Djokovic faces Müller on US Open return while Gauff could lie in wait for Swiatek | US Open tennis

Novak Djokovic will mark his return to the US Open by facing Alexandre Müller, a Frenchman ranked No 85 in the world, in the first round. After his incredible three-set win over Carlos Alcaraz to land the Cincinnati Masters 1000 title last week moved him closer to regaining the top ranking, a first-round victory for Djokovic would ensure that he will leapfrog Alcaraz in the ATP rankings and celebrate a record-extending 390th week at No 1 after the US Open.

The women’s draw will also be headed by a battle for the No 1 ranking, but this contest promises to be far more competitive. Iga Swiatek, the women’s world No 1 and defending champion, will look to hold off Aryna Sabalenka, who has spent this year desperately trying to chase the Pole down. In order to maintain her ranking, Swiatek must outperform Sabalenka in New York. Should they both lose at the same stage, Sabalenka would ascend to the No 1 ranking for the first time.

The ATP’s race for No 1 is likely to be defined by their contrasting fortunes last year. Only 20 points separate Alcaraz and Djokovic in the ATP rankings but while Djokovic is defending zero points after not being allowed to enter the United States last year due to his refusal to take a Covid vaccine, Alcaraz is the defending champion so he can only defend the 2,000 points he earned last year.

Alcaraz will begin his title defence against Dominik Koepfer of Germany, with the Spaniard projected to meet two British players in his section. Dan Evans, the 26th seed, faces Daniel Elahi Galán in the opening round with a potential third-round match against Alcaraz looming. Cameron Norrie, the 16th seed, begins against Alexander Shevchenko and could face Alcaraz in the fourth round.

Elsewhere, Andy Murray will face Corentin Moutet of France, with a possible second-round match against Grigor Dimitrov, the 19th seed. After narrowly missing out on being seeded, Murray has been handed a complicated draw. Should he make it past Dimitrov, who he was practising with on Thursday afternoon as the draw was released, he could face Alexander Zverev, the 12th seed, in the third round. Britain’s Jack Draper, on the comeback trail after a season disrupted by injuries, will face Radu Albot of Moldova.

In the women’s draw, Swiatek will begin her title defence against Rebecca Peterson of Sweden. The highest seeds in her half include Coco Gauff, the sixth seed who finally pulled off her first win over Swiatek en route to her maiden WTA 1000 title in Cincinnati last week, and Elena Rybakina, the fourth seed, whose brilliant start to the season has been tempered by illness and injuries.

Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark during practice ahead of the US Open at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center
Caroline Wozniacki returns to grand slam action at Flushing Meadows after coming out of retirement. Photograph: Robert Prange/Getty Images

Elsewhere, Caroline Wozniacki will face a qualifier in her first-round match as she returns to grand slam competition after coming out of retirement. Wozniacki, who has compiled a 1-2 record so far in her return, could face a second-round match against her old rival Petra Kvitova.

The US Open will also feature two British women competing as direct entrants, with Katie Boulter starting against Diane Parry of France while Jodie Burrage faces Anna Blinkova with the winner facing a potential second-round match against Sabalenka.

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In the bottom half, the fifth-seeded Ons Jabeur will renew her fight for a first grand slam title after losing her third major final, at Wimbledon in July. A potential rematch between Jabeur and Sabalenka could await in the quarter-finals. The Wimbledon champion, Marketa Vondrousova, has been handed a decent draw, landing in the same quarter as Jessica Pegula, the third seed, and seeded to meet the out-of-form seventh seed, Caroline Garcia, in the fourth round.

Meanwhile, the ATP has announced that the ATP Next Gen Finals will be held in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia later this year. While lucrative, independent exhibition tournaments have already been held in the country, the Next Gen finals marks the first official sanctioned tennis tournament in Saudi Arabia. The host nation for the WTA Finals will also be voted for by the WTA board during the US Open, with a lucrative bid from Saudi Arabia among the options.