NEW YORK, NY, USA - Despite being unseeded because of only pairing up twice this year, Serena and Venus Williams are the strong favorites to come out on top in their first appearance in the US Open doubles draw since 2009.
The Williamses have only been victorious here twice, a small number by their standards, but that is likely because they have only played in the tournament five times. And they still have a sparkling 18-2 record here.
That is just one of many stats that should strike fear into the rest of the field. The sisters have a 159-19 overall record, are 102-8 at majors and are 11-0 this year with titles at Wimbledon and the Olympics - where they did not even drop a set. As if they needed any added motivation, a triumph this fortnight would give them 14 Grand Slams and tie them with Gigi Fernández and Natasha Zvereva for second-most by a team in the Open Era.
Regardless, on paper the favorites are defending champions Liezel Huber and Lisa Raymond. The top-seeded Americans reeled off four consecutive titles early in the season but were winless for several months until collecting their ninth title as a duo in New Haven last week. Also, between the two of them, they own five US Open doubles titles.
Possible semifinal opponents for Huber and Raymond are third-seeded Czechs Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka. Their impressive 2012 résumé is highlighted by three titles and three runner-up showings, including at Wimbledon and the Olympics. Also, they are no strangers to Grand Slam glory, having captured Roland Garros in 2011.
In addition to the Williams sisters, the bottom half of the draw is full of formidable duos - most notably second-seeded Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci, fourth-seeded Maria Kirilenko and Nadia Petrova and fifth-seeded Vania King and Yaroslava Shvedova.
Errani and Vinci lead the WTA with seven titles this year - one of them their first major at Roland Garros - and also lead the Race to the WTA Championships standings. However, they have struggled a bit of late, having failed to go beyond the quarterfinals of their last four events.
Although Kirilenko and Petrova have only been victorious once this year - in Miami - they were French Open runners-up and Olympic bronze medalists.
Though they have only paired up twice this year, King and Shvedova do their best work at the majors. They are 27-5 in Grand Slam play, including 11-1 at the US Open, which they won in 2010 and were runners-up at in 2011. Interestingly enough, King and Shvedova have to square off against each other in the first round of singles.
The mixed doubles draw is also out, and among the favorites are No.1 seeds Huber and Max Mirnyi and No.2 seeds Raymond and Mike Bryan. Huber has two mixed majors to her credit and Mirnyi has three, in addition to an Olympic gold medal. Raymond and Bryan have three majors together - most recently at this year's Wimbledon - and were Olympic bronze medalists.
A couple of unseeded teams of note are defending champs Melanie Oudin and Jack Sock and Kim Clijsters and seven-time mixed major winner Bob Bryan. In the final tournament of her career, Clijsters is playing in all three events, as in addition to singles she is in doubles with fellow Belgian Kirsten Flipkens.