, and the first man since Novak Djokovic in 2018 to win Wimbledon and the US Open in the same season.

The Spanish top seed opens his campaign against German lefty Dominik Koepfer and could potentially face familiar foe Italian No.6 seed Jannik Sinner in the quarter-finals, which would be a rematch of their epic meeting at the very same stage last year that ended at nearly 3:00am.

Sinner is fresh off a maiden Masters 1000 title run in Toronto and is 3-3 head-to-head against Alcaraz, who lost their most recent clash in Miami earlier this season.

Should Alcaraz make it out of his quarter of the draw, he could face fellow US Open champion Daniil Medvedev or huge-serving Hubert Hurkacz in the final four before a possible mouth-watering showdown with Djokovic in the title decider.

Jannick Sinner, Carlos Alcaraz, US Open 2022© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Duel #9 for Coco and Iga?

In the Cincinnati semi-finals last Saturday, 19-year-old Coco Gauff picked up her first victory in eight meetings with Swiatek en route to a maiden WTA 1000 trophy.

The pair have squared off twice at Roland-Garros, in the 2022 final and the 2023 quarter-finals, and could reunite in the US Open last-eight stage as they both landed in the top quarter of the draw.

Gauff comes into New York having won 11 of her last 12 matches, a run that includes two titles in D.C. and Cincy. The sixth-seeded American will open her campaign against a qualifier.

Meanwhile, Swiatek went 11-2 win-loss in the post-Wimbledon hard-court swing, lifting her home title in Warsaw and falling in the semi-finals in Montreal and Cincinnati.

The Polish top seed will face Sweden’s Rebecca Peterson in the opening round in New York and should she make it safely out of her quarter of the draw, Swiatek could meet 2022 Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina or 2023 Roland-Garros finalist Karolina Muchova in the semis.

Another Jabeur-Sabalenka face-off?

The opposite side of the draw is anchored by No.2 seed Aryna Sabalenka, who begins against Maryna Zanevska of Belgium.

Three-time Grand Slam finalist Ons Jabeur, who fell to Swiatek in the championship match in New York last year, is a possible quarter-final opponent for Sabalenka.

Should that match-up materialise, it would be the third consecutive tournament in which Jabeur and Sabalenka do battle. The Tunisian world No.5 had the upper hand in their Wimbledon semi-final last month before Sabalenka avenged that defeat in the Cincinnati quarter-finals last week.

Aryna Sabalenka et Ons Jabeur / Demi-finales Wimbledon 2023©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Montreal champion and No.3 seed Jessica Pegula could await Sabalenka or Jabeur in the semi-finals but the American must first come through a brutal opener against former Canadian Open winner Camila Giorgi.

French No.7 seed Caroline Garcia plays a qualifier up first before a possible fourth round against recent Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova down the road. Whoever comes through that section could get Pegula in the final eight.

No.1 ranking on the line in both draws

The men’s No.1 spot has swapped hands between Alcaraz and Djokovic six times this season and will very likely change against by the time the US Open comes to an end. All Djokovic has to do to dethrone Alcaraz is win his first round against France’s Alexandre Muller on Monday.

Djokovic, who survived a brutal battle with Alcaraz in the Cincinnati final last Sunday, is gunning for an all-time record 24th Grand Slam title and third major of the season this fortnight in Flushing Meadows.

The Serb has No.7 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas in his quarter, with No.4 Holger Rune and last year’s finalist, No.5 seed Casper Ruud, up ahead as possible semi-final opponents for Djokovic.

In the women’s draw, Swiatek must outperform Sabalenka during this US Open to hold onto her No.1 ranking, which is in play for a third consecutive major.

Women’s popcorn first rounds

Venus Williams v Paula Badosa

Elena Rybakina v Marta Kostyuk

Sloane Stephens v Beatriz Haddad Maia

Jessica Pegula v Camila Giorgi

Ons Jabeur v Camila Osorio

Daria Kasatkina v Alycia Parks

Men’s popcorn first rounds

Andy Murray v Corentin Moutet

Alexander Bublik v Dominic Thiem

Stefanos Tsitsipas v Milos Raonic

Felix Auger-Aliassime v Mackenzie McDonald