The draw for the U.S. Open, the final major of the year, took place on Friday morning in New York, and with injuries to the top player on each tour – left wrist for Novak Djokovic, right shoulder for Serena Williams, with neither playing in Cincinnati after early losses at the Rio Olympics – this is the most wide open Grand Slam in recent memory. Throw in successful but taxing summers for their closest peers, Andy Murray and Angie Kerber, and this draw carried more importance than usual.
Here are the top 10 things to know from the draw ceremony:
Projected men’s quarterfinals
Top half: Djokovic vs Cilic/Tsonga, Nadal vs Raonic/Monfils
Bottom half: Wawrinka/Kyrgios vs Thiem/del Potro, Murray vs Nishikori
Projected women’s quarterfinals
Top half: S. Williams vs Halep/Suarez Navarro, Radwanska vs V. Williams
Bottom half: Muguruza/Konta/Puig vs Keys/Kuznetsova, Kerber/Kvitova vs Vinci/Cibulkova
Wherefore art thou Delpo?
The number one question on everyone’s mind was where Juan Martin del Potro would end up. The Rio silver medalist was granted a wild card by the USTA to a bit of debate from American Stevie Johnson, who chafed at the idea of del Potro taking a wild card from a young American (the majors typically give their wild cards to home country players, aside from the quid pro quo system of giving one to each of the other Slam-holding countries). Well, as fate would have it, del Potro and Johnson could play in round two (del Potro faces fellow Argentine Diego Schwartzman to start). More on their larger placement further down.
23 won’t come easy
Even a healthy Serena Williams can’t have liked her draw. Kate Makarova has had a tough year (as evidenced by her being unseeded) but the Russian is coming off doubles gold in Rio with Elena Vesnina and is at her best on hardcourts, with two semifinals, three quarterfinals and three round of 16 showings at the hardcourt majors since 2012. Williams also drew the toughest 5-8 seed for a potential quarterfinal in Simona Halep. Serena has only lost once apiece to them, but there were easier paths to have been gifted.
The defending champ
That title only refers to one entrant in the singles draw this year, as Flavia Pennetta is in New York merely as a spectator (and spouse). For 2015 champ Novak Djokovic, his draw isn’t easy, but it’s not fearsome either. He starts with one-time prospect Jerzy Janowicz and then likely Jiri Vesely, who beat a weary Djokovic in Monte Carlo. Projections show him facing Richard Gasquet (coming off injury and never a threat to the elite) in round four, except he’ll likely be replaced by John Isner, who should be fresh due to a very clean opening draw.
Djokovic’s path to the final could be Isner-Cilic-Nadal. A healthy Djokovic would be a heavy favorite to prevail, but a Djokovic who’s still getting wrist treatment and cancelled a session on Friday? That becomes a dicey proposition.
The King of Clay’s last three Slams exits all came early to zoning, streaky opponents (Dustin Brown, Fabio Fognini, Fernando Verdasco). Luckily for Nadal, that shouldn’t be a problem this time around. His most likely path to the quarterfinals:
Round 1, Denis Istomin: 6-19 in 2016, 1-9 on hardcourts
Round 2, Andreas Seppi: having a down year and Nadal leads head-to-head 7-1 (loss was in 2008)
Round 3: Albert Ramos: breakthrough year with 25-23 record, but just 4-8 on hardcourts
Round 4, Roberto Bautista Agut: not on-site, playing Winston-Salem final on Saturday, will have one day between that and first match in New York
Murray and Kerber
Although Kerber hasn’t won any tournaments recently, the World No. 2’s are the most in-form players at the moment. On the other hand, both showed fatigue that caught up to them in their respective Cincinnati final losses. Murray starts with everybody’s favorite player Lukas Rosol with matches against the Grigor Dimitrov/Feliciano Lopez survivor in round four and Kei Nishikori in the quarters looming, and while Kerber has a lot of name players in her section (Cornet, Errani, Kvitova, etc), she should be fine in the first week if she’s alright physically.
Men’s quarter of death
A women’s slam draw always a comically strange and loaded quarter, but this time that distinction belongs to the men. All in Stan Wawrinka’s quarter are: Wawrinka, del Potro, Johnson, Nick Kyrgios, Dominic Thiem, Sascha Zverev (somehow Thiem and Zverev always end up together), David Ferrer, Fabio Fognini, Sam Querrey, Alex Dolgopolov and Bernie Tomic. That’s a lot of…personalities. Del Potro and Kyrgios will be the trendy picks here, though it’s truly anyone’s guess.
Monica Puig rivaled del Potro as a huge story going into the draw, as the lack of ranking points for her gold medal meant she remained an unseed floater for New York. However, Sloane Stephens (right foot) withdrew hours before the draw, pushing Puig up to the 32nd and final seed. She could again face Garbine Muguruza in the third round, where she thumped the French Open champion in Rio, 6-1, 6-1.
Bird in the hand
For every great second week matchup, there’s another that got spoiled by an upset or injury. With that in mind, the most compelling matches guaranteed to happen by virtue of being in the first round:
Women: S. Williams/Makarova, Stosur/Giorgi, Safarova/Gavrilova, Halep/Flipkens, Vandeweghe/Osaka, Strycova/Niculescu, Kuznetsova/Schiavone, Putintseva/Lisicki, Kvitova/Ostapenko
Men: Isner/Tiafoe, Sock/Fritz, Monfils/Muller, Ferrer/Dolgopolov, del Potro/Schwartzman, Wawrinka/Verdasco, Lopez/Coric (if Coric healthy), Murray/Rosol