WASHINGTON, August 24, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)
The biggest mysteries surrounding the 2018 U.S. Open draw ceremony were two-fold: which quarter of the men’s draw would a suddenly-rejuvenated Novak Djokovic land in and where would six-time U.S. Open champion Serena Williams be placed in the women’s draw?
The mysteries were solved in an orderly fashion Thursday as the playing field for the 50th anniversary edition of the U.S. Open was revealed at Brookfield Place along the Hudson River in lower Manhattan. The hour-long, televised draw ceremony before a live audience was hosted by ESPN presenter Chris McKendry, ESPN men’s and women’s tennis commentator Chris Fowler and Tennis Channel analyst Tracy Austin, a two-time former U.S. Open champion.
As it happened, the No. 6 seed Djokovic, twice a U.S. Open winner (2011, 2015) and who this summer captured both Wimbledon and the Masters 1000 Western & Southern Open, landed in the lower-half of the men’s draw along with No. 2 Roger Federer. Alone at the top is World No. 1 Rafael Nadal, the reigning U.S. Open men’s champion. If Nadal is to successfully defend his crown – a feat that he’s only been able to accomplish at the French Open among his major titles – he will need to withstand a talented field that includes seven former U.S. Open champions: Stan Wawrinka, Andy Murray, Juan Martín del Potro, Marin Cilic, Djokovic and Federer, plus Nadal. Add to that, a group of hungry #NextGenATP stars, featuring World No. 4 Alexander Zverev, No. 15 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, No. 20 seed Borna Coric, No. 23 seed Hyeon Chung and No. 28 seed Denis Shapovalov, any who could pull off a major surprise.
— Michael Dickens (@michaelcdickens) 23. August 2018
Meanwhile, Serena Williams, seeded No. 17 following her return from maternity leave, could face her older sister Venus in the third round of the women’s draw. Now ranked 26th, Serena drew little-known Magda Linette of Poland as her first-round opponent while Venus, a 2017 semifinalist, will face 2004 U.S. Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, who received a wild card berth. Both Williams sisters are part of a very challenging upper half of the draw that is anchored by World No. 1 Simona Halep, and also includes a pair of former No. 1 players, Karolina Pliskova and Garbiñe Muguruza.
— Michael Dickens (@michaelcdickens) 23. August 2018
After both draws were were announced, the 17-time major champion Nadal was welcomed on stage and interviewed by Fowler. While there was intrigue about where Djokovic would be placed in the men’s draw, Nadal seemed relieved it was not in his quarter.
“I’m not crazy about my draw, but I don’t care,” said Nadal with a wide grin across his face. “Sure, I want to know who I play, but at the end of the day, you accept who your opponent is.”
All-Spanish clash in opening round
Nadal’s first-round opponent will be fellow Spaniard David Ferrer, whom he has defeated 24 times in 30 career meetings. Later on, he could face No. 5 seed Anderson, last year’s finalist, in the quarterfinals. Nadal comes into this year’s final Grand Slam somewhat rested for the defense of his U.S. Open title. He last played two weeks ago at the Rogers Cup in Toronto, where he won his record-extending 33rd Masters 1000 title, in his only hard-court event this summer. After his success in Toronto, he withdrew from the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, which gained him an extra week of rest.
“I’m trying to save my body to play as long as possible,” said Nadal. “It’s something that I’m really looking forward to making happen. And that’s it. I rested, I practiced, and here I am.”
During his interview, Nadal was asked about the idea of suffering on the tennis court. He said of his playing style, “It is suffering, but at the same time it’s enjoying, because that’s what we do. We practice every day to try to be ready for the action, for the competition, and even more for the big ones.”
Since Federer won the U.S. Open in five consecutive years, from 2004-08, no man has successfully defended his U.S. Open crown. It’s hard to believe that Nadal and Federer have never faced each other in the U.S. Open and since they’re in opposite halves of the draw, they could only meet in this year’s final. Don’t bet against it. Federer drew 177th-ranked Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan as his first-round opponent.
Stephens defends title
Defending women’s champion Sloane Stephens, who is seeded third, was also on hand for the draw with Nadal, but wasn’t interested to know who she will play in the first round. Hint, it’s Evgeniya Rodina of Russia. During her interview, she admitted: “I don’t look at the draw. I don’t want to know.”
Whether she was being superstitious or merely coy, the cool and relaxed Stephens, who in the past year has lifted her world ranking from No. 83 to No. 3 –and is the top-ranked American woman in the draw – could face wild card Victoria Azarenka in the third round and would eventually match up with the survivor of the Halep/Pliskova/Muguruza/Williams/Williams mash-up in the semifinals.
Later, Stephens was asked by Austin how this year would be different coming in as the defending champion. “I don’t know,” she said with a big smile. “This is my first time.”
Looking ahead, it wouldn’t be a Grand Slam without some intriguing first-round encounters involving big names. Here are four matches worth mentioning:
• 2016 U.S. Open men’s winner Stan Wawrinka versus No. 8 seed Grigor Dimitrov.
• No. 6 seed Caroline Garcia versus unseeded Johanna Konta.
• Unseeded Andrea Petkovic versus No. 10 seed Jelena Ostapenko.
• No. 2 seed Caroline Wozniacki versus 2011 U.S. Open women’s winner Sam Stosur.