US Open 2022 men's preview: With Novak Djokovic out, who will claim the title?

The US Open, the final Grand Slam of the year, will decide who will sit at the top of the ATP rankings as the season comes to a close. And according to the ATP, Rafael Nadal, Daniil Medvedev, Carlos Alcaraz, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Casper Ruud will all have a chance to claim that No. 1 spot at Flushing Meadows.

Last year's US Open ranking points will be removed from players' totals Monday. With two Grand Slam wins under his belt in 2022, Nadal will take over the top spot for the first time in over two years. But Medvedev will be just 745 points behind him at No. 3. (No. 2 Alexander Zverev will not be competing at the US Open. More on that below.) Ruud, Tsitsipas, and Alcaraz are close behind Medvedev, but won't have a chance to take No. 1 unless they reach the finals, according to the ATP.

This is going to make for incredibly entertaining tennis, especially depending on how the draw is set up. Those five players are seeded in the top 5 at the US Open, so it's likely they won't have to face a highly ranked player for at least a few rounds. If they make it past the third round, they'll eventually have to play each other. With so much on the line, this is the kind of tennis you wait an entire year to see.

Who won't be at the 2022 US Open?

Novak Djokovic

Djokovic, who has fallen to No. 6 in the ATP rankings, will not be at the US Open. Djokovic is unvaccinated against COVID-19 by choice, and while the US Open doesn't require players to be vaccinated, the US government does — at least for citizens of other countries entering the US. Until he decides to get vaccinated or the US drops that requirement, he won't be able to play in the US. Djokovic waited until Thursday to officially withdraw from the tournament. It's possible he was hoping there would be a last-minute reprieve that allowed him to play, but that never came.

Alexander Zverev

It looked like Zverev might have had a shot to play in Flushing after painfully injuring his ankle at the French Open during a match against Rafael Nadal, but it's not to be. He's withdrawn from every tournament he's tried to play since then, and the US Open was no different. Here's hoping he'll be back in time for the Australian Open.

Players to watch at the 2022 US Open

Daniil Medvedev

Medvedev is back and ready to defend his 2021 US Open title. After being forced to sit out Wimbledon due to the All England Club's ban on Russian players, he's set to compete in the final Grand Slam of the year. After losing in the fourth round at Roland Garros in June, he bounced back to make the final at the Libema Open and the Halle Open in June, and in early August he won the Los Cabos Open, his first title of the year. Medvedev's Wimbledon absence hasn't seemed to slow him down much. He beat Djokovic to win last year's US Open, and with Djokovic out of this year's, one of his major obstacles is already gone.

Rafael Nadal

It's impossible to count Nadal out of any Grand Slam. He won the first two of the year, later revealing that he won the French Open while his foot was entirely numb due to injections to treat a rare degenerate foot condition that's affected him since his early days in tennis. He's played just twice since then, at Wimbledon (where he withdrew before the semifinals with an abdominal injury) and the Cincinnati Masters (where he lost in the first round). He's wisely rested since Wimbledon, and that loss in Cincy, while his earliest in six years, was probably nothing. Probably. He's 36 and everyone is still waiting for his injuries to consistently get the better of him, but we've seen him do amazing things. Like win the first two Grand Slams of 2022 after sitting out the last chunk of 2021 due to surgery. He hasn't been at the US Open since 2019, but he won it all that year. You can never count him out.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 06: Rafael Nadal of Spain plays against Taylor Fritz (not seen) of The United States during their Men's Singles Quarter Final match on day ten of The Championships Wimbledon 2022 at All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on July 06, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Stringer/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
The last time Rafael Nadal was at the US Open, he won it all. That was in 2019. Can he do it again? (Photo by Stringer/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images) (Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Nick Kyrgios

This is Kyrgios' time. Ranked 137th in the world in February, he's jumped 100 spots and now sits at 37. And Kyrgios has (mostly) himself to thank for that. After crashing out at the Aussie Open in January, Kyrgios began playing some of the best tennis of his life. He's made two finals this year, winning one (the seventh title of his career), and scored career-best finishes in several others. He'd be ranked even higher if points had been given out at Wimbledon, where he advanced past an injured Nadal to play and lose to champion Novak Djokovic in the final. But that doesn't matter if he keeps playing tennis like this. He's coming in strong at the US Open, and the men's field should watch out.

Taylor Fritz

Fritz took a big step at Wimbledon, making it all the way to the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam for the first time in his career. He was eliminated after an epic match against Nadal, who then withdrew with an abdominal injury. He played so well in that match that some thought he should replace Nadal, but Fritz probably wants to win it for real. He'll get another chance to do it in Flushing Meadows. He's the highest-ranked American man on the tour, and has a chance to end the Grand Slam final drought for the US men.

Carlos Alcaraz

By the end of the US Open, Alcaraz could be the youngest ATP No. 1 in history. He'll have to make it all the way to the finals to do it, which is something he's never done at a Grand Slam. Even if he can't do it now, he still has plenty of time to break that record. The 19-year-old will continue to be younger than current record-holder Lleyton Hewitt was when he made No. 1 (20 years and 8 months) for over a year. Considering that he's won four tournaments this season (all before Roland Garros), it may be hard to stop him from breaking it.

MASON, OHIO - AUGUST 19: Carlos Alcaraz of Spain reacts after winning a point during his match against Cameron Norrie of Great Britain on day seven of the Western & Southern Open at Lindner Family Tennis Center on August 19, 2022 in Mason, Ohio. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
Can Carlos Alcaraz end his amazing season with his first Grand Slam win at the US Open? (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) (Dylan Buell via Getty Images)

Stefanos Tsitsipas

The last time most people saw Tsitsipas, he was literally fighting with Kyrgios on his way to a third-round loss at Wimbledon. But he's picked himself up since then, and is going into the US Open just after making a run to the finals in Cincinnati. He's yet to capture a Grand Slam title in his career, and the US Open is his worst of the four. He's yet to make it past the third round, so his chances to rise to No. 1 in the world are dim, but a deep run could get him close.

Casper Ruud

Ruud is playing the best tennis of his life this year. He made his first-ever Grand Slam finals appearance at Roland Garros, which marked his best Grand Slam result by far. Before that, the farthest he'd made it at any Grand Slam was the fourth round at the Australian Open. He's also improved on the ATP Tour, with several semifinal finishes, one finals appearance, and wins in Geneva and Gstaad. His lone match in Cincinnati last week didn't go to plan — he lost in the second round to 19-year-old wild-card Ben Shelton in straight sets — but his overall level of play this year means he absolutely has a chance to go far in Flushing Meadows.

Ben Shelton

Shelton, a 19-year-old American, is ranked 171st in the world. He made his Tour debut just this summer. But he's worth watching, because he could be the new young star of American men's tennis. As a sophomore at Florida earlier this year, he won the 2022 college singles championship, then concentrated on the ATP Challenger Tour, where he's done well. But his real coming out was at the Cincinnati Masters last week. It was his first ATP 1000 tournament, and he beat world No. 7 Casper Ruud, the French Open finalist, to make it to the third round. He then lost to Cam Norrie, but his potential is obvious. He's forgoing his last two years of eligibility at Florida to accept a wild-card spot at the US Open and officially turn pro, and while he hasn't had a ton of experience against players at this level, we've seen wild-cards go far in the past. He could be next.