World No 1 Ash Barty, the reigning Wimbledon and former French Open champion, is tipped as the favourite to win the US Open but she has been handed a challenging draw from the outset as she takes on former finalist Vera Zvonareva.
Barty has never played the 36-year-old Russian, who was the runner-up in both New York and Wimbledon in 2010.
The mother may have slipped to 101 in the world but, as a former World No 2 who has beaten Petra Kvitova this year, she still poses a threat to the Australian.
In the top half, Barty’s path to the quarter-finals could include No 29 seed Veronika Kudermetova, No 22 seed and two-time Wimbledon quarter-finalist Karolina Muchova.
In the last-16, her 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-8 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.
The Canadian last left the US Open as its champion in 2019 but was unable to defend her title last year.
As the No 6 seed after being sidelined with injury for all of 2020, the highlight of Andreescu’s season this year was a run to the final of the Miami Open in March.
Andreescu opens against Switzerland’s Viktorija Golubic, ranked 45, who reached the quarters at Wimbledon and has cut nearly 100 spots from her ranking this year, while former French Open winner and 27th seed Jelena Ostapenko is her projected third-round opponent, while 10th seed Petra Kvitova could loom in the round of 16.
No 4 seed Karolina Pliskova is the other top seed in this quarter, closing out the top half as Barty’s projected semi-final opponent.
The 2016 finalist opens against wild-card Caty McNally, and might have to navigate through two of the most in-form players of 2021 in 14th seed and French Open finalist Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova or 24th seed Paula Badosa, who could play each other in the third round.
Barty is 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.
Osaka came from a set down to defeat Victoria Azarenka to win the women’s title last year and the two are projected to meet in the semi-final, although there are plenty of others who could end up there, too.
Both fell into the bottom half of the draw with Sabalenka, No 5 seed Elina Svitolina and No 8 seed Barbora Krejcikova.
To kick off her title defence, Osaka faces former US Open junior champion Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic, whom she also beat in the first round of the 2020 Australian Open.
23-year-old Sabalenka, who arrives on the heels of rising to World No 2, her career-high ranking, opens against Serbia’s Nina Stojanovic, and could face the in-form Danielle Collins, seeded No 26, in the third round.
Collins starts against Spain’s Carla Suarez Navarro, a two-time US Open quarter-finalist who beat Hodgkin’s lymphoma earlier this year and intends to retire from tennis at the end of the season.
A bronze medalist for her country in Tokyo, Svitolina reached the semi-finals in New York back in 2019, while Krejcikova, the French Open singles and doubles champion and a doubles gold medalist in Tokyo, has been one of the stories of the season.
Now ranked 9th, the Czech has never before played a US Open main draw and fell in qualifying 5 times.
Four years ago, Madison Keys and Sloane Stephens played for the US Open title and this year, they face off in the first Round, with the winner taking on either No 21 seed Coco Gauff or Poland’s Magda Linette.
The 17-year-old Gauff is playing her 3rd US Open, having reached the 3rd round in 2019, while World No 51 Linette matched that result last year.
Gauff and former champion Angelique Kerber, seeded 16 and in the midst of a career resurgence, could face in the 3rd round as a projected Round 4 opponent for Osaka.
No 9 seed Garbiñe Muguruza and 12th seed Simona Halep have combined to win 4 titles at the French Open and Wimbledon.
At the Open, though, they’ve been susceptible to early exits and have had injury concerns this year.
Muguruza had a surging start to 2021 and held match points against eventual champion Osaka in the 4th round of the Australian Open in February.
She reached 3 finals in the year’s first 3 months, which included her first title in 4 years in Dubai in March but since retiring from a match at the Volvo Car Open in April with a left leg injury, she has only reached the quarter-finals once in 6 tournaments.
After tearing her calf in a match against Kerber in Rome in May, Halep missed the French Open and Wimbledon, and played just 2 matches in the summer hard-court swing, losing her first match in 5 months to Collins in Canada, and suffering a small tear in her right adductor that prompted a withdrawal from the Western & Southern Open.
This year, the duo were handed a pair of dangerous, big-hitters in their openers, with Muguruza facing Donna Vekic, a former World No 19 who missed much of the spring after knee surgery, while Halep faces Italian Camila Giorgi, who recently surged to the biggest title of her career at the WTA 1000 event in Montreal, part of the US Open Series.
Giorgi reached the 4th round here in 2013, and just missed out on a seeded position at World No 36.
Muguruza and Azarenka are projected third-round opponents, while Halep is Svitolina’s potential 4th-round foe.