Andy Murray will face Yoshihito Nishioka in the first round of the US Open next week, a reasonable opener for the former world No 1, but he will take nothing for granted against the 24-year-old left-hander from Japan as he embarks on his first grand slam tournament since the Australian Open in 2019.
However, British hopes – carried by six players this year – took a hit when Johanna Konta and Heather Watson were drawn to play each other in the first round. If, as expected, Konta, the eighth seed, beats Watson for the fourth time in four meetings, she will be the best British hope in the tournament.
Meanwhile, eight years after winning the first of his three majors by beating Novak Djokovic in New York, two years after losing against Fernando Verdasco on Murray’s last visit, and less than a week after beating the world No 7 Alexander Zverev in the same venue at the relocated Cincinnati Open, the former world No 1 is back where he loves to be, on the big stage.
The 33-year-old Scot this time wears a world ranking of 134, and lifting the title is a long-shot, although he will fancy his chances against Nishioka, even though he is 86 places behind him in the rankings. Murray’s dismantling of Zverev this week not only familiarised him with the conditions but gave him a considerable boost on his return to the Tour after 10 months.
He is at least not in the same half of the draw as the world No 1 Novak Djokovic. That dubious honour falls to Kyle Edmund, who could meet him in the second round, but quality players lurk in Murray’s quarter, including the exciting young Canadian 15th seed Félix Auger-Aliassime and the British No 1, Dan Evans. Evans has been in the form of his life in this weird season, and begins his run against the unseeded Brazilian Thiago Seyboth Wild, who is making his debut in the main draw of a slam.
Edmund starts against the 23-year-old world No 51 Alexander Bublik. Cam Norrie has drawn the toughest opponent of the British men, the ninth seed Diego Schwartzman.
At least the tournament is happening, albeit in front of empty stands – which was not entirely certain before the draw was made on Thursday, after Naomi Osaka was tempted back to the semi-finals of the Cincinnati tournament. The 2018 champion and fourth seed is drawn against her compatriot Misaki Doi.
But, weakened by withdrawals, this edition of the US Open will be the most unpredictable in a long while. Serena Williams, who looked so out of sorts losing against Maria Sakkari this week, at least starts gently in pursuit of a record-equalling 34th major, against her compatriot Kristie Ahn.
Coco Gauff could play Osaka in the third round. There will be no fans, but drama at nearly every turn.