The fourth and final Grand Slam of the season is upon us and with the first three won by three different players (Caroline Wozniacki – Australian Open, Simona Halep – French Open, Angelique Kerber – Wimbledon) many are wondering if the trend will continue and we get a fourth woman triumphing in New York.
The US Open women’s draw was unveiled on Thursday with Halep headlining the field as the world No. 1.
Serena Williams had her seeding bumped from 26 to 17, while former champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, and two-time runner-up Victoria Azarenka were given wildcards into the main draw.
Here are the main takeaways from Thursday’s ceremony.
SISTERS ON COLLISION COURSE
Serena seeded No. 17 means she could face a 9-16 seed in the third round. Thursday’s draw placed 16th-seeded Venus Williams as Serena’s possible round three opponent but before the older Williams sister can think about that potential match-cup, she will have to get past Kuznetsova, in a battle of former US Open champions.
Kuznetsova, who had wrist surgery end of last year, missed the first two months of 2018 and has finally started to find her form a few weeks ago as she stormed to take the title in Washington DC.
THE LOADED QUARTER
Besides the fact that Serena, Venus and Kuznetsova are all sharing the same section, they’ve landed in a quarter of the draw that includes top-seeded Halep, two-time Grand Slam winner Garbine Muguruza, 2016 US Open runner-up Karolina Pliskova and dangerous floaters Ashleigh Barty and Maria Sakkari. It feels impossible to predict who will make it out of that quarter alive.
NO LUCK FOR VIKA
Azarenka is no stranger to getting unlucky draws and since she’s unseeded and is still ranked a lowly 80, she’ll have to navigate some tricky paths if she wants to make it far at tournaments. She managed to do that successfully in Miami earlier this year, making the semis by taking out the likes of Agnieszka Radwanska, Karolina Pliskova and Madison Keys but hasn’t been able to do that consistently ever since.
Azarenka could take on 25th-seeded Daria Gavrilova in the second round before a possible last-32 showdown with familiar foe, defending champion Sloane Stephens, who beat the Belarusian in both Miami and Indian Wells earlier this year.
This will be Azarenka’s first US Open since 2015. She missed the 2016 edition due to pregnancy and was unable to play last year due to a custody issue with the father of her child. The ex- world No. 1 is still going through personal issues and admitted in Cincinnati last week that things continue to be difficult for her.
“I think I’m struggling a little bit with finding the joy on the court because it’s been such a tough time and it’s still a tough time for me,” said Azarenka.
PRESSURE ON SHARAPOVA
Maria Sharapova has played just three matches since her Wimbledon first-round exit, and pulled out of San Jose and Cincinnati with right shoulder problems. She has 240 points to defend, from her fourth round appearance in New York last year and has landed in another stacked quarter of the draw.
The Russian could face Jelena Ostapenko in the third round, Garcia in the fourth, and Kerber or Keys in the quarters.
THE YOUTH SECTION
Indian Wells finalists, the 20-year-old Naomi Osaka and 21-year-old Daria Kasatkina could face in the third round but the latter might first have to take on Belinda Bencic (also 21) in round two. Bencic recently hired Vladimir Platenik, Kasatkina’s ex-coach, which would only add spice to an already intriguing match-up.
After losing to Kiki Bertens in both Montreal and Cincinnati already this month, Petra Kvitova could face the Dutchwoman for a third time this hard-court season if they both reach the quarter-finals. Bertens’ path is a bit clearer than Kvitova’s though with the Czech possibly facing Cincinnati semi-finalist Aryna Sabalenka in the third round.
FIRST ROUNDS TO WATCH
Garbine Muguruza v Zhang Shuai
Elina Svitolina v Saschia Vickery
Anastasija Sevastova v Donna Vekic
Venus Williams v Svetlana Kuznetsova
Caroline Garcia v Johanna Konta
Aryna Sabalenka v Danielle Collins
Caroline Wozniacki v Sam Stosur
Daria Kasatkina v Timea Babos
Jelena Ostapenko v Andrea Petkovic
NEW YORK — Roger Federer predicts that this year’s US Open will be “epic” and the draw, which was conducted privately on Thursday morning and revealed to the public later in the afternoon, certainly indicates that the Swiss’ prophecy might come true.
Defending champions Rafael Nadal and Sloane Stephens joined ESPN’s Chris Fowler and Tracy Austin, who was a champion in New York in 1979 and 1981, at the draw unveiling and the Spanish top seed says he’s well-rested and ready to go after skipping Cincinnati last week.
“Rafa’s going to win the tournament,” said Stephens when asked who she thought was the US Open favourite.
Here are the things learned from the 2018 US Open men’s draw.
Defending champs Nadal & Stephens.
Sloane says she won’t ask who her 1st round opponent is until Saturday.
“Unless someone gives me the evil eye in the locker room, I’ll know I’m definitely playing her”
Nadal: At the end of the day you will face your opponent and you will know pic.twitter.com/luQfj3p9mF
— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) August 23, 2018
DJOKOVIC LANDS IN FEDERER’S QUARTER
Seeded No. 6 this upcoming fortnight, two-time US Open champion Novak Djokovic fell in Roger Federer’s quarter of the draw. A blockbuster quarter-final between the pair would be a rematch of their Cincinnati final last week, where Djokovic beat Federer in two sets to become the first-ever player to win each of the nine Masters 1000 tournaments at least once.
Federer won the US Open five years in a row between 2004 and 2008 but he hasn’t lifted the trophy here since, while Djokovic hasn’t triumphed in New York since 2015.
They’ve both won Grand Slams this season though – Federer in Melbourne and Djokovic at Wimbledon – and are two of the main contenders for the title.
The Federer and Djokovic rivalry has a long history at the US Open, where they’ve faced off six times. Djokovic defeated the Swiss on his way to both titles won in New York while Federer topped the Serb in 2007 in what was Djokovic’s first Grand Slam final. They are 3-3 head-to-head at the tournament.
NO MERCY FOR ANDY
2012 champion Andy Murray is unseeded and is back at the US Open – using a protected ranking – for the first time in two years, having skipped last year’s event with a hip injury, that later required surgery in January.
Ranked 378 in the world and just seven matches into his comeback, Murray was handed a tough path as he opens against Australia’s James Duckworth before a possible second round against either Feliciano Lopez or Fernando Verdasco, and then No. 3 seed Juan Martin del Potro potentially awaits in the third round. Looks like it’s going to be far from a smooth ride for Murray.
Others in that quarter of the draw include Stefanos Tsitsipas, Borna Coric, Milos Raonic, Stan Wawrinka and Grigor Dimitrov.
DEJA VU FOR STAN AND GRIGOR
Speaking of Wawrinka and Dimitrov, the duo will square off in the first round for a second consecutive major after the former upset the latter in their Wimbledon opener last month. Wawrinka, up to 101 in the world and playing the US Open courtesy of a wildcard, won the tournament in 2016 and is finally finding his form after double-knee surgery kept him out of the game for six months last year, and three more months this season.
The Swiss three-time Grand Slam champion made the quarters in Cincinnati last week, where he lost a tight three-setter to Federer and has defeated the likes of Kei Nishikori, Diego Schwartzman and Nick Kyrgios in the last three weeks.
Dimitrov on the other hand showed some rise in form in Toronto (lost to Nadal) and Cincinnati (lost to Djokovic) but will be far from pleased with yet another brutal Slam draw.
LAND MINES FOR FEDERER
Before Federer even thinks of reaching the quarter-finals and possibly meeting Djokovic, he might have to take out unorthodox Frenchman Benoit Paire in the second round and Kyrgios in the third. Chung Hyeon or Fabio Fognini potentially await in round four.
Federer is 2-1 against Kyrgios and eight of the nine sets they’ve played against each other have gone to tiebreaks. Definitely a third round to look out for.
FERRER’S FANCY FAREWELL
David Ferrer told Spanish press last month that he will play the US Open like it’s his last Slam, even though he hasn’t made any official announcements regarding his retirement, which is expected to take place next year in either Barcelona or Madrid.
If it is indeed his last major, then his first round against Nadal is probably a great opportunity for Ferrer to bow out from Grand Slam tennis with one last epic battle with a long-time rival, friend and team-mate like Nadal. They’re already preparing Arthur Ashe stadium for this one.
Armed with a new coach in Ivan Lendl, and searching for a first Grand Slam semi-final, the fourth-seeded Zverev was handed a very manageable draw before a possible tricky quarter-final against Marin Cilic. The young German has got Nishikori and Schwartzman in his section but has avoided the likes of Kyrgios, Dominic Thiem and Tsitsipas.
PROJECTED QUARTER-FINALS (BY SEED)
Rafael Nadal  v Kevin Anderson 
Juan Martin del Potro  v Grigor Dimitrov 
Marin Cilic  v Alexander Zverev 
Novak Djokovic  v Roger Federer 
Marta Kostyuk does not sound like your average 16-year-old. There is an edge to her speech, a heaviness to her words, and shocking honesty in her rhetoric.
The Ukrainian teen has sped up the rankings this season, rising from 523 to a career-high 129 last month, and her rapid ascent has come with its own set of challenges.
“For sure it’s been fast, but when you start to lose, you’re like ‘oh my God, I’m never going to play well again’. So it’s up and down,” Kostyuk told Sport360 during Wimbledon qualifying in June.
“But I’m happy I’m going through this, I’m going to be stronger,” she adds sternly.
She certainly showed incredible strength at the US Open on Tuesday, where she saved six match points and came back from 1-5 down in the final set to defeat Valentyna Ivakhnenko 4-6, 7-6(6), 7-6(4) in the first round of qualifying. She returns to the courts again on Thursday to face Czech Republic’s Marie Bouzkova.
Kostyuk exploded onto the scene last January when she qualified for her maiden Grand Slam at the Australian Open, where she had won the junior title in 2017.
The then 15-year-old took out Peng Shuai and Olivia Rogowska to become the youngest female player to win a main draw match at the Australian Open since Martina Hingis in 1996 and the youngest to make the third round of a Slam since Mirjana Lucic-Baroni in the 1997 US Open.
Kostyuk kept up her good form and immediately won a $60k ITF title in Burnie then upset world No. 26 Daria Gavrilova in Fed Cup. Not many can follow up a breakthrough like the one she had in Melbourne with more success right away and Kostyuk herself isn’t sure how she did it.
“I don’t know. It was probably my first big win so I had to prove that I have this level so I had to win it. And it wasn’t like I had to win, like I was crazy about it. It was just match by match, it was just my level,” she told Sport360 in an interview in Madrid in May.
“So that’s why I won. My goal was actually in the beginning of the year – like it would be a good year for me if I would finish 150 but now I think a very good year if I would finish in the top-100.”
She qualified for the WTA tournament in Stuttgart in April and reached the last-16 before falling in three sets to world No. 7 Caroline Garcia.
Things got tougher for Kostyuk after that. She won just three of her next 10 matches, and had trouble within her team that led to her splitting with her coach of 10 months Luka Kutanjac. She hired Dmytro Brichek, who previously worked with fellow Ukrainian Lesia Tsurenko, instead.
Parting ways with Kutanjac was not easy.
“I’m the kind of person, I’m so kind, even if we have so many problems, I’m going to wait until the end and everything will be completely bad so then I’m like ‘okay, we have to split’ and then I feel so bad, for weeks. It was the first time I’ve split with a coach and it was very tough,” she said on the sidelines of the Madrid Open.
“Even though I’m only 15, I have a lot of say in my decisions. I always talk to my mother, we talk first, she explains some things to me, and then I decide what is better to do. I’m a player, I feel what I should do, even though I’m 15, I feel it, and it’s been like this since I started to play.”
Managed by ex-world No. 3 Ivan Ljubicic, who is the coach of Roger Federer, Kostyuk has many eyes on her at this early stage of her career.
She pays credit to the Croatian, who helps her navigate the emotional highs and lows of the tour, and says she is constantly learning and “growing not by days, but by hours”.
When told she sounds a lot more mature than what you’d expect a teenager would sound like, Kostyuk says with a hint of sadness: “From adult life I think. I’ve been through a lot of things in my life and I obviously don’t have a teenager’s life at all, zero per cent. I cannot even let myself be a teenager because it will affect me, it will affect my tennis. It’s tough, but it is the way it is.”
She adds: “Yes of course [there’s a sad element to it]. I’m starting to realise it. Before it was like fun, fun, like nice, I’m playing, I’m winning, now it’s getting tough. But we’ll see, I think I’ll get through it.”
Is there anything in particular she feels she is missing out on from a typical teenager’s lifestyle?
“I don’t know, I’ve never been a teenager, I don’t know what they do. I don’t know what these crazy people do. Because I heard that they are crazy. I’m also crazy but not maybe that way crazy,” she concludes.
Kostyuk believes she’s improving fast and is happy to forge relationships with her peers on tour. She gets along well with the Ukrainian players and was a bit surprised by how welcoming everyone has been.
“So many people outside of the tour have such a bad opinion about tennis players. Especially about WTA, because I heard a lot of times that ATP players, they practice with each other, they don’t need sparring partners – in general women are complicated, there’s nothing to do about it, but it’s very nice and very friendly,” she explains.
“I speak with a lot of players. You feel good when you become part of something you were dreaming about.”
Since she’s still 16, Kostyuk can only play a limited number of professional tournaments due to age restrictions. She is so eager to play more and is frustrated by the rule.
She also struggles with the constant scrutiny online although tries to ignore all the negativity on social media.
“You post a photo from the beach, you lose a couple of matches and people are texting you, ‘why aren’t you practicing, why are you on the beach?’ and you’re like ‘oh my God!’. The people judge you so much that they don’t deserve an explanation,” she says.
Kostyuk isn’t setting any high targets for herself and insists big goals are not her thing.
“I don’t think if I’ll be world No.1 I’ll be the happiest person in the world, maybe I’ll be world No.1 and I’ll be so unhappy. That’s what I think. For me it’s just trying to enjoy the ride,” she said during Wimbledon qualifying.
She admits that the most pressure she gets is from herself and is hoping to find a way to experience more joy from the sport.
“I have to do it. From the beginning I wasn’t enjoying it. I liked tennis, I loved it, but I wasn’t enjoying it, because I’m a perfectionist, and everything had to be perfect. But now I have to, because otherwise I’m going to stop in one or two years,” she concedes.
“I don’t know how I’m going to find the enjoyment from now. Because I have the limit on the tournaments. You have to have the right people around you so you don’t feel it, I guess.”
A post shared by Marta Kostyuk / Марта Костюк (@kostyukmarta) on