If the 2023 US Open is to sparkle, someone will need to provide the source of light that Serena Williams did 12 months ago.
Her three-night run at the Flushing Meadows was as star-studded as it was dramatic, and each evening the New York organisers pulled ever lever they had in order to turn Arthur Ashe into her stage for the last time.
Pregnant with her second child, there will be no Serena in a playing capacity and the weight of expectation will instead fall on someone else – and most seem to think it will be Coco Gauff.
Since she beat Serena’s sister Venus at Wimbledon aged just 15, Gauff has had her fair share of expectation, but for the first time in her career, she arrives in New York ready to live up to it.
“I think she’s ready to [receive] the torch but also I think she realises that there’s some big shoes to fill,” says four-time US Open champion Martina Navratilova.
“So I’m not sure that Coco would be thinking so much on a macro level. American women’s tennis has been in great shape.
“Let’s not forget Sloane Stephens winning the US Open and Madison Keys being in the final against each other.
“But the spotlight will be on Coco, even though there are plenty of American players that are capable of making some big waves, including Sloane, and Madison, and Danielle Collins, as well. So I don’t think she should be thinking about that that much.
“Jessica Pegula being the top ranked American, she’s got a good shot. She had a good summer as well. So I think Jessie and Coco will be supporting each other and maybe riding those waves. And Coco will be feeling it more. The passing of the torch is would be symbolically obviously going to Coco from Serena.”
Gauff has also had a good summer, winning titles in Washington and Cincinnati, and en route to victory in the latter ended her seven-match losing streak against world No 1 Iga Swiatek.
The 19-year-old is now the 7-1 fourth-favourite to win her home grand slam, but Navratilova rates her chances even higher.
“She’s gonna be along with [top two seeds Aryna] Sabalenka and Swiatek. For me, she’s the number three favourite to win the tournament,” Navratilova added.
“And with her confidence, maybe even slightly better than that, with the crowd behind her, I think it’s gonna be crazy.”
She will have the honour of opening the first night session on Monday against Germany’s Laura Siegmund with the wind firmly in her sails.
One of the sources of that form appears to be bringing in Brad Gilbert, the coach who previously worked with Andre Agassi, Andy Murray and Andy Roddick among others.
“Brad was a very smart player,” Navratilova explains of a man who reached a career high of No 4.
“He didn’t have that many weapons, and he was able to hide his weaknesses. So I think what he’s done with her is say, look, ‘Okay, the forehand is not as good as the backhand, everybody knows it but this is how we get around it and this is how we make it better.’
“She is such a great athlete, I would probably be telling her to get to the network because she’s very imposing there, and [she needs to] work on the technique on the volleys to get that little bit better.
“I think anybody that’s been there before will be helpful for a player, and he never won anything but he was top 10. And he did more with his game than most other players would have done if they had his game. So he’s a great addition.”
The US Open returns exclusively to Sky Sports and NOW with access to all court feeds from 28 August