If the men's game is a study in relentless top-heaviness, the women's game is a demonstration of relentless parity. Seven different players have won the last seven majors. Five recent No. 1 players have won one or zero majors. But if there's an unfamiliar champ in New York, it will mean that Serena Williams won't win. Which is difficult to envision right now.
Top 26 Seeds
1. Victoria Azarenka: Not unlike Djokovic, she won Australia, retreated a bit, and now has a chance to solidify an up-and-down season. Even for someone who bathes in self-confidence (self-love?), she has to be a bit shaken by her Olympic obliteration at the hands of Williams the Conqueror. She's only been to the fourth round of the U.S. Open, too. Plus, she withdrew from both Montreal and Cincy so not a lot of hardcourt match play coming in.
2. Agnieszka Radwanska: Strange summer for A-Rad. She reaches the Wimbledon final -- and pushed Serena Williams to a third set. Then loses in round one of the Olympics and continues struggling on hard courts. You can't help but admire her nuanced, cerebral tennis. But the absence of high-powered weapons is problematic.
3. Maria Sharapova: French Open champion has won in New York before. But only one trip to middle weekend since her 2006 title run. And, of course, there's that S. Williams character to contend with. Or not. Fueled by "Sugarpova" you never know. But hard to see her winning.
4. Serena Williams: Odds on favorite. Against the field. It will take either a considerable upset or a considerable meltdown (which of course, we have seen from her at his event) for Serena not to win. For most of the summer, she was simply playing a different sport from her colleagues.
5. Petra Kvitova: Such a confounding player. Both macro and micro. All the talent in the world, but no telling when she whips it out and when she suppresses it. Lost in first round last year. Other times she looks like a world beater on hardcourts. Always a player to watch but needs to become a champion.
6. Angelique Kerber: Let's pause for a moment and note that a year ago, she was barely in the top 100. Made a surprise run to U.S. Open semis and -- to her total credit -- hasn't stopped winning since. Squarely in the top ten, she beat Serena last week. Though I like Venus to beat Kerber in New York, she's one of the better stories in tennis.
7. Samantha Stosur: On the plus side, she's the defending champion. On the not-so-plus side, she's done little since, including taking early losses at Wimbledon and the London Games.
8. Caroline Wozniacki: Unlikely to replicate her boyfriend's feat earlier this month and win a major. For a variety of reasons, it would be nice to see her do well. Unlike many of you, I'm not so offended by her scheduling. But the over-reliance on defensive tennis makes it hard for her to win big.
9. Li Na: The ultimate wild card, an exponent of WTA unpredictability. Since winning the 2011 French Open, her results have been largely blah. But, at least in small bursts (i.e. the last few weeks), she's still capable of doing a fine impression of a top player.
10. Sara Errani: All credit to the modestly-sized (and modestly-gamed) Italian for reaching the French Open final. But she's done little since. Two losses to Venus Williams and getting the business end of a golden set -- not the ideal summer preparation.
11. Marion Bartoli: A quirky, fun-to-watch player and she can play on hardcourts. But for whatever reason, the results at the U.S. Open have been unremarkable. Starts off against American Jamie Hampton.
12. Ana Ivanovic: Sadly, her "comeback" seems to have settled into a reality: She is a fine player (and thoroughly likable figure) stuck in the 10-15 range, whose days of contending for majors are no longer.
13. Dominika Cibulkova: Undersized Slovak has oversized heart. But lack of power always seem to catch up to her.
14. Maria Kirilenko: Russian possesses a laudably imaginative all-court game and had success last year in New York. Looked terrific at the Olympics in reaching the semis. If nothing else, she'll bring some Oveckin-vision to New York.
15. Lucie Safarova: Streaky Czech starts out against Melanie Oudin.
16. Sabine Lisicki: Hard-serving German has plenty of power. Still needs to take that next step.
21: Christina McHale: Young American has soft draw and thus a real shot at Week Two.
22. Fracesca Schaivone: Could this be her final major?
23. Kim Clijsters: In her final event, the Belgian -- and multiple U.S. Open winner, let's not forget -- has a chance to go out in style. Weirdly and unbelievably, she has a 21-match winning streak at the U.S. Open, dating to 2004.
26. Monica Niculescu: Romanian might be the best player you've never heard of.
30, Jelena Jankovic: The wheels have really come off this train. But she is a former finalist and showed signs of life last week in Dallas.
Dark Horse Stable:
Daniela Hantuchova: Former top five player's best days are behind but she can still win on a given day.
Andrea Petkovic: Regardless of the state of her game, nice to have her back.
Petra Martic: Croatian is athletic and has a fun, all-court game.
Tsvetana Pironkova: A marginal player who goes big-time at Wimbledon.
Sloane Stephens: The train is moving in the right direction.
Venus Williams: After a brutal French and Wimbledon -- where she was clearly a shell of herself physically on account of the autoimmune issue -- suddenly playing inspired tennis.
Mona Barthel: Repeatedly given top players runs for their money.
Yaroslava Shvedova: Good Big Event player.
Martic def. Stosur; Venus def. Kerber in round two.
First round matches to watch
Nicole Gibbs v. Alize Cornet: Good (and winnable) test for recent Stanford standout.
Li Na v. Heather Watson: If Chinese veteran is having one of her walkabout days, look out.
Lisa Raymond and Liezel Huber
Top half: Azarenka def. Sharapova
Bottom half: Serena def. random (Shvedova?)
Winner: Serena Williams