Tennis in 2015 has been dominated by Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic, but their success at the U.S. Open could hardly be more different. While neither has lost before the semifinals in close to a decade, Williams has lifted the trophy each of the last three years (as part of six titles overall), a time span over which Djokovic hasn’t added to his lone victory from 2011. Just as their record in Flushing Meadows differs, so does the fortune they received in their respective draws:
As a result of Roger Federer winning the Masters 1000 event in Cincinnati, Andy Murray’s bid to be seeded second in New York was halted. That resulted in a 50/50 chance of Murray falling in Djokovic’s half of the bracket. That threat was averted, as Murray ended up in Federer’s half (rendering the battle for #2 essentially moot for the time being). Not only will Djokovic avoid Murray until the final, he also won’t face the only man to vanquish him at a Grand Slam this year, as French Open champion Stan Wawrinka landed in Murray’s quarter.
Regardless of Rafael Nadal’s 2015 form, Djokovic can’t love the prospect of facing the King of Clay in the quarters, but other than that, there’s hardly anything resembling a threat for the world No. 1 prior to the final.
The 2012 U.S. Open champion benefits as well from avoiding his rival’s half of the draw. Though Murray’s draw looks tough with the blockbuster first round(!) matchup against controversial Nick Kyrgios and Wawrinka in the quarters, he won’t have trouble reaching that latter match, and despite having gone 2.5 years since defeating Federer, due to the best-of-five format, the Scot would be the favorite should they clash in the semis.
The erratic Serbian has a dream path, with her projected seeds en route to the semifinals being Genie Bouchard (having one of the most perplexing collapses in recent sports history), Carla Suarez Navarro (in a tailspin after a great first half of 2015) and an injured Maria Sharapova. Ivanovic is also the only woman to beat Serena at a hardcourt major in the last two years. Actually, forget all of that: based on her career, this wide open draw probably means she’ll lose in the first round to Dominika Cibulkova.
It’s hard to say any draw is that difficult for Williams, because if she’s in form, the draw is irrelevant. With that said, she could face a Sloane Stephens/Madison Keys/Belinda Bencic stretch in the middle rounds. Stephens has gotten her career arc back on track and has pushed Williams hard this year, Keys is one of the few players who hits hard enough to completely control a match, and at just 18 years old, Bencic, likely the next great tennis superstar, used her mental toughness and shot variety to shock Williams in Toronto this month.
Sharapova could serve as a relaxing opponent in the semifinals, but if Serena’s not physically right (and she’s been dealing with a bad elbow), Simona Halep’s efforts in the Cincinnati final (as well as a contentious and compelling, if poorly-played, thriller in Miami) showed she is capable of taking advantage should they meet for the championship.
Same situation as Serena. It’s not that Philipp Kohlschreiber (potential third round) or John Isner/Ivo Karlovic (fourth round possibilities) are huge threats to Federer, it’s that they are threatening enough to tax the 34 year old both mentally and physically before running into Tomas Berdych (who’s beaten him in New York before), Murray (or Wawrinka) and Djokovic.
Victoria Azarenka and Angelique Kerber
These two have been getting rough draws all season (Azarenka’s are largely her own fault, as she hasn’t really picked up her ranking since recovering from injury) and are predictably slated to play in the third round. Kerber has dominated medium-level tournaments in 2015, but has just one quarterfinal in her last 12 majors, and though it represents a chance for Azarenka to salvage a strong result in a second lost season, a resurgent Halep could be waiting in the quarterfinals.