Ash Barty has been given a challenging draw as she seeks to lift the US Open as the top seed – and she’ll have to be wary from the get-go as her first-round opponent is former finalist Vera Zvonareva.
Australia’s world No.1, who will start favourite to lift her third grand slam title at Flushing Meadows when the event kicks off on Monday (local time), has never played the 36-year-old Russian, who reached the final both in New York and Wimbledon in 2010.
The Muscovite mother has these days slipped to 101 in the world but as a former world No.2 who’s beaten Petra Kvitova this year still clearly demands the utmost respect from the Wimbledon champ.
The draw, made on Thursday, could mean Barty, who is in supreme form after annexing her fifth title of the year last weekend in Cincinnati, faces a second round tie against rising French star Clara Burel.
The last-32 would then potentially have her pitted against Russian Veronika Kudermetova, the No.29 seed who Barty’s already beaten comfortably this year on the Roman clay.
In the last-16, her US friend and doubles partner Jen Brady, the Australian Open finalist, is projected to await as Barty seeks to make the quarter-finals in New York for the first time.
Then the last-eight may throw up a real blockbuster with last year’s French Open champion Iga Swiatek, while Barty might have to fight past 2019 US Open winner Bianca Andreescu in the semis.
She’s seeded to meet No.2 seed Aryna Sabalenka in the final but the Belarusian might have to get past No.3 seed and reigning champ Naomi Osaka in the semi-final.
In the men’s draw, top seed Novak Djokovic, seeking the first men’s calendar year grand slam since the great Rod Laver in 1969, will start off against a qualifier but could, if all goes well, face an Aussie challenge down the road.
Australian No.1 Alex De Minaur, the 14th seed, meets American Taylor Fritz in a tough opener while Jordan Thompson has an equally demanding first round date with Italian Gianluca Mager.
But if the two Sydney friends manage to make the third round, they’ll face each other – with Djokovic doubtless awaiting in the fourth round.
Djokovic’s path could also include 2014 finalist Kei Nishikori in the third round, a Wimbledon final rematch with Matteo Berrettini in the quarters, another meeting with Zverev in the semis and a final with Daniil Medvedev.
Nick Kyrgios, who withdrew from this week’s Winston-Salem Open to protect a knee problem, will face an uphill task in his opening round tie against Spain’s No.18 seed Roberto Bautista Agut.
Yet the match of the first round looks set to be Britain’s former champ Andy Murray up against the No.3 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas.
Among other high-profile contests for Australian challengers will be wildcard Max Purcell’s first US Open main draw contest against No.13 seed, Jannik Sinner, one of the brightest talents on the ATP Tour.
The 2011 women’s singles champ Sam Stosur has not had much luck, drawing the Estonian No.28 seed Anett Kontaveit first up.