No need to plan too far ahead in this year’s U.S. Open. For one thing, Friday’s tournament draw ceremony revealed that a classic men’s final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal is impossible.
Both Nadal, the top seed, and Federer, No. 3, landed in the same half of the bracket, and if they face off against each other, it will be in the semifinals. The Open, oddly, is the only Grand Slam event in which the sport’s two most dominant players of this century never have met.
They have dueled five times at the French Open, four times at the Australian and three times at Wimbledon.
Meanwhile, then, better to focus on some intriguing early matches at the Open, which begins its two-week run on Monday.
Among the more fascinating first-round matches will pit former champ Maria Sharapova, who is unseeded and playing her first Slam tournament since her doping suspension imposed in early 2016, against No. 2 seed Simona Halep of Romania.
With 23-time major-tournament champion Serena Williams on maternity leave, Halep is one of eight women who could leave New York ranked No. 1 by winning the Open. The other seven are top seed Karolina Pliskova, last year’s Open runner-up; No. 3 Garbine Muguruza, the reigning Wimbledon champion; No. 4 Elina Svitolina; No. 5 Caroline Wozniacki; No. 7 Johanna Konta, this year’s Wimbledon semifinalist; No. 8 Svetlana Kuznetsova, who won the Open 13 years ago, and No. 9 Venus Williams, twice the Open champ and a seven-time major-tournament winner.
Surprisingly, defending Open champ Angelique Kerber, seeded No. 6, cannot rise to No. 1 even by winning the tournament.
So, one match at a time.
Among the men, Federer, 19 times a major-tournament champion, will open against up-and-coming American Frances Tiafoe while Nadal, with 15 Slam titles, will play 84th-ranked Dusan Lajovic of Serbia. Federer, winner of both Slam events he entered this year — the Australian Open and Wimbledon — may have the toughest draw among the top contenders, with No. 6 Dominic Thiem, former Open champ Juan Martin del Potro, unpredictable Nick Kyrgios and big servers Sam Querrey and Ivo Karlovic in his quarter.
Injuries have hit the tournament hard, with 2016 champion Stan Wawrinka, ’16 runner-up Novak Djokovic and ’14 runner-up Kei Nishikori absent, as well as top Canadian Milos Raonic, and No. 2 Andy Murray nursing a hip injury. That could provide an opening for the 36-year-old Federer, and possibly Germany’s 20-year-old Alexander (Sasha) Zverev, seeded fourth and starting play against a qualifier. Zverev defeated Federer in the final of the Open tune-up in Montreal.