New York - Rafa Nadal’s timely recovery from injury to return to the US Open for the first time since winning the 2019 title is a big boost to the men’s draw which has been depleted by the absence of Novak Djokovic and Alexander Zverev.

Nadal returned to the tour only last week at the Cincinnati Open, having not played a competitive match since pulling out of his Wimbledon semi-final against Nick Kyrgios due to an abdominal injury in early July. His comeback was marked by a defeat to Borna Coric at the Masters 1000 event but more importantly for the Spaniard he did not seem hampered by the injury.

Flushing Meadows has been a happy hunting ground for the left-hander, who won the hardcourt major four times before he skipped the 2020 tournament due to the COVID-19 pandemic and missed last year’s edition due to injury. “I need to move forward and just start to think about the energy that the crowd gives me in New York,” said Nadal. Dominic Thiem will also return to Flushing Meadows after his absence last year due to injury.

MIGHTY MEDVEDEV

Without a clear favourite in the men’s draw, Nadal’s biggest threat is expected to come from reigning champion and world No 1 Daniil Medvedev. The Russian went down in five sets in the 2019 final to Nadal and has also finished runner-up on the hardcourts of the Australian Open in the last two editions.

The rangy Russian has won 14 singles titles in his career -- all but one on hardcourts, including his only major when he denied Djokovic the calendar Grand Slam last year at Flushing Meadows. The 26-year-old was forced to miss Wimbledon due to the ban on Russian players and stepped up his preparations for the year’s final major with a title in Los Cabos, Mexico and a semi-final defeat by Stefanos Tsitsipas in Cincinnati.

Sandwiched between the two events came an opening defeat at the Canadian Masters for Medvedev against temperamental Australian Nick Kyrgios -- one of the Tour’s red-hot players on current form. In-form Kyrgios finished runner-up at Wimbledon, won the Washington title and reached the quarterfinals in Montreal.

Kyrgios has confirmed that the US Open will be his final event of the season before he heads back home and the 27-year-old will have to harness the last bit of his motivation and energy to go deep in New York. Another player headed to Flushing Meadows bubbling with confidence will be Croatia’s Coric while world No 4 Carlos Alcaraz, 19, will lead the charge of the young brigade with pundits confident it is just a matter of time before the supremely athletic Spaniard wins his first major.

MISSING DJOKOVIC

Djokovic, who has won the US Open title three times, will be the biggest name missing from the party at the Big Apple due to his decision to stay unvaccinated against COVID-19. The Serbian was unable to defend his Australian Open crown after being deported from the country in January over his vaccination status.

Djokovic will not be able to enter the United States either due to restrictions for unvaccinated travellers. Almost 50,000 people have signed an online petition calling for the United States Tennis Association (USTA) to work with the US government to allow Djokovic to compete.

Other top names missing will be 20-times major winner Roger Federer, who has not played since the 2021 Wimbledon tournament due to knee issues, and world number two and 2020 runner-up Zverev, who is recuperating after his French Open injury.