You don’t win the U.S. Open at the pre-tournament draw, but life can be made considerably easier. And that’s what happened on Thursday for both Serena Williams and Roger Federer, who found themselves nestled just about perfectly in the brackets while their rivals were considerably less fortunate.
There is a catch, however, when the tournament at Flushing Meadows opens on Monday. For the top-seeded Serena. In order to advance into those matches against relatively easy seeds, she will first have to eliminate one of America’s top young, African-American prospects. Williams has an intriguing first-round matchup, a slugfest with 18-year-old heavyweight Taylor Townsend, who is likely too inexperienced to hang in there for long.
After that, things should get less awkward for Williams, as her path is paved with personal patsies. It is also a good thing that her sister is on the other half of the draw, creating less psychological drama.
Shuai Zhang, who has never taken more than three games off Williams in their four sets; Carla Suarez Navarro, who has never won a set against Serena in four meetings; Ana Ivanovic, who has a 1-7 head-to-head record versus Serena; Petra Kvitova, who has won one only set in five losses to Williams; and Simona Halep, who is 0-3 against Serena.
“The way my year is going, I’m worrying about every single match,” Williams insisted. Part of the agreement for her appearance at this draw was that specific pairings would not be discussed. But some matches could theoretically be more worrisome than others. Upsets along the way could lead to a match with Sam Stosur in the fourth round; or with Maria Sharapova in the final.
Williams uncharacteristically has yet to win a single Grand Slam tournament this season, though she has been virtually unbeatable this summer on hardcourts in the U.S. Open series leading up to Flushing Meadows. Because she finished first in that series, Williams would get $4 million in prize money by capturing the Open.
“For sure, you think about it,” Williams said, about finally winning her 18th Grand Slam tournament, catching Chris Evert and earning a treasure chest of prizes. “Everybody talks about it. I’ve been going for the 18th all year and it hasn’t happened. But usually the match is on my racket.”
Sharapova, who won the French Open and will challenge Williams this year for the No. 1 spot at the end of the year, was not nearly so lucky at Thursday’s draw. She was dropped into the most difficult quarter of the draw, populated by Simone Halep, Venus Williams, Caroline Wozniacki, Sabine Lisicki and the up-and-coming Spaniard, Garbine Muguruza. Just for starters, Sharapova must beat the unseeded veteran Maria Kirilenko, a fellow Russian who has beaten Sharapova in two of their last four meetings.
In a first-round battle of ageless wonders, Venus Williams, 34, will face a player nearly a decade older in Kimiko Date-Krumm, 43. Eugenie Bouchard of Canada, who has done so well at majors this year and so terribly on the hardcourt tuneups, is in the same quarter with Kvitova and the promising young American, Madison Keys.
Meanwhile, second-seeded Federer has a far better draw than the top-seeded Novak Djokovic. Djokovic likely will have to get past John Isner and either Andy Murray or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to reach the semifinals. Federer has Ivo Karlovic and Grigor Dmitrov. He is 11-1 over Karlovic and has beaten the young Dmitrov in their one and only meeting.