New York, Aug 25: Novak Djokovic’s return to the U.S. Open after missing it last year because he wasn’t vaccinated against COVID-19 will come against an opponent who never has played in the tournament, while defending women’s champion Iga Swiatek and Coco Gauff were drawn Thursday into a possible quarterfinal matchup.
Top-ranked Carlos Alcaraz, the 2022 men’s champion at Flushing Meadows, and No. 6 seed Jannik Sinner could meet in the men’s quarterfinals again. That was the round in which Alcaraz’s thrilling five-set victory over rival Sinner last year ended at 2:50 a.m., the latest finish in U.S. Open history.
Instead of a public draw ceremony, the U.S. Tennis Association has set up its women’s and men’s singles brackets behind closed doors in recent years and did so again Thursday, when The Associated Press was invited to have a reporter present in a room at Arthur Ashe Stadium as an observer.
Play in the final Grand Slam event of the season begins Monday. Djokovic, a 36-year-old from Serbia who has won three of his men’s-record 23 Grand Slam titles in New York, couldn’t enter the tournament a year ago because unvaccinated foreign citizens were barred from flying into the United States. He returned to the country for the first time in two years to play in the hard-court tune-up event in Cincinnati, where he outlasted Alcaraz in a thrilling final last weekend that spanned nearly four hours.
In the first round next week, Djokovic will take on Alexandre Muller, a 26-year-old from France who is ranked 85th and will be making his main-draw debut at Flushing Meadows. Muller lost in the opening round of qualifying in 2021 and 2022. He has not had much luck in Grand Slam draws lately, forced to face Alcaraz at Wimbledon and Sinner at the French Open.
Gauff, the No. 6 seed, beat Swiatek en route to the Cincinnati title — a significant victory for the 19-year-old American who had been 0-7 and lost all 14 sets to the 22-year-old from Poland, including the 2022 French Open final. Gauff, who is 11-1 since a first-round exit at Wimbledon, will open against a player who emerges from the qualifying tournament and then could meet Russian teen Mirra Andreeva in what would be a rematch from this year’s French Open.
Alcaraz will play Dominik Koepfer of Germany in the first round. Koepfer reached the fourth round at Flushing Meadows in 2019. (AP)