The Dramatic Dozen

Serena Williams and Nick Kyrgios are the two headliners for the first evening of this tennis festival in New York (on Tuesday night from 1 a.m.). You really can’t blame the organizers of the US Open, they give the people what they promised. After all, “Spectacular Awaits” is the motto of the tournament: first Williams on a farewell tour, which depending on the result could take on Barbara Streisand-like proportions, because she has also had a wildcard for doubles with sister Venus. At US prime time , first the opening ceremony with Queen Latifah and Tony Bennett and Serena, then Australian punk rocker Kyrgios against his buddy Thanasi Kokkinakis, with whom he won the Australian Open doubles at the end of January.

Wait a minute, shouldn’t the defending champion, the world number one, the top seed get the honor of the evening game? But Daniil Medvedev is already there at 12 noon, as if he were the unknown support act that first has to prove itself. Or the duel between 2020 winner Dominic Thiem and Pablo Carreño Busta, who succeeded in Montréal: wouldn’t that be a sporting treat? Isn’t Court 17 like sending Falco and Enrique Iglesias to a festival side stage?

Anyone who has fought their way to the game plan creators in the catacombs at Arthur Ashe Stadium knows: They care very little about sporting delicacies; it’s all about how to get the most viewers in the world. So: Williams and Kyrgios will fill the world’s largest tennis arena with more than 22,000 people in the evening. Medvedev plays at prime time on Russian TV, Thiem and Carreño Busta at a time acceptable for Europeans (around 9 p.m.) – as does the German Wimbledon semi-finalist Tatjana Maria against last year’s semi-finalist Maria Sakkari (5 p.m.) on the Grand Stand .

The question is more, to stay with the comparison with a music festival: What should the poster look like for the men? In the past 20 years it was quite easy: The big three, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic . Now and then Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka – and that’s it. Finished?

Murray and Wawrinka can still be trusted to put on a gripping concert

In truth, the US Open is more open than the other Grand Slam tournaments, which is due to the rather slower hard court surface. The big three have each won at least three times here; but there are not only Murray and Wawrinka, but also: Juan Martín del Potro, Marin Cilic, Thiem and Medvedev. Nine different winners since 2003, there have not been so many at any other major tournament ( see chart ).

Djokovic and Federer are known to be missing this time, and anyone who watched Nadal training before his first match (Tuesday, evening match, Arthur Ashe) should have noticed the protective posture when serving. “We train more intensively,” says Nadal, who had to do without the Wimbledon semi-final against Kyrgios because of a torn abdominal muscle: “We take it even easier on the serve; this movement is dangerous.”

So who do you trust to be able to win this year – without a crazy outsider tip like the women’s final in 2021 (the unseeded Emma Raducanu defeated the unseeded Leylah Fernandez), but actors who you put on a poster with the addition favorite would? That’s at least ten people because three generations are now meeting – in Nadal as the only representative of the old guard. Murray and Wawrinka are still capable of putting on a gripping concert; But they are no longer the headliners of a two-week festival with exhausting best-of-5 games – although Murray is on the official poster.

The Next Generation is now grown up, they have rammed their flag firmly into the ground. Medvedev, 26, is the defending champion, Stefanos Tsitsipas, 24, has reached three Masters finals and won one in 2022, Carreño Busta, 31, and Borna Coric, 25, just clinched their first Masters titles at the North American tournaments ; Kyrgios, 27, showed at Wimbledon in July he has the ability to win a major tournament. If you add Alexander Zverev , 25, who is currently injured, there are six players who should also be considered in Grand Slams.

Then there are the players of the Next Next Generation , who are successful much more quickly than the next-gen people would like: Taylor Fritz, 24, and Carlos Alcaraz, 19, won their first Masters titles this year, Casper Ruud, 23 , reached his first final; Félix Auger-Aliassime, 22, and Jannik Sinner, 21, are also trusted on the surface in New York. And who would dare to say about Andrei Rublev and Matteo Berrettini: No, definitely not them!

Isn’t it spectacular when a Grand Slam tournament doesn’t always aim for these mega duels from the semifinals onwards?

It feels like the mid-1990s when there were a dozen or so favorites in Grand Slam tournaments. With all gratitude for the unique era of the Big Three : Isn’t it spectacular when a Grand Slam tournament doesn’t always aim for these mega duels from the semifinals onwards, but even reaching the round of 16 can be counted as a success and it’s already in the first round comes to duels of big names and favorites, like Thiem against Carreño Busta?

This leads back to Kyrgios, who apparently wants to finally find out if he can really play as great over a longer period of time as he and many others think he can. The NBA basketball league is on summer break, so there’s no excuse for losing – Kyrgios said in New York that he sometimes lost games out of frustration at his favorite team’s (Boston Celtics) defeat the night before.

Kyrgios is of course also on the official festival poster, between Nadal and Serena Williams. A total of nine men and nine women are shown, but after the finals in two weeks you could have to say: That was still not enough.

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