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U.S. Open women's singles draw - analysis

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Serena Williams and Taylor Townsend, along with the Bryan brothers, at ITF World Champions Dinner during the 2013 French Open. The two will meet in the first round of the U.S. Open. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Serena Williams and Taylor Townsend, along with the Bryan brothers, at ITF World Champions Dinner during the 2013 …

As with the men, the absence of the No. 2 seed, in this case Li Na of China, throws everything a little out of whack.

But there still is a nice balance among the top four seeds, split between the heavy hitters  – Serena Williams and Petra Kvitova – and the great movers with more finesse in Simona Halep and Agnieszka Radwanska.

The heavy hitters are in the top half; the "finessers" are in the bottom half.

Arguably the two most dangerous players outside the top 10, health permitting, could prove to be big obstacles at the beginning of the second week as No. 16 Victoria Azarenka (last year's runner-up to Serena Williams) stands in Kvitova's way, and No. 19 seed Venus Williams in Halep's way as early as the fourth round.

Of course, they all have to get there.

Here's how the draws could shake out for the top contenders. We grade the difficulty of their respective draws from A to D (A being the relatively easiest, D the biggest challenge with possible early roadblocks).

Path to the semis

[1] Serena Williams

Taylor Townsend (USA) ----> Francesca Schiavone (ITA) ----> [32] Zhang/Barthel ----> [15] Carla Suárez Navarro (ESP) / [24] Samantha Stosur (AUS) ----> [8] Ana Ivanovic ----> [3] Kvitova / [7] Bouchard / [16] Azarenka.

Draw grade: A. Assuming Serena is on form, it's difficult to see big red flags before the semi-final even if Ivanovic does have some confidence in that matchup.

[2] Simona Halep

[WC] Danielle Collins (USA) ----> Jana Cepelova (SVK) ----> [25] Garbiñe Muguruza (ESP) ----> [19] Venus Williams ----> [5] Maria Sharapova ----> [4] Radwanska / [6] Kerber (maybe Safarova in there with a shot).

Draw grade: D. An in-form Venus is a major challenge as early as the fourth round, and then there is Sharapova. And, possibly, even Muguruza in the third round.

[3] Petra Kvitova

Kristina Mladenovic (FRA) ----> Klara Koulakova (CZE) ----> [27] Madison Keys (USA) ----> [16] Victoria Azarenka ----> [7] Bouchard / [17] Makarova ----> [1] Serena Williams

Draw grade: B. Azarenka is a potential issue but if Kvitova is playing her game, she should make the final four.

[5] Maria Sharapova

Maria Kirileno (RUS) ----> Kristyna Pliskova (CZE) ----> [26] Sabine Lisicki (GER) ----> [10] Wozniacki / [18] Petkovic ----> [2] Halep / [19] Venus ----> [4] Radwanska / [6] Kerber (maybe Safarova in there with a shot).

Draw grade: B. Lisicki can beat anyone on a given day. IF that day is in the third round, there could be trouble.

[7] Genie Bouchard

Olga Govortsova (BLR) ----> Heather Watson (GBR) ----> [30] Barbora Zahlavova Strycova (CZE) ----> [12] Cibulkova / [17] Makarova ----> [3] Petra Kvitova ----> [1] Serena Williams

Draw grade: A. The short-on-confidence Bouchard had the draw gods smile upon her. Good players, all. But the path is there to make it to the quarter-finals which, given her summer, would be a good result.

 

First-round matches to watch

[1] Serena Williams (USA) vs. Taylor Townsend (USA)

They're African-American, but the resemblance ends there as the teenager Townsend's net-rushing style and lefty guile makes her unique. Townsend likes the spotlight; she'll get the brightest one against this generation's tennis queen, in an American vs. American matchup at American's Grand Slam.

There are 14 years, 17 years as professionals, and about $56 million in on-court earnings separating them.

[19] Venus Williams (USA) vs. Kimiko Date-Krumm (JPN)

One of the best women's matches in recent memory was a second-round encounter between the two, under the Centre Court roof at Wimbledon in 2011. Venus won, 8-6 in the third set.

This one likely won't come come close to matching it. But every match the immortal Date-Krumm plays – she'll turn 44 next month – is a victory.

Want some perspective? Here's Date-Krumm in the Wimbedon semi-finals against Steffi Graf, back in ... 1996.

 

[5] Maria Sharapova (RUS) vs. Maria Kirilenko (RUS)

During Sharapova's long career, compatriot Kirilenko is the only player who has even been mentioned in the same paragraph with "friends on Tour". But we've not heard that mentioned in awhile as they've gone their own way. Kirilenko hasn't beaten Sharapova in a long time, and she has barely played this year between knee problems and the broken engagement with hockey superstar Alex Ovechkin. But it will be interesting to see if there's any warmth at all between the two on court.

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Maria Kirilenko upset Maria Sharapova of Russia in the first round of the Australian Open in 2010. But Sharapova is the one smiling at the net.  (AP Photo/Mark Baker)

Maria Kirilenko upset Maria Sharapova of Russia in the first round of the Australian Open in 2010. But Sharapova …

Donna Vekic (CRO) vs. Coco Vandeweghe (USA)

After an initial splash, the 18-year-old Croat has settled in at No. 79 and is experiencing the ups and downs most young players go through on Tour. Vandeweghe seems to be just coming into her own now at 22. A hard-hitting match, and a first-time meeting.

[3] Petra Kvitova vs. Kristina Mladenovic (FRA)

Mladenovic, just 21, seems to have everything she needs to get to the top - including a terrific serve and a love for the spotlight. What she's missing is the consistency from week to week, the willingness to grind it out when the spotlight isn't shining as brightly. She already has two Grand Slam titles, in mixed doubles with Canadian Daniel Nestor. And she does have a win over Kvitova, albeit at home in Paris where she tends to play her best.

[12] Dominika Cibulkova vs. [WC] Catherine (CiCi) Bellis (USA)

Cibulkova, the Australian Open finalist, is really struggling to put together wins. She'll face a 15-year-old American from San Francisco who is the No. 2 ranked junior in the world and has nothing to lose in her major debut.

Bellis's ITF ranking is a little misleading, since it's a combined ranking with doubles (in which she has done very well) and while she has dominated in the U.S. tournaments, she "only" made the third round at the junior French Open and lost in the first round at Wimbledon. But Bellis is only 15; many of her junior opponents are 2-3 years older. She has played just four pro events in her career, none higher than a $25,000, and earned her wild card by winning the USTA girls' 18-and-under championship two weeks ago.

[9] Jelena Jankovic (SRB) vs Bojana Jovanovski (SRB)

The younger Serbs seem generally to have bonded with Jankovic, who was a Fed Cup stalwart for several years before wrapping it up in 2012. She will be the quiet one while Jovanovski will be the squeaky, noisy one, in case you can't tell them apart.

Just out of the seeds with a ranking of No. 35, Jovanovski has a win in three matches against Jankovic, in Beijing back in 2010.

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