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If Wimbledon preserves tennis’ past, the US Open can lay claim to framing the sport’s future.

Since it moved to Flushing Meadows in 1978, the final Grand Slam of the season has aimed to be first in many important metrics. The US Open was the first major to offer equal prize money and incorporate electronic line-calling. It has tinkered with on-court coaching, allowing qualifiers and juniors to consult with their teams during changeovers, and is continually revamping its grounds. It was, most poignantly, the first big event to go on after COVID-19 shut down all sports.

On the court, the hard-court major simply known as “the Open” is equally forward-facing. Both Venus and Serena Williams made their breakthroughs in New York—for Serena, it was the first of her record-breaking 23 Grand Slam singles titles. Its enthusiastic crowds doubled as a late-night audience for a young Novak Djokovic, who impersonated the game’s greats long before becoming one. Naomi Osaka, Bianca Andreescu and Dominic Thiem all captured maiden major titles in Queens, and more appear on the menu for such an explosive trio.

Naomi Osaka returns to New York in the hopes of both defending her title and winning a third US Open.

Naomi Osaka returns to New York in the hopes of both defending her title and winning a third US Open.

The US Open rewards stamina and a capacity to withstand sensory overload; obstacles range from tricky opponents to city traffic. A fortnight in New York famously broke Bjorn Borg after a 1981 defeat to rival John McEnroe. More recently, Simona Halep’s own notorious aversion to both hustle and bustle have made the Open a challenge for even this great champion.

Even at its most silent last summer, the tournament could not be contained; Osaka and Thiem’s booming games echoed across the grounds, their relentless syncopation giving hope to those watching at home. Physical and mental struggles have beset both of last year’s champions in the months since their stirring victories, allowing opportunities for a fast-encroaching field to take the trophy for themselves.

Might Serena capture her elusive 24th singles major in New York? Will Djokovic culminate an already historic year by surpassing Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal’s Grand Slam totals—and complete a calendar-year Slam in the process?

No Grand Slam is for the faint of heart, but with the end of a long season in sight, it takes something extra special to cut through the noise and succeed at the US Open. After all, the future of the sport is on the line.