Amid the chaotic state of men’s tennis, five different players can earn the No. 1 ranking if they capture the U.S. Open, which starts Monday in Flushing Meadows.
Defending champion Daniil Medvedev, the current No. 1, is a favorite to repeat — and retain the No. 1 ranking — since Novak Djokovic is on a unvaccinated vacation, Rafael Nadal has one match under his belt since abdominal surgery and Roger Federer will make his comeback from knee surgery next month at the Laver Cup.
Stefanos Tsitsipas, a finalist in the last tuneup in Cincinnati, Spanish rising-star teenager Carlos Alcaraz, clay-court standout Casper Ruud of Norway and Nadal can also vault to No. 1 with an Open crown on Sept. 11.
It’s one of the most unpredictable men’s draws in Open history, perhaps the start of a new era. Even Nick Kyrgios, who has always been an Open flop, is being given a chance off his fluky run to the Wimbledon finals after Nadal forfeited the semifinal match.
“If I look back, I would say five years ago — I was probably not even on the tour yet — there was the Big 4: Andy [Murray], Novak, Roger, Rafa and they would be the top four seeds,’’ Medvedev said. “It was tough. You know you’re going to get them in quarters, first rounds.”
Medvedev — along with all Russian and Belarussian players — was banned from playing Wimbledon because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He enters the Open with no majors in 2022 and just one ATP title.
He made the Australian Open final, but lost to Nadal. He was once a U.S. Open villain — in 2019 — but he gained much respect when he quieted Ashe Stadium last September to derail Djokovic’s bid for a historic Grand Slam. In the end, Medvedev heard that Flushing wall of noise.
“I love coming back here,’’ said Medvedev, who faces Stefan Kozlov in the first match on Arthur Ashe Stadium at noon. “I feel straightaway at home in a way. I remember [the final] like it was yesterday. I want to try to live the moments like this again because it’s a special moment to win a slam. I’m motivated to try to do it again.’’
Medvedev has an unorthodox baseline game, with a wide mix of spins and speed. It was enough to flummox Djokovic last September. Djokovic, the Wimbledon champion, decided not to get vaccinated and is prevented from entering the U.S.
“It’s a pity he’s not here,’’ Medvedev said. “It would be a great story for tennis. It’s American government rule. Completely understandable also.’’
Djokovic’s absence allows Nadal to increase his chances of finishing his career with the most majors. He’s at 22 — one ahead of Djokovic. If he wins his fifth Open, Nadal will be tough to pass.
But his countryman Alcaraz, 19 and the No. 4 player in the world, can put the tournament on its ear with a run to the finals. Nicknamed “The Next Nadal,’’ Alcaraz could face the Spanish legend in the semifinals.
Alcaraz, an unknown when he made the Open quarterfinals last year then won the prestigious Miami Open and three other titles, has slumped but an unsettled field makes things ripe to win his first major.
Alacaraz lost in Montreal in the first round, losing after having a match point against Tommy Paul as the No. 2 seed.
“I think in Montreal I felt the pressure and I tried to don’t think about that, just to enjoy,’’ Alcaraz said. “My pressure here is to enjoy every match, show my best game. It’s a really important tournament for me. But I know that if I don’t feel that pressure as a bad part.’’
Then there’s 24-year-old American Taylor Fritz, who captured the Indiana Wells title in March and might be ready to infuse American tennis with a big Open stand.
“I think this year I’m coming into the tournament with more confidence, more belief in what I can do here than any other year,’’ said Fritz, who hails from Palos Verdes, Calif. “It’s really how I’m feeling the ball.’’
Still, Medvedev stands as the Flushing Force. He ticked off the Australian crowd in January, calling them “disrespectful’’ for lack of support. He expects a warmer reception here.
“I feel like, yeah, in New York I have a special relationship with the crowd,’’ Medvedev said.