For many, 2022 was to be the year when the Big Four’s dominance of the sport finally came to an end.
It began with neither Roger Federer nor Rafael Nadal having played for months and just a week into the new year, Novak Djokovic found himself in an immigration detention centre, ultimately unable to challenge for the Australian Open.
At that point, it would have taken a brave man to suggest we’d arrive at the US Open with the first three Grand Slam titles all in the possession of that famous quartet yet that’s exactly the scenario with Nadal having remarkably won in Melbourne before adding a 14th Roland Garros crown to his collection.
A few weeks later, Djokovic won at Wimbledon but he’s not been seen on a competitive court since and he finally admitted on Thursday that he’d be unable to compete in New York, US authorities having failed to change their policy on not admitting foreign nationals who are unvaccinated against COVID-19.
Therefore the ante-post favourite hasn’t even made it to the start line, his place at the head of the market now taken by reigning champion Daniil Medvedev.
Yet the Russian world number one has won just a single title since his victory over Djokovic here in the final last year (a lowly 250-level event in Mexico) and it would take a brave man to side with such a player at odds of 23/10.
A tricky draw also faces Medvedev with another of the market leaders, Nick Kyrgios, slated to face him in the last 16. With Kyrgios having finally made a major impact at a Grand Slam tournament, reaching the final at Wimbledon, could he go one better in New York where the raucous atmosphere should be right up his street?
Form has been decent enough, he won in Washington and beat Medvedev in Montreal. However, he was also not happy with his physical condition in Canada, complaining of an abdominal strain, and that’s not a good sign heading into a best-of-five-sets tournament, one which should be more testing on the body than Wimbledon.
Carlos Alcaraz has enjoyed a better season but his stunning spring form has dipped and he arrives here without a title since victory in Madrid in early May.
The courts here are also pretty fast, certainly well above average, and that won’t aid the young Spaniard. Again, odds of 5/1 look short. So, who to back?
US Open 2022
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Of those at the top of the market, that man Nadal looks the best option at 7/2. He won here on his last visit in 2019 (he opted not to play in 2020 during the COVID pandemic and was injured last year) and that is one of four titles claimed at Flushing Meadows since 2010.
For someone much more associated with success on clay, it’s a strong record and it will surprise many that Nadal has won more US Opens than Djokovic (three).
As well as his strong tournament record, Nadal has also arguably been the best male player in 2022 – that Australian Open title was claimed during an 21-match unbeaten start to the season. He’s only lost four matches so far this year and in all four he’s been affected in some way by injury.
And that’s the concern for his backers here.
Nadal isn’t long back from the abdominal tear which forced him out of Wimbledon, a withdrawal which handed Kyrgios his spot in the final, and he admitted after losing to eventual champion Borna Coric in Cincinnati that he was unsure how much he could push himself while serving.
That said, Nadal is now two further weeks down the recovery line and, as one of the early arrivals in New York, he’s got plenty of high-quality practice under his belt, something which was top of his wishlist when he spoke to reporters in Cincinnati.
He’s also been handed a good-looking draw. With few early bumps in the road, he should be able to play himself back into form – just as he did in Australia back in January. A fully-fit Nadal will be tough to beat.
Looking further down the market, there’s a lot to like about Hubert Hurkacz’s chances.
We’ll start with the faster-than-average conditions which suit work well with the Pole’s big serve. He’s an aggressive player who will look to make the most of the Laykold surface which was first put down here in 2020.
Hurkacz won last year’s Miami Open on Laykold and he was also back in the semi-finals at that venue earlier this season.
More recently, he was hammering down the aces in Montreal where he made the final. In terms of the draw, only Alcaraz is seeded higher in the third quarter and while the likes of Marin Cilic, Jannik Sinner ad Cincinnati winner Borna Coric are all in this section too, it’s unlikely Hurkacz will be losing sleep over that lot. At 40/1, Hurkacz look worth a punt.
Finally, for those looking for a real big-priced outsider, you could do worse than back Pablo Carreno Busta at 66/1.
He’s not someone you particularly expect to shine in speedy conditions but he did make the semi-finals here in 2020 before losing to Alex Zverev. The Spaniard may still be thinking about that match given he lost it from two sets up!
It was the second time he had made the last four in New York (the other being 2017) and it’s clearly a venue he likes to play at.
This year he’ll arrive buoyed by recent title success in Montreal and while he looked far from 100% in Cincinnati, where he lost in round one, that performance can be largely put down to fatigue given it came less than 48 hours after his final in Canada.
There’s no doubt the draw isn’t ideal – ‘PCB’ is in the first quarter along with Medvedev and Kyrgios, one of whom he could meet in the last eight. However, odds of 66/1 are just too big and look worth throwing a few beans at.
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How to watch the US Open 2022?
📅 When is the US Open? / Monday 29th August 2022 from 4pm
🏟 Where is the US Open? / Flushing Meadows (New York)
📺 What TV channel is the US Open on? / Amazon Prime Video