US Open 2022 women's preview: Serena Williams' time is ending, and a new era is already here

The main storyline of women's tennis over the past year or so has been the wide open field. Any tournament at any time could be won by any player. We've had a lot of first-timers in the quarterfinals, semifinals, finals and at the top of the podium over the last year-plus. That's why Iga Swiatek's winning streak earlier this season swept everyone off their feet. For the first time in a while, there was a single storyline and a single player that everyone watched and everyone trusted.

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It felt like a throwback to a different time, to Serena Williams' days as the most dominant player in women's tennis. With Williams gracefully ending her singularly dazzling career at the US Open, it's likely we'll never see someone like her ever again, or experience the phenomenon she created and inspired. There might never be another player fans trust that much, not just to win but to give them a show that's always, always worth watching. It felt like a throwback because it was.

Those days are over, and while there may never be another player who can captivate the world like she did, there are so many exciting players who have started to shine. Swiatek has been unbeatable on clay. Coco Gauff has started to come into her own. Jessica Pegula is having the best year of her career so far. The same goes for Elena Rybakina, who won Wimbledon. Simona Halep is surging. Ons Jabeur is making history. It's a new era in women's tennis, and the post-Serena period has already started.

Players to watch at the 2022 US Open

Serena Williams

The US Open will be Williams' swan song as she says a final goodbye to her dominant, barrier-breaking career, and bids farewell to the sport she changed forever. Williams has openly admitted that she doesn't expect to win in New York, but she wants to go out on her own terms at a tournament that has meant so much to her over the years. Despite her expectations, there's always a chance she could make it to the later rounds, because she's Serena and she's already proven there's nothing she can't do. Watch her to see if she can muster one final deep run. Watch her to see her play one last time. Watch her because she's the greatest to ever set foot on a tennis court. No matter the reason, just watch her, because we'll never get the opportunity again.

CINCINNATI, OH - AUGUST 16: Serena Williams of the United States waves to the fans after losing to Emma Raducanu of Great Britain 6-4, 6-0 during the first round of the Western & Southern Open on August 16, 2022, at the Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason, OH. (Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Serena Williams will say goodbye to tennis at the US Open. (Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Iga Swiatek

Swiatek, the world no. 1, remains a force to be reckoned with. Her absolutely astonishing run leading into Wimbledon — which included her taking the French Open crown — was something we haven't seen in decades. Her 37-match win streak was snapped at Wimbledon with a third-round exit, which was disappointing but not surprising since she struggles on grass. She's back on hard courts at the US Open, a surface she's won on three times this year. Expectations for her will remain high for quite a while owing to that unreal streak, which in reality is pretty unfair to her, but it's absolutely possible that she could make a deep run and even make it to the final.

Simona Halep

Earlier this year, Halep told her family that she thought she was "done with tennis." Now, after hiring Serena Williams' former coach Patrick Mouratoglou in April, she's on the upswing. In less than a year of working together, Halep looks like the confident, competitive player we all remember. In June she made it to the semifinals at Wimbledon, her first Grand Slam semi in two years, and her best performance at the All England Club since she won in 2019. Beating Beatriz Haddad Maia to win the Canadian Open was her 39th victory of the season, second only to Iga Swiatek. She didn't get any ranking points at Wimbledon (because nobody did), but her win in Cincy propelled her into the WTA top 10 for the first time since July 2021, which is quite a rebound from February when she was ranked 27th. She withdrew from the Cincinnati Open with a thigh issue, and it's unknown what her status is, but with Iga Swiatek looking vulnerable, this could be a chance for Halep to take the US Open trophy.

Coco Gauff

Gauff is fierce. She made it to her very first Grand Slam final at Roland Garros in June (losing to Swiatek, who is a wrecking ball on clay), which helped boost her 11th on the WTA rankings, the highest of her career (she currently sits at No. 12). She's consistent — she made it to at least the third round of every WTA 1000 tournament she's played this year — and she's also an ace doubles player, currently ranked No. 1 in the world. She had to withdraw from the Cincinnati Open with an ankle issue, but Gauff quickly posted on Twitter that it's just a mild sprain and she should be good to go for the US Open.

Simona Halep of Romania celebrates winning the women's singles final between Beatriz Haddad Maia of Brazil and Simona Halep of Romania at the 2022 National Bank Open tennis tournament in Toronto, Canada, Aug. 14, 2022. (Photo by Zou Zheng/Xinhua via Getty Images)
Simona Halep is playing her best tennis in years. Could she win her first US Open trophy? (Photo by Zou Zheng/Xinhua via Getty Images)

Jessica Pegula

It's been a big year for Pegula. She made the quarterfinals at two Grand Slams, and has had success in WTA 1000 tournaments with two semifinal finishes and one trip to a final. She's in the WTA top 10 for the first time in her career, something she, the daughter of billionaire Buffalo Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegula, has worked toward for a long time. She's never made it past the third round at the US Open, but she could set a new career-best with the way she's been playing.

Elena Rybakina

Rybakina was the surprise winner of Wimbledon after beating Ons Jabeur to secure the title. Until then, her best result at any Grand Slam was the French Open quarterfinals in 2021. It seemed like she came out of nowhere, but she's had success on the WTA 1000 this season as well. She has two quarterfinal finishes after having never made it farther than the third round. This could be a legitimate breakout season for her, but a deep run in Flushing Meadows would cement her as a contender.

Naomi Osaka

After a tumultuous 2021, Osaka just hasn't been able to get on track. She made it to the finals of the Miami Open earlier this year, but beyond that hasn't gotten past the second round in any WTA 1000 tournament. In the last month she lost in the first round at the Canadian Open and the Cincinnati Open, which isn't a good sign for her US Open chances. However, she's a two-time US Open champion. Maybe playing at Flushing Meadows will help her find her form.

Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez

Raducanu and Fernandez faced each other in the all-teenage final of the 2021 US Open. Raducanu came out on top, instantly becoming a star in her native UK. Since then, both women have had their share of struggles and successes, but Raducanu's struggles have been more public. The famously intrusive and obsessive UK tabloids won't leave her alone, turning everything into a referendum on whether or not she's good enough to be getting so much attention. Fernandez, who unexpectedly folded against Raducanu after playing so well leading up to the final, has mostly been able to stay out of the spotlight. Expectations for both will be high at Flushing Meadows.