A potential Novak Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz battle in the final. The continuation of Coco Gauff's red-hot summer on the hard court. The American men's collective quest to snap the now-20-year major title drought. The celebration of 50 years of equal pay.
The 2023 US Open is absolutely brimming with storylines and players to watch.
After a compelling and wildly entertaining tennis season, we've made it to the final Grand Slam of the year -- and it could be one for the books.
Sure, there's no Serena Williams, Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer, but tennis seems to have made it to its next chapter and is doing just fine. Will we see Djokovic make history in New York? Will Alcaraz and Iga Swiatek successfully defend their 2022 titles? Could this mark the official coronation of Gauff -- or another American -- by the end of the fortnight? Here is everything you need to know heading into the 2023 US Open.
After having his quest for his fifth straight Wimbledon title and the elusive Calendar Slam halted by Alcaraz in the final at the All England Club last month, Djokovic makes his return to the US Open following a one-year absence due to pandemic-era travel restrictions into the United States.
And if his performance at the Western & Southern Open -- his lone hard-court tuneup event and first on the surface since February -- was any indication, he's ready to avenge his surprising Wimbledon loss. En route to his 95th career title in Cincinnati, Djokovic held off the likes of Taylor Fritz and Alexander Zverev before coming back to win a thrilling and nearly four-hour final against Alcaraz, 5-7, 7-6(7), 7-6(4).
While Djokovic historically hasn't had the best results in New York in recent years and hasn't won the title since 2018, he certainly looks poised to contend for his 24th major title, which would give him the most in the Open era. The No. 2 seed in the tournament, he could potentially face Alcaraz, the top seed, in the final -- something he couldn't even resist bringing up during the trophy presentation in New York.
"I hope we meet in New York," Djokovic said to Alcaraz. "That would be fun -- well, for the fans, not for me."
And, in other good news for Djokovic, as he has no points to defend and trails Alcaraz by just 20 points for the world No. 1 ranking, he will take back the top spot simply by defeating world No. 85 Alexandre Muller in his opening-round match.
The defending champs
A year after both became first-time champions at the US Open, Alcaraz and Swiatek are back in New York as the world's top-ranked players.
Alcaraz has won six titles this season, including Wimbledon and two Masters 1000-level events, and played in eight finals. Just 20 years old, he became the first player born in the 2000s to earn at least $20 million in prize money earlier this month.
During his two warm-up events during the North American summer swing, he reached the quarterfinals in Toronto and the final in Cincinnati. Although he ultimately lost, he told reporters he was still proud of his performance against Djokovic -- and he brings some serious confidence into the US Open.
"I left everything on court," Alcaraz said. "For me, obviously it's great that [Djokovic] knows that every time he's going to play against me, reminds him playing against Rafa [Nadal] or against the best ones because that means we are in a good path. I'm working very, very well."
While Swiatek's 2023 season hasn't been quite as good as her 2022 one -- a 37-match win streak and eight titles are a tough act to follow -- she has won four tournaments this year, including her third French Open title. She has managed to hold on to her No. 1 ranking all season despite some close calls from Aryna Sabalenka, although she's in danger of losing it at the fortnight's conclusion if Sabalenka were to match or better Swiatek's results. Swiatek arrives in New York having won her hometown Warsaw Open and having reached the semifinals in both Montreal and Cincinnati.
Swiatek, 22, wasn't exactly oozing confidence during her last news conference at the Western & Southern Open but seemed up to the task and remains the betting favorite according to Caesars Sportsbook.
"I know from my experience already that being a defending champion is not easy," Swiatek said. "I'm going to kind of take it easy on myself and just try to do everything step by step. Last year's tournament was also really tough. I could be out in the fourth round if you watched my matches. So I'll just fight and I'll see how it's going to go."
After breaking through at Wimbledon in 2019 as a 15-year-old, Gauff's rise to the top of the sport seemed all but inevitable. She has come close -- reaching the French Open final and cracking the top 10 for the first time in 2022 -- but there had been some doubts about her ability to win the big titles and defeat the toughest opponents.
But she has shattered that perception in the past month.
After losing in the first round at Wimbledon in July, Gauff won the then-biggest title of her career at the 500-level Citi Open and then, two weeks later, won the 1000-level Western & Southern Open, including a three-set semifinal win over Swiatek. Not only was it Gauff's first victory in eight tries over Swiatek, but it was the first time she had even taken a set off her. In the final, she defeated 2023 French Open finalist Karolina Muchova 6-3, 6-4. While clearly feeling good about the state of her game, she was pragmatic when speaking to the media about her hopes for New York.
"I'm going to give it my all in [the] US Open," Gauff said on Sunday. "If things go great, that's exciting. If not, I go back and work hard and get ready for the next one. That's kind of the mentality you have to have."
Gauff isn't the only American woman riding some serious momentum right now. Jessica Pegula -- the top-ranked American at No. 3 and Gauff's doubles partner -- won the second 1000-level title of her career at the Canadian Open earlier this month. She has reached the quarterfinals at five of the past seven majors, including during the 2022 US Open, but hasn't been able to advance beyond the round. Could her Billie Jean King-inspired outfit and the support of the home crowd help make the difference for the Buffalo native this time around?
20 years and counting
This isn't exactly breaking news, but no American man has won a major singles title since Andy Roddick at the 2003 US Open. Every major, every year, the same question arises: Who can finally snap the streak?
Entering the 2023 US Open, there are a number of American men who are more than capable of a deep run.
Frances Tiafoe reached his first major semifinal last year in New York and vowed to come back and win the tournament. Having earned two titles this year and having made his top-10 debut in June, Tiafoe certainly has the game, the experience and the belief to make good on that promise.
Taylor Fritz, the other American man in the top 10, has also won two titles this year, including the North American summer hard-court kickoff event in Atlanta in July. He has never advanced past the third round at the US Open and has reached the quarterfinals of a major just once, but there's a first time for everything, right?
Then there's the surging Tommy Paul. Currently ranked No. 14, Paul had one of the biggest upsets of the summer with a three-set stunner over Alcaraz in the Canadian Open quarters -- and he nearly did it again the following week in the Western & Southern Open round of 16. The 26-year-old reached the semifinals at the Australian Open in January and has proved he can win on the biggest stages.
Other men representing the red, white and blue to keep an eye on include surprise Wimbledon quarterfinalist Chris Eubanks, 20-year-old Australian Open quarterfinalist Ben Shelton, Canadian Open quarterfinalist Mackenzie McDonald and, of course, former top-10 player John Isner, playing in his 17th and final US Open main draw. The 38-year-old announced he will be retiring at the tournament's conclusion, and he will undoubtedly be given a hero's sendoff.
Former world No. 1 and 2018 Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki announced she would be making her return to tennis after a more than three-year hiatus with an essay in Vogue in June, and she did just that earlier this month. After stepping away from the game to give birth to her two children, Wozniacki has since played in Montreal and Cincinnati -- compiling a 1-2 record -- and will be playing in her first major at the US Open since the 2020 Australian Open.
Having received a wild card for entry, Wozniacki, a two-time US Open finalist, will face a qualifier in the first round and could potentially face No. 11 seed Petra Kvitova in the second round. In her essay for Vogue, she said she believed she could win the US Open, but she didn't sound quite as confident when speaking to the media following her first-round loss at the Western & Southern Open to Varvara Gracheva.
"I still have about 10 days to prepare for the US Open," Wozniacki said. "There [are] quite a few things that I feel like I need to do better.
"I thought last week [in Montreal], I thought I was pretty pleased about where I was. I think this week I don't feel like my timing is exactly where I want it to be, so I'm just going to go back and work hard."
Wozniacki won't be the only one playing in her first major in several years. Former world No. 13 Jen Brady, who reached the final at the 2021 Australian Open and the semifinals at the 2020 US Open, will be playing in her first Slam in over two years after a series of debilitating injuries. Kei Nishikori, a 2014 US Open finalist, made his return to competition earlier this summer following hip surgery and will be playing his first Slam event since the 2021 US Open.
Could the fourth time be the charm?
Ons Jabeur and Casper Ruud, the 2022 finalists, are both still seeking their first major titles. Each has reached three Slam finals -- with Jabeur losing her second consecutive Wimbledon final last month and Ruud losing his second consecutive French Open final in June -- but has yet to get over the finish line. Will this be the tournament where either or both of them do just that?
Jabeur is fresh off her heartbreaking loss at the All England Club to Marketa Vondrousova. She cried on court after the defeat and told the crowd it was the most painful one of her career. The 28-year-old took several weeks away from competition following the defeat and made her return at Cincinnati, where she advanced to the quarterfinals. Jabeur seemed unfazed by any pressure when speaking to ESPN on Wednesday.
"I love New York, I love the energy here, so I'm very excited to be back," Jabeur said. "I know I have a final to defend, but I just enjoy the crowd here. I had a couple of practices where the crowd was cheering, and it's always amazing to have that feeling to be loved to receive that kind of energy. So I'm looking forward to playing here. We'll just take it match by match and see."
Ruud hasn't fared particularly well since his final appearance at Roland Garros. The Norwegian lost in the second round at Wimbledon, his lone grass-court event, and then played two clay-court events before turning his focus to the hard court. In his two tournaments on the surface, at Toronto and Cincinnati, he went 1-2. While not exactly ideal, he did lose in his opening-round match in Cincinnati in 2022 and that didn't seem to hinder his performance in New York. Ruud will take on a qualifier in the first round, and potentially could face Tiafoe in the round of 16.
The US Open will be celebrating 50 years of equal pay at the event this year. In 1973 the tournament became the first major -- and the first sporting event of any kind -- to offer the same prize money to its male and female competitors. After winning the title in 1972 and receiving less money than her male counterpart, Billie Jean King demanded that inequity be rectified. What followed was the creation of the WTA and equal purses the very next year.
King and her pioneering cohorts will most certainly be honored and recognized throughout the fortnight for their groundbreaking efforts -- as will Venus Williams. The 43-year-old, who will be playing in her 24th main draw at the US Open after receiving a wild card, has continued King's legacy of fighting for equal pay at Wimbledon and other events throughout her career.
To show how much the sport and the US Open have grown in 50 years, the prize money has increased dramatically. In 1973, the total purses in the men's and women's draws were $100,000, with the champions each receiving $25,000. Today the overall compensation for players is a record-setting $65 million, with the singles champions each receiving $3 million. A first-round loser will receive $81,500 -- or $56,500 more than the 1973 tournament winners.
Rain, rain, please stay away
While always a factor with tennis being an outdoor sport, inclement weather has wreaked havoc at tournaments around the globe the past few months. The first several days of Wimbledon in July were marred by rain delays -- the first round didn't even officially conclude until Thursday afternoon -- and the Canadian Open in Montreal saw multiple matches finish in the early morning hours, and Liudmila Samsonova controversially had to play both her semifinal and final match in one day. Last week's Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, the final lead-in event for the US Open, saw multiple weather delays over the course of the event.
As parts of New York and the Northeast have seen record-breaking amounts of rain this summer, it seems likely the weather will continue to have an impact on competition. Of course, the US Open does have two courts with roofs (Arthur Ashe Stadium and Louis Armstrong Stadium) which helps keep play moving for some of the highest-seeded players, but with 128 singles matches needed to be played in the first two days, it's hardly a comprehensive solution. And even a roof doesn't always guarantee play can continue (2021, anyone?)
New balls, please
After players -- most notably Swiatek -- complained about the different balls for the men and women ahead of the 2022 tournament, the US Open will be using the same balls for all players in 2023.
The US Open had been the only major to use different balls for the men and the women. Swiatek called the women's balls "horrible" in August of 2022 and didn't understand the discrepancy. She added they were unavailable to purchase in Europe, which made it challenging to properly train from her home in Poland. Swiatek and Paula Badosa spoke to WTA CEO and chairman Steve Simon about their concerns, and tournament director Stacey Allaster encouraged other players to do so as well as the ball choice came from the WTA.
And now, one year later, the players have gotten what they asked for. In a pre-tournament news conference, Allaster told reporters the WTA made the decision at the end of the 2022 event to make the switch, and added it was on a trial basis. Players will be polled throughout the event to get their feedback to make a decision going forward.
The ball used in 2022 and in previous tournaments was lighter and moves faster on the court, giving players less control and, according to Swiatek, causes players to "make more mistakes." How will this change impact the draw in 2023 and -- not to mention -- the defending champion Swiatek? Stay tuned.