NEW YORK, New York - The 2018 US Open draw is out and it features a top half of the draw that will be hotly contested by the pre-tournament favorites and a land of opportunity for a handful of major champions in the bottom half of the draw. Who will come out of the "Group of Death" that includes No.1 Simona Halep, Serena Williams, and Venus Williams? How has the draw stacked up for Sloane Stephens' title defense? And is this the year Petra Kvitova finds her New York State of Mind? 

Here's how the draw breaks down. For the full draw click here. 

Tournament Snapshot

Top eight seeds: No.1 Simona Halep, No.2 Caroline Wozniacki, No.3 Sloane Stephens, No.4 Angelique Kerber, No.5 Petra Kvitova, No.6 Caroline Garcia, No.7 Elina Svitolina, No.8 Karolina Pliskova

Top half: Halep, Stephens, Svitolina, Pliskova
Bottom half: Wozniacki, Kerber, Kvitova, Garcia

Projected quarterfinals: Simona Halep vs. Karolina Pliskova, Sloane Stephens vs. Elina Svitolina, Anglelique Kerber vs. Caroline Garcia, Caroline Wozniacki vs. Petra Kvitova.

Projected Round of 16: Simona Halep vs. Venus Williams, Garbiñe Muguruza vs. Karolina Pliskova, Julia Goerges vs. Elina Svitolina, Sloane Stephens vs. Elise Mertens, Caroline Garcia vs. Jelena Ostapenko, Madison Keys vs. Angelique Kerber, Petra Kvitova vs. Daria Kasatkina, Caroline Wozniacki vs. Kiki Bertens.

Last year's final: Sloane Stephens d. Madison Keys, 6-3, 6-0.

Simona Halep and Sloane Stephens pose with their trophies after the 2018 Roland Garros final. (Getty Images)

Sloane Stephens's title defense gets a boost.

What a 12-month journey it's been for Sloane Stephens. She stunned everyone by coming off a debilitating foot injury to win the US Open as the No.83 player in the world. But she returns to New York as one of the short-list favorites for the title, not because of what she did here a year ago, but because of what she's done since. 

Stephens has done incredibly well to consolidate her New York title run. She won the Miami Open in March, made her second major final at the French Open, and continued to play strong tennis during the summer hardcourts, losing to Halep again in the Montreal final. Her tennis is there, she's fitter than she was before, and so long as she handles the unique pressures of returning under the defending champion spotlight, you have to think she'll put herself in the position to do it all again.

Seeded No.3, Stephens comes out as a draw winner. She's been drawn into the top half along with No.1 Simona Halep, and those two could face off for the third time in this year in the semifinals. Stephens and Halep has built up one of the most compelling rivalries of 2018, with Stephens pushing Halep to the absolute limit in their last two three-set dramatics in Paris and Montreal, and their meetings this year have been absolute must-see TV. 

Stephens will open her title defense against Evgeniya Rodina, who made a surprise run to the Round of 16 at Wimbledon last month. The American fould face either Victoria Azarenka or Daria Gavrilova in the third round, with No.15 Elise Mertens a potential opponent in the Round of 16. The Belgian defeated a fatigued Stephens just last week in Cincinnati. 

The highlight match of Stephens' quarter could come in the quarterfinals against No.7 Elina Svitolina. The Ukrainian is incredibly solid, but there will be a lot on that line if that match happens. She has yet to make it past the quarterfinals of a Slam and that pressure has weighed on her all season long. All in all, this is a very workable quarter for Sloane. 

Listen to a full preview of the 2018 US Open Draw featuring Reem Abulleil below: 

Simona Halep dealt a grueling road to the quarterfinals.

The World No.1 returns to New York with nothing to lose and everything to gain. After taking a lengthy break after Wimbledon, she returned to action during the US Open Series and proceeded to win 9 of 10 matches in two weeks in Montreal and Cincinnati. Her summer success means she has locked up the No.1 ranking through the US Open, which means for the first time since 2016 Wimbledon, the top spot is not on the line at a Slam. 

Halep was the ultimate draw loser at last year's US Open, where she faced unseeded Maria Sharapova in the first round and bowed out in three tough sets. With no points to defend, the No.1 ranking secured, and her maiden major already under her belt, one would think the Romanian will be ready to swing freely over the fortnight. Despite her hardcourt prowess - Halep sits at No.1 in the WTA Insider Hardcourt Power Rankings and leads the tour in hardcourt wins this season - the US Open has been her weakest Slam.

Once again, the luck of the draw is not with Halep in New York. Not only did No.17 seed Serena Williams land in her quarter - the two could face off in the Round of 16 - but she'll open against the always dangerous Kaia Kanepi, who is a two-time US Open quarterfinalist, including her run last year. The first seed Halep could face is Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the third round. The two played an absolutely grueling three-set match just two weeks ago in Montreal. 

Halep could face either Garbiñe Muguruza or Karolina Pliskova in the quarterfinals, before a potential semifinal against two women who have been tough outs for Halep: Stephens or Svitolina. 

The 2004 US Open champion bolstered her wildcard bid by winning the Citi Open. (Getty Images)

Svetlana Kuznetsova looks to crash the Serena and Venus party. 

USTA did right by two former US Open champions before the draw even came out, granting 2004 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova a main draw wildcard and boosting Serena Williams' seeding up nine spots to No.17. Serena's seeding boost meant she could face a player seeded in the 9-16 group. As it would turn out, that would be her big sister Venus, who comes into the US Open seeded right at No.16. 

Oh. And Venus will play Kuznetsova in the first round. Luck of the draw, indeed. 

All three former US Open champions landed in the same section as part of Halep's top quarter of the draw. While there will be much anticipation for the potential third-round match between the Serena and Venus - they last faced each other at Indian Wells, which was Serena's first tournament back from maternity leave - Kuznetsova is the one who has won the most matches on the summer hardcourts. 

The Russian effectively secured her US Open wildcard with her title run at the Citi Open in Washinton D.C. three weeks ago, and is building good form after struggling with the after-effects of off-season wrist surgery. It's been a tougher summer for Venus,  who has not beaten a Top 50 player since May and suffered a knee injury in Montreal that forced her out of Cincinnati. 

Serena Williams has not lost before the semifinal stage at the US Open since 2007. (@Jimmie48)

But all eyes will be on Serena as she makes another bid to match Margaret Court's all-time record of 24 major singles title, with the boost of the home crowd as well. Serena comes into the US Open with minimal match-play after a first-round loss to Johanna Konta in San Jose and a second-round loss to Petra Kvitova in Cincinnati. But don't let the numbers fool you. Serena's form against Kvitova was outstanding, and if she's improved from that level at all over the last week of practice, she'll be near-unstoppable in New York.

But the question remains: Can she hold that level for seven matches, especially in the tough top half of the draw? We can't wait to find out. 

Prior to winning the 2018 Australian Open, the US Open was Caroline Wozniacki's best Slam. (@Jimmie48)

Caroline Wozniacki leads a wide-open bottom half of the draw.

Question marks abound for the top seeds in the bottom half of the draw, and we'll surely get some definitive answers in the first week of play. No.2 Caroline Wozniacki anchors the bottom half at the Slam at which she has historically flourished. But the reigning Australian Open champion comes into New York on a three-match losing streak, going 0 for 2 in her summer hardcourt events. She lost in her Montreal opener to the surging Aryna Sabalenka in three-sets, and then retired to eventual champion Kiki Bertens in Cincinnati due to a knee injury. 

No.4 Angelique Kerber also returns to New York under a cloud of uncertainty. The German should be on the short-list of favorites for the title, having just won Wimbledon and winning the title here two years ago. Kerber is the first to say she needs match-play to get her game shored up ahead of a major and she was only able to play three matches this summer, taking losses to Alize Cornet and Madison Keys. But she showed positive signs that she's closer to finding her hardcourt game in her tough three-set win over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in Cincinnati last week. 

Kerber opens against Margarita Gasparyan and could face a rematch against Madison Keys in the Round of 16, with Caroline Garcia as a possible quarterfinal opponent.

No.6 Garcia reached a career-high ranking of No.5 last week, but her ranking is slightly deceptive given the large bulk of points she earned at the end of the year last season in Asia. Sitting at No.14 in the Porsche Race to Singapore, Garcia is still trying to find the level that triggered her surge last season. But if she gets a head of steam on her, things can change fast. But she'll have to find that level quickly. She opens her tournament against a quickly improving Johanna Konta in the first round. 

Perhaps the strongest top seed in the bottom half of the draw is No.5 Petra Kvitova. The Czech played a stunner of a match to defeat Serena in Cincinnati, and as of this writing, she's into the quarterfinals of the New Haven.  The US Open has quietly become Kvitova's most consistent Slam in recent years. Since winning 2014 Wimbledon, the US Open is the only Slam at with Kvitova has made a quarterfinal. She's done it twice, in 2015 and last year, yet it's also the only Slam at which she's never made a semifinal. The tour-leader in titles this year, could Kvitova finally make her New York breakout? She opens against Yanina Wickmayer and could face a red-hot Sabalenka in the third round, Daria Kasatkina in the Round of 16, and Wozniacki looming in the quarterfinals. 

Kiki Bertens has won her last eight matches against Top 10 opponents. (@Jimmie48)

Kiki Bertens primed for a breakthrough. 

The 2018 Cincinnati champion has been a giant-slayer over the last few months of the season. Now ranked at a career-high No.13, the Dutchwoman who has been a standout clay-court specialist her entire career, has suddenly found the key to playing on faster hardcourts. The results have been incredible. After a strong clay season that saw her win Charleston and make the biggest final of her career at the Madrid Open, Bertens went on to make an improbable quarterfinal at Wimbledon and then surged through the summer hardcourts to the biggest title of her career in Cincinnati.

The 26-year-old has never made it past the second round of the US Open, but the same was true earlier this year at the Australian Open, where she made the third round for the first time. She had never made it past the third round of Wimbledon before this year. She had never beaten a Top 10 player on hardcourt before this summer (she notched 6 wins of Top 10 opposition the last two weeks) and she had never made a hardcourt final before (just to repeat: she won Cincinnati). 

Kiki Bertens' history may not indicate she's ready to make a deep run at the US Open, but she's spent the whole year tearing the history books. Drawn into Caroline Wozniacki's quarter, Bertens opens against Kristyna Pliskova and the first seed she could face is Mihaela Buzarnescu, who is trying to play her first tournament since a bad ankle injury in Montreal. 

Johanna Konta handed Serena Williams the most lopsided loss of her career last month in San Jose.

Notable First Round Matches: Simona Halep vs. Kaia Kanepi, Venus Williams vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova, Garbiñe Muguruza vs. Zhang Shuai, Petra Martic vs. Lucie Safarova, Anastasia Sevastova vs. Donna Vekic, Caroline Garcia vs. Johanna Konta, Jelena Ostapenko vs. Andrea Petkovic, Timea Bacsinszky vs. Aleksandra Krunic, Danielle Collins vs. Aryna Sabalenka, Naomi Osaka vs. Laura Siegemund, Aliaksandra Sasnovich vs. Belinda Bencic, Timea Babos vs. Daria Kasatkina, Anett Kontaveit vs. Katarina Siniakova, Caroline Wozniacki vs. Samantha Stosur.