This year’s US Open gets underway at the end of the month, and it marks the first major tournament since the sport was shut down as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Marking the 140th edition of the hard-court competition, there should be an excitement surrounding the US Open, with the sport making a return after the tour calendar was thrown all askew – but sadly instead, the news that floods in, is that of withdrawals.

Rafael Nadal is the latest name missing from the men’s singles, as he refuses to travel. He joins a long list of absentees, which also includes Stan Wawrinka, Nick Kyrgios, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Roger Federer, who misses through injury. It’s a similar story in the women’s game. World number 1 Ash Barty, Elina Svitolina, Kiki Bertens, and Svetlana Kuznetsova have all said they won’t compete – while Simona Halep is yet to make her mind up. It’s less than three weeks away, but in the coming days, there’s no doubt that these lists will continue to grow – making it more and more difficult to predict the winner if you’re betting on tennis.

However, the competition was given a boost when Serb Novak Djokovic – who contracted the deadly virus after leading the Adria Tour across Serbia and Croatia – announced he will be playing at Flushing Meadows. Since self-isolating, Nole has been practicing in Marbella, ahead of the Western & Southern Open (formerly the Cincinnati Masters) and the US Open, with the former also held at Flushing Meadows this year.

He wrote on his website: “It was not an easy decision to make with all the obstacles and challenges on many sides, but the prospect of competing again makes me really excited.

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Nevertheless, I have trained hard with my team and got my body in shape so I am ready to adapt to new conditions. I’ve done all the check-ups to make sure I am fully recovered and I am ready to get back on court fully committed to playing my best tennis.”

The World number 1 has three US Open titles to his name and will be looking for a fourth this year, which would send his Grand Slam titles to 18 – one behind Nadal, and two behind Federer. With his two biggest rivals and so many big names out of the tournament already, he had to be confident that this is the best opportunity to win another Grand Slam.

In fact, while Djokovic has won three US Opens, he’s reached the final eight times in total – losing to Federer once and Nadal twice, and the other defeats coming against Wawrinka and Andy Murray – who is planning a shock return, after suffering numerous injuries throughout this season, as well as recent ones. Receiving a wild card earlier this month, the former world number one is currently ranked 129th and was too low in the standings to receive a direct entry.

While it’s not yet certain if he’ll prove a direct threat to Nole, the name on everyone’s lips to challenge him is Daniil Medvedev. The Russian made the final last year, losing a five-set thriller to Nadal, and expectations will be high for the world number 4 – given the withdrawals so far. But it’s too early to make predictions, and it all depends on the physical and mental shape of the players ahead of the tournament. For Djokovic though, chances like this don’t come around often and if he wants to add to his tally of Grand Slam titles – and even overthrow the Swiss Maestro from the top of the leaderboard – he will need to be at the top of his game at Flushing Meadows.

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