NEW YORK -- Pre-tournament favorites Roger Federer and Serena Williams' chances of making another U.S. Open final were bolstered on Thursday when the U.S. Open draws were released. Top seed Novak Djokovic, 2012 champion Andy Murray and French Open champion Maria Sharapova weren't so lucky.
Roger Federer: The path is paved for Federer to make his fifth consecutive final. Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga are all in the top half of the draw, leaving No. 5 David Ferrer (who Federer beat the last two weeks and has a 16-0 record against), the slumping Tomas Berdych and Grigor Dimitrov as the top seeds remaining in Federer's draw. His early rounds should be straight-forward as well. He opens against No. 77 Marinko Matosevic and then could play either Sam Groth or Albert Ramos-Vinolas. His projected third round match would be against Ivo Karlovic and his fourth round against either Fabio Fognini or Roberto Bautista Agut, making for a very workable draw for an already confident Federer.
Serena Williams: Aside from a blockbuster opening round match against 18-year-old wildcard Taylor Townsend -- night match on Ashe, anyone? -- this isn't a bad draw for the two-time defending champion. She drew No. 32 seed Zhang Shuai (who has never won a main draw match at a major) as a possible third round opponent, and could play either Sam Stosur or Carla Suarez Navarro in the fourth round.
A match against Stosur could be a tough one, but that's assuming Stosur gets that far. The Aussie played Serena tough in Cincinnati but always seems on the cusp of losing to players ranked far lower than her in the early rounds. Stosur may have to beat Lauren Davis, Kaia Kanepi, and Suarez Navarro to get a shot at Serena. I wouldn't bank on Stosur pulling that off.
Serena's potential quarterfinal opponent would be eighth-seed Ana Ivanovic, who has taken her to three sets in three of their four matches this year, including a win at the Australian Open, but Serena routed her last week in the Cincinnati final. Williams is projected to play either Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova or Eugenie Bouchard in the semifinals, but neither of them have ever made it that far in New York.
The Canadians: Both Milos Raonic and Bouchard have to like their draws to earn a career-best result at the U.S. Open. Seeded fifth, Raonic was drawn into the top half of the draw in Wawrinka's quarter, but his section is soft. He opens against a qualifier and then would play either another qualifier or Benjamin Becker. In the fourth round, his potential opponents are either Kei Nishikori, who hasn't played all summer as he's healing an injury, or Leonardo Mayer. Slot Milos into the quarters.
Bouchard comes into New York with just one match win since making the Wimbledon final, but she's been given some straightforward early matches that could give her the confidence she needs to become the only woman to make the semifinals of all four majors this season. She opens against Olga Govortsova and then either Heather Watson or Sorana Cirstea before a projected third round against Barbora Zahlavova Strycova. A Wimbledon final rematch looms in the quarterfinals against Petra Kvitova, but the Czech has never made it past the fourth round and has struggled in New York. Bouchard could play Serena in the semifinals in what would be their first meeting of the season.
Agnieszka Radwanska: Could this be the year Radwanska finally gets past the fourth round in New York? She was picked into the bottom half of the draw with Angelique Kerber, Jelena Jankovic, Lucie Safarova, Sloane Stephens, Alize Cornet, Roberta Vinci, and Kurumi as the other seeds in her quarter, and no dangerous unseeded players to worry about. She should be confident after winning her first title of the season at the Rogers Cup in Montreal this summer.
Andy Murray: I was sandwiched between two British reporters during the draw ceremony, and their groans were audible when Murray was drawn into Djokovic's quarter. Then came the scoffs when Tsonga was drawn as his potential fourth round opponent. Here's Murray's potential path to the final: Robin Haase, Radek Stepanek, Fernando Verdasco, Tsonga, Djokovic, and either Wawrinka or Raonic. That's a brutal road.
Novak Djokovic: The top seed's half is stacked. Not only does he have Murray and Tsonga in his quarter (he would only have to play one of them) but he could have a tricky third round against the big hitting Guillermo Garcia-Lopez and a fourth round against John Isner, who has beaten him on hard courts before. Get out of his quarter and Wawrinka or Raonic could be waiting in the semifinals. Given the tougher opposition in the top half, it's safe to say he'll have to expend more energy than Federer to make it to the final.
Maria Sharapova: The No. 5 seed drew her friend Maria Kirilenko in the first round -- a tough opener for anyone. She could also face Sabine Lisicki in the third round and either Caroline Wozniacki or Andrea Petkovic in the fourth round, before a quarterfinal against one of either Simona Halep, Venus Williams, or Garbine Muguruza. Given how tough both Halep and Muguruza have pushed her this year -- all their matches have gone three sets -- it's not going to be easy, especially with Sharapova not playing her best tennis through the lead-up tournaments.
Caroline Wozniacki: The Dane is back to playing some of her best tennis this summer after taking Serena to three sets in both their matches in Montreal and Cincinnati, but she's been drawn into a tough section of the Halep-Sharapova quarter. She opens against the always-dangerous Magdalena Rybarikova and has a potential third round match against Andrea Petkovic. If she had landed in the Kerber-Radwanska or Kvitova-Bouchard quarters I'd book her for the semifinals. Not so much now.
John Isner: Already battling a foot injury that forced him to withdraw from the Winston-Salem Open, Isner needed a little help in the draw. He didn't get it. Picked into Djokovic's section of the draw, Isner could play Philipp Kohlschreiber in the third round for the third straight U.S. Open. The German has ended Isner's New York campaigns the last two years, but least his first round is manageable: he'll open against No. 433 Marcos Giron, an American wildcard.
First round upset alerts
Lleyton Hewitt vs. Tomas Berdych
Marcos Baghdatis vs. Marin Cilic
Nick Kyrgios vs. Mikhail Youzhny
Wayne Odesnik vs. Kei Nishikori
Kristina Mladenovic vs. Petra Kvitova,
Maria Kirilenko vs. Maria Sharapova
Magdalena Rybarikova vs. Caroline Wozniacki
Kirsten Flipkens vs. Sara Errani