Neither Serena Williams nor Andy Murray will have an easy time defending their U.S. Open titles. (Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
NEW YORK -- The U.S. Open held its singles draws on Thursday. The most notable news is that Roger Federer, seeded No. 7, was drawn into Rafael Nadal's quarter, meaning the two rivals could play in the quarterfinals, their earliest meeting at a Grand Slam tournament. Defending champion Andy Murray, seeded No. 3, was drawn into top-ranked Novak Djokovic's half, meaning a rematch of last year's final could occur in the semifinals.
With third-ranked Maria Sharapova's withdrawal, the women's draw proved far less eventful. No. 1 Serena Williams, the defending champion, and No. 2 Victoria Azarenka are still primed to clash in the final for the second year in a row.
Looking at the completed brackets, here are the big winners and losers from the draw.
Andy Murray (No. 3 seed): Defending a Slam title for the first time, Murray comes into the U.S. Open with just five hard-court matches under his belt this summer. Though he may have to go through both Djokovic and Nadal (or Federer) to lift the trophy again, he'll be happy to see a fairly straightforward path to the quarterfinals. This means he can play himself into form without having to deal with any tricky opponents. On paper, his toughest early-round matches would be against two players who are better on clay than hard courts, Juan Monaco and Nicolas Almagro.
From there, things get interesting. If the seeds hold, he would face No. 5 Tomas Berdych in the quarterfinals, Djokovic in the semifinals and Nadal in the final. Not easy, but a drama-free first week is what Murray needs.
Victoria Azarenka (No. 2 seed): Sharapova's absence precludes another edition of Azarenka-Sharapova, which for my money is the best WTA rivalry in today's game. With the Russian's absence, the women's draw is fairly balanced, though Azarenka got the easier path than Williams. She has three qualifiers in her small section, and the highest seeds she would face before the quarterfinals are either Ana Ivanovic or Dominika Cibulkova, both of whom are talented but incredibly erratic.
Her potential quarterfinal opponents are dangerous, but they've been drawn into tough sections. Samantha Stosur, the 2011 U.S. Open champion, who defeated Azarenka in the Southern California Open final a few weeks ago, could play Daniela Hantuchova, a struggling but capable veteran, in the second round and Nadia Petrova in the third round; Petrova has won five of six hard-court matches against the Australian. Azarenka's projected quarterfinal opponent, Petra Kvitova, is as unreliable as they get, and the Czech could meet an on-the-rise Andrea Petkovic in the second round.
Caroline Wozniacki (No. 6 seed): The 2009 finalist couldn't have asked for a better draw, and with her form improving, I like Wozniacki as a semifinalist or even finalist here. She begins against a qualifier, and the highest seed she could draw before the fourth round is No. 31 Klara Zakopalova, against whom she's 3-0. Her potential fourth-round opponent could be either No. 10 Roberta Vinci (they've split two matches) or No. 22 Elena Vesnina (Wozniacki is 6-1). Her projected quarterfinal opponents are either No. 4 Sara Errani or No. 14 Maria Kirilenko, both of whom have not impressed during the summer hard-court swing. Wozniacki could be the one to knock off Azarenka in the semifinals. The Dane likes the matchup and challenged Azarenka in Cincinnati last week.
Milos Raonic (No. 10 seed): He could be the last North American man standing after being drawn into the soft quarter led by David Ferrer. The 22-year-old Canadian opens against a qualifier, and the highest seeds he could face before the quarterfinals are No. 8 Richard Gasquet, No. 23 Feliciano Lopez or No. 32 Dmitry Tursunov. He'll take those odds.
Ernests Gulbis (No. 30 seed): He's also in the wide-open quarter, which is as good as it gets for Gulbis. He opens against No. 89 Andreas Haider-Mauer, then a qualifier, before getting a chance to knock off a slumping Ferrer in the third round.
The American men: Poor Ryan Harrison. He draws a top-10 player in the first round of a major yet again -- and this time, it's Nadal. John Isner is also in that quarter, putting him on track to play Nadal in the fourth round. But to get there, Isner may have to go through the always unpredictable Gael Monfils in the second round and Philipp Kohlschreiber, who eliminated Isner last year, in the third round. The U.S. No. 2, Sam Querrey, didn't get much help from the draw, either, as he could play Federer in the third round.
The American women: They didn't fare much better than the men. Sloane Stephens and Jamie Hampton, the U.S. Nos. 2 and 3, respectively, could play in the third round, with the winner taking on Serena. Either way, only one of the three will be standing in the fourth round. Venus Williams, who is also in Serena's half, opens against Wimbledon semifinalist Kirsten Flipkens, who beat her 0-6, 6-4, 6-2 at the Rogers Cup earlier this month. Madison Keys, 18, who is nursing a shoulder injury that ruled her out of two lead-up tournaments, won't have any time to play herself into form. She takes on former No. 1 Jelena Jankovic in the first round.
Rafael Nadal (No. 2 seed): Nadal is 15-0 on hard courts this year, making him my favorite to win the title. But his draw is tricky. After Harrison in the first round, he could face Canada's Vasek Pospisil, who came within a few points of making the final of the Rogers Cup. After the young guns, the 2010 U.S. Open winner could get Nikolay Davydenko, the only active player with a winning record (6-5) against the Spaniard among those who have played him more than once. A potential fourth-round match against Isner isn't easy, considering how close their Cincinnati final was, and then there's a possible quarterfinal against Federer. The good news for Nadal is that if he survives all of that, his semifinal opponent would be relatively weak while Djokovic and Murray might be beating each other up in the other one.
Novak Djokovic (No. 1 seed): To win his second U.S. Open title, Djokovic could have to go through Juan Martin del Potro, who beat him in their most recent hard-court match, at Indian Wells in March; Murray, who has beaten him in two of their last three Slam meetings; and Nadal, who beat him 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (2) at the Rogers Cup.
Grigor Dimitrov (No. 25 seed)