Nadal's preparations have not been smooth this time around either, but he is still among the favorites and will surely be making a big effort to clinch his 23rd Grand Slam title in two weeks (Photo: Reuters)

There were some fantastic thrills and spills at the US Open last year. Novak Djokovic was just one step away from winning the calendar Grand Slam and becoming the first player to win 21 majors, but Danyil Medvedev of Russia beat him in three sets in memorable circumstances in the final. And the women's final pairing was a match that few would have predicted. The then 18-year-old Emma Raducanu of Great Britain overcame Canada's Leylah Fernandez, who turned 19 during the tournament, to become the first player in the open era to win a Grand Slam from the qualifiers and without even losing a single set.

Emma Raducanu, women's US Open defending champion

„Others think much more about the pressure on me and my ranking than I do. The title defense is important for the press, but I always think about my next match only. Every single competitor is very strong in the field, and I think after my result last year, others believe that they can do the same because I showed that anything can happen. I'm focusing on my own career, as I said a year ago: I'm going to go my own way anyway.”

Danyil Medvedev, men's US Open defending champion
„If you look at my game on the court, it's not easy to like me, my technique is a bit strange and my style is not the most elegant, but that's because I want to win. However, I feel that when I communicate with the fans, I can be like I am in everyday life, and then they start to like me. In New York, I have a special relationship with the audience. I don't know what's going to happen this year, but whatever it is, I'm happy to be here and experience it.”

This year, Djokovic will certainly not be able to march on and win his 22nd GS trophy (he collected his 21st at Wimbledon in July), and he will not be able to compete in New York because he has not been vaccinated against the coronavirus. Raducanu, however, will be there but has very little chance of defending her title and could be beaten in the first round by France's Alizé Cornet.

Medvedev, the men's winner in 2021, is one of those who should be there in the final. Though mathematically the 26-year-old world number 1 player, who was forced to miss Wimbledon because of the organizers' sanctions against Russian players, could be dethroned by four tennis players, there is hardly a more effective player on hard court. He was a finalist at the last two Australian Opens, reached the finals and semifinals, and won trophies at the US Opens. His form hasn't been bad either. He won in Los Cabos, and although Nick Kyrgios unexpectedly knocked him out in Montreal, he reached the semifinals in Cincinnati. Now he could fight back in the fourth round against Kyrgios, who should also be added to the list of players we can imagine making the top. Not only did the sport's daredevil march to the final of the grass-court Grand Slam, but he then won in Washington, reached the quarterfinals in Montreal, but was quickly and easily knocked out in „Cinci” by the Americans' best hope, Taylor Fritz. By the whim of the draw, Kyrgios will face his best friend and doubles partner Thanasi Kokkinakis in the first round in New York which is going to be a special encounter.

This year, Spain's Rafael Nadal, who is now the only player to hold a record 22 Grand Slam trophies, added to his miraculous Australian Open win a Roland Garros victory. However, unfortunately, he was unable to play his Wimbledon semifinal against Kyrgios due to an abdominal injury, although he could have been a great threat to Djokovic in the final. In Cincinnati, he lost his first match against the later tournament winner Borna Ćorić of Croatia, but you can never write off Nadal. While his relatively early exit would not be a sensation, we would rather bet on his unsurpassed playing ability and talent to take him to the top again, especially as the field includes neither Djokovic nor Germany's Alexander Zverev.

There are also other great players who've not won major tournaments, and with a lucky alignment of stars, they could play tricks on the above-mentioned three. Greece's Stefanos Tsitsipas is capable of excellent performance on a hard surface and warming up for the final with a Cincinnati final. Poland's Hubert Hurkacz won in Miami last year and played in the final in Montreal this year but has never reached the third round of a hard-court Grand Slam - he could break this in the United States. The Italian Matteo Berrettini's style and best hits are a perfect match for the US Open surface, but in many ways, it has been a bad year for the Wimbledon finalist, who lost both of his hard-court matches this summer. The 19-year-old Carlos Alcaraz was a quarterfinalist at the US Open last year, and as there are signs that he is not yet mentally able to cope with the special atmosphere of a big tournament, we are not going to risk putting him among the favorites this time. We are delighted to have two former GS champions, Austria's Dominic Thiem and Britain's Andy Murray, on the 128-man draw, but they are certainly not adding anything to their home showcases.

Serena Williams (Photo: Getty Images)

In the women's singles, 23-time Grand Slam winner and home favorite Serena Williams will be competing in what is likely to be the last tournament of her career. She will probably survive the first round against Montenegro's Danka Kovinić, despite having lost five of her last six matches, but world number 2 Anett Kontaveit of Estonia will be a tough opponent in the second round. Of course, it would be a very nice Hollywood story if the younger Williams sister were to catch up with Margaret Court, the 24-time Grand Slam winner, at the end of her career, but it would require a huge imagination to envision that.

It's not even easy to guess who will win the final because we could list dozens of players among the ladies. Before Roland Garros, it seemed clear that Iga Swiatek was the best and would be hard to beat - and no one could in Paris. At Wimbledon, the Polish star still looked the most likely to win, but she has only survived two rounds and now she is "only" one of those who could reach the very end of the second week.

Whether it will help you navigate or lead you astray, we don't know, but in any case, Romania's Simona Halep won the first of the two 1000-point key tournaments leading up to the event in Toronto. And after her semifinal at Wimbledon, she could easily be in the last four again. The winner in Cincinnati was France's Caroline Garcia, who has won on three different surfaces in the last three months, but it is hard to see her moving forward at a major. At 28, she has only one quarterfinal appearance at Roland Garros and nothing else...

Simona Halep (Photo: Reuters)

Other than Halep and perhaps Arina Sabalenka of Belarus, there is no real character and personality in the top ten of the world rankings that could make a big splash - Spain's Garbine Muguruza could be one because of her past, but her present shows she lacks that striking effect.

In the singles main draw, there are three Hungarians to cheer for, with Márton Fucsovics in the men's singles and Anna Bondár and Dalma Gálfi in the women's singles.

Miklós Jancsó, Márton Fucsovics's coach

– How is Márton Fucsovics's preparation going just before the US Open?
– After a six-week break, he will certainly need time to recover. We were able to train at home for two weeks, then we arrived in the United States - it is visible that he had a break, the traces of the break are still there. The next day after Winston-Salem we came to New York, the venue of the US Open, where we tried to play a lot of tennis and did a lot of fitness. He's fully recovered from his minor injury, and I think he's mentally fresher and more motivated than before.

Miklós Jancsó

– To what extent has it set him back that he slipped back to the nineties in the world rankings?
– He's been through it several times in his career, he's experienced, he knows it's difficult to stay around or within the 50th place for a long time. He's in the top 100, and the priority is to stabilize himself by the end of the year – if he can get back to around the seventieth position, I'll be happy.

– How is he preparing for his first opponent?
– We know Cressy's game well, we've trained with him, Marci lost to him in Madrid in the second round of qualifying for this year's ATP Masters. He's a serve-and-volley guy who tries to come close to the net a lot. We know what his strengths and weaknesses are, and we try to adapt our training to make Marci as sharp and quick as possible in his reactions.

– Márton Fucsovics hasn't been in a very good position lately, what will it take for him to get over that now?
– The US Open is just a tournament, but of course, it's very important because it's a Grand Slam. However, the main goal now is to get back into playing intensive training sessions and matches every day, being at the tournaments, and playing as many matches as possible. We want to keep him motivated, and we are confident that he will get some good results again sooner or later.

Translated by Vanda Orosz.