Tennis fans have been looking forward to this blockbuster between former US Open champions since the very moment the women’s main draw was unveiled on Tuesday. Four-time Grand Slam champ Naomi Osaka returns to the site of her 2018 breakthrough, where the Japanese superstar set the stage for back-to-back majors in Flushing Meadows and Melbourne. The former No. 1, now ranked No. 78, will be tested from the start against the 38th-ranked Stephens, another heavy-hitter who claimed both their previous encounters, most recently at the 2018 WTA Finals. The American is coming off her seventh career title in Guadalajara (her first in more than three years), and is playing with renewed confidence. Look for some extended baseline exchanges between two of the WTA Tour’s biggest ball-strikers.
Nick Kyrgios is still riding high after a run to the Australian Open doubles title (with countryman Thanasi Kokkinakis), but has played just two singles matches in 2022. The enigmatic 26-year-old played his way into the quarterfinals in Indian Wels in 2017, defeating Alexander Zverev and Novak Djokovic, before falling to Roger Federer. A wild card entrant this year, the world No. 132 always fills the seats, his flashy brand of tennis setting him apart from the crowd. His opening-round opponent comes in the form of exciting young Argentine Sebastian Baez, an athletic 21-year-old ranked a career-high No. 60. Earlier this year, the former No. 1-ranked junior advanced to his first ATP final in Santiago. He made his Davis Cup debut only days ago in Buenos Aires, nailing down the first point for his countryman (def. Jiri lehecka, 7-6(4), 6-3) in Argentina’s 4-0 shutout of the Czech Republic.
Like Baez (above), American Sebastian Korda — son of ’98 Australian Open champ Peter and brother to No. 2-ranked golfer Nelly — is coming off a successful Davis Cup debut. He kicked off the action in Reno with a 6-4, 1-6, 6-4 dismissal of longtime friend Nicolos Mejia, the first point in USA’s 4-0 triumph over Colombia. A runner-up at the Next Gen ATP Finals last year, Korda will face resurgent Aussie Thanasi Kokkinakis in his opener in Stadium 2, a second-round matchup with 21-time major titlist Rafael Nadal on the line. The oft-injured Kokkinakis, 25, is playing mostly pain-free tennis these days, and earlier this year captured his first ATP title, fittingly, in his hometown of Adelaide. He subsequently joined his pal Kyrgios for a title run in doubles at the Australian Open. This will be their second meeting of the season, Korda having claimed a 6-4, 6-1 win in the second round at Delray Beach.