Interesting scenarios in top-heavy draw
Haven't we seen this before?
Venus and Serena Williams landed in the same section of the U.S. Open draw, setting them up for a possible fourth-round match. It's the same scenario as Wimbledon, except the potential winner could face Kim Clijsters instead of Justine Henin-Hardenne.
That's just the beginning in a very talent-heavy top half of the draw. World No. 1 and top seed Maria Sharapova and defending U.S. Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova also are in the top half.
Lindsay Davenport, Mary Pierce, Henin-Hardenne, Amelie Mauresmo and Elena Dementieva are scattered among the bottom half of the draw, but their paths aren't as difficult.
Either way, the bottom line for any of these players is how they play early and how healthy they stay through the two-week event.
Top half of draw
• Serena has been training better and all seems to be on for the Open. But when she opens as the No. 8 seed against a qualifier, she will not be 100 percent, she'll clearly be out of shape and she won't be match tough. How could she be? She has played in only one match since an early exit at Wimbledon, battling ankle and knee problems. I can't see her winning the Open at this point.
• No. 10 Venus needed more time off than she thought she would after winning Wimbledon. She hasn't played since The Bank of the West a month ago, but regardless of whether she meets Serena in the fourth round, Venus should make it through. Possible matchups to look for: a third-rounder against Daniela Hantuchova (a rematch of their third-round Wimbledon meeting that was a 7-5, 6-4 battle) or a round-of-16 pairing vs. China's Shuai Peng, the only player to beat Clijsters since Wimbledon. China is producing a wave of hard-working, up-and-coming players and we could see a new wave of talent like the Russian players last year.
• The toughest part of Sharapova's draw is her opening match against Eleni Daniilidou, who beat Henin-Hardenne at Wimbledon. There are always a few unseeded players whom you fear in a draw and Daniilidou is one of them. How will Sharapova handle the pressure (the tough opener, entering a major for the first time as both the World No. 1 and top seed)? How serious is that pectoral strain? Sharapova's forehand can be wild if she's not confident, but she is mentally strong. If Sharapova can get past her first-round match, the rest of the draw is favorable for her.
• Defending champ and fifth-seeded Svetlana Kuznetsova has been a bit of a mystery since winning last year's Open. Either there was a bit of a letdown after reaching such a pinnacle, or she feels the pressure of the expectations as the U.S. Open champ. Even though she reached the quarterfinals of the Australian Open and Wimbledon, Kuznetsova is not where she was at the end of last year's Open. She'll need to play like the defending champ.
• Fourth-seed Clijsters has been on a roll since her fourth-round exit at Wimbledon. She has won three tournaments since then, including a win over Henin-Hardenne at last week's Rogers Cup. The big factor with the Belgian is whether she'll have the ability to shine during the biggest moment -- playing in a Slam final. She's failed in the past. Unless she hits a wall, she's likely going to get the chance in Flushing Meadows. Plus, as the U.S. Open Series winner, she is playing for double the prize money.
Bottom half of draw
• Henin-Hardenne is the other big favorite to win the Open. Even though she lost to Clijsters last week, she's not afraid of the biggest moments; she embraces them. Opponents fear her toughness. Henin-Hardenne could face an in-form Mary Pierce in the round of 16 and then Mauresmo in the quarters. I don't think either can stop Henin-Hardenne.
• Third-seeded Mauresmo should make it through to the quarterfinals. The one big test from her group could be Germany's Anna-Lena Groenefeld, who recently paired with Martina Navratilova to win the doubles at the Rogers Cup. Groenefeld is a big hitter who's on her game right now. A pairing like that always poses danger for Mauresmo, who has wilted at many a major.
• Dementieva has struggled with expectations since making it to last year's finals at the U.S. and French Opens. Sixth-seeded Dementieva hasn't made it past the fourth round of any 2005 Slam and hasn't won an event this year. She could face No. 11 Patty Schnyder in the round of 16 -- the tricky lefty has given Dementieva some wars on the courts. Of course, Schnyder will have to get past her opener against Conchita Martinez, a veteran who can never be counted out.
• Davenport doesn't have a free pass, but she clearly has the best draw of the Open. She'll take this draw any time. In the past, her game never went away, her health went away, and she's been a contender in all of this year's majors. Davenport had a strong opening match at this week's Pilot Pen, and it's important for her to get that strong first match in at the Open. There could be a possible test there from China's Na Li, but I think Davenport has a clear path to the quarterfinals. I don't see any players getting to her before then unless she's hurt. Davenport is still looking for an elusive fourth major title and would love nothing more than to win it at the Open, where she won her first Slam seven years ago.
ESPN tennis analyst Pam Shriver won 21 singles and 112 doubles crowns, including 22 Grand Slam titles.
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