NEW YORK, NY, USA - The 2017 US Open draw is out and a blockbuster first round match between No.2 Simona Halep and wildcard Maria Sharapova headlines the first week of play. With top seed and World No.1 Karolina Pliskova looking to fend off seven women who are vying for the No.1 ranking, the US Open is shaping up to be a very dramatic two weeks.
It's New York. What else did you expect?
Top 8 seeds: No.1 Karolina Pliskova, No.2 Simona Halep, No.3 Garbiñe Muguruza, No.4 Elina Svitolina, No.5 Caroline Wozniacki, No.6 Angelique Kerber, No.7 Johanna Konta, No.8 Svetlana Kuznetsova.
Top half: Pliskova, Svitolina, Kerber, Kuznetsova.
Bottom half: Halep, Muguruza, Wozniacki, Konta.
Projected quarterfinals: Pliskova vs. Kuznetsova, Svitolina vs. Kerber, Muguruza vs. Wozniacki, Halep vs. Konta.
Last year's final: Angelique Kerber d. Karolina Pliskova 6-3, 4-6, 6-4.
Opening Stunner: Maria Sharapova and Simona Halep face off in the first round.
In a draw that left the audience audibly gasping, No.2 Simona Halep will kick off her US Open against 2006 champion and tournament wildcard Maria Sharapova. This first round blockbuster will be a rematch of the 2014 Roland Garros final, which Sharapova won in three sets, and Halep will be looking to get her first win over the Russian, having gone 0-6 in their previous matches.
This is a brutal draw for both women and the tournament won't be happy to have to part ways with either marquee name so early in the tournament. But in the grand scheme of things, this is a rougher draw for Sharapova than Halep. Sharapova is playing just her second US Open since 2012, having made the Round of 16 in 2014. The former No.1 has never lost a first round match in New York (10-0) and has lost just three matches ever in the first round of any Slam, but she comes into New York under a cloud of injury, having been forced to withdraw from her last three tournaments (Stanford, Toronto, and Cincinnati) with a left arm injury.
Sharapova will be playing just her fifth tournament back and first major since her suspension ended in April, and outside of her first event in Stuttgart, she has yet to post back-to-back wins at an event. She is also seeking her first win over a Top 20 player this season.
Halep, on the other hand, comes into New York in good form, having made the semifinals in Toronto and final in Cincinnati last week. Her summer surge has allowed her to close the gap on No.1 Karolina Pliskova to just five points. New York offers Halep her best opportunity to seize the No.1 ranking (more on that below) and aside from this opening-round match, the Romanian's quarter is one she should be able to navigate, though a potential quarterfinal against No.7 Konta could await.
All in all, get past the first round against Sharapova and Halep should be in position to make the second week. But that opening round is still a tall order. Halep will have to be sharp from the get-go.
The Battle for No.1 expands to eight.
No less than eight women could leave New York with the No.1 ranking, which means the fortnight will be more than just about who finishes with the trophy, but who is racking up points with each win, and who opens the door for others with any early losses.
The most likely challengers to Pliskova's No.1 ranking are Halep, Muguruza, and Svitolina. Halep goes into the tournament just five points behind Pliskova, the narrowest margin since 2009, but once last year's US Open points are taken off -- a finalist last year, Pliskova is defending 1,300 points -- the door opens for Halep, Muguruza, and Svitolina to seize the top spot.
Halep may be in pole position for the No.1 ranking, but her first round draw against Sharapova could open the door wide open for a number of women, including Venus Williams, Caroline Wozniacki, Johanna Konta, and Svetlana Kuznetsova. An early loss by Halep would certainly boost their chances.
Angelique Kerber's title defense begins with Naomi Osaka.
After showing great signs of improvement at Wimbledon, where the German lost in three tough sets to eventual champion Garbiñe Muguruza in the Round of 16, Kerber's summer has been a frustrating one. She lost in the third round in Toronto to Sloane Stephens and narrowly lost out to Washington D.C. champion Ekaterina Makarova 13-11 in a third-set tiebreak in Cincinnati.
Those aren't bad losses considering how well Stephens and Makarova played this summer, but Kerber certainly looked frustrated and perplexed by her summer hard court season.
The former No.1 will have to be sharp in her opening round against 19-year-old Naomi Osaka, who took a set off Pliskova in Cincinnati before retiring due to an abdominal injury. This will be the first meeting between the two.
Kerber has been drawn into the top half of the draw, and while she's projected to play No.4 Svitolina in the quarterfinals, it will be a tough road to get there. She may have to face an always dangerous Lesia Tsurenko, French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko, an in-form Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, before getting to Svitolina, who has beaten her the last four times they've played.
American hopes rest with the Gang of Four.
Venus Williams leads a strong American contingent in New York, backed up by Stanford champion Madison Keys, Australian Open semifinalist CoCo Vandeweghe, and a surging Sloane Stephens, who made back-to-back semifinals in Toronto and Cincinnati. Throw in the always dangerous 18-year-old CiCi Bellis, and the Americans are primed to get a good number into the second the week of their home Slam.
Venus is the only woman in the draw to have made two major finals this season, at the Australian Open and Wimbledon, and has been drawn into the bottom half and opens her tournament against a qualifier. In the top half, Keys will open against Belgium's Elise Mertens, Vandeweghe drew an all-American showdown against Alison Riske, and Bellis opens against Nao Hibino. Stephens, in the bottom half, faces 2015 finalist Roberta Vinci.
Garbiñe Muguruza faces a tough road to the final.
The chatter amongst the punditry press is the reigning Wimbledon champion is the favorite in New York, after a seed-slaying run to the Cincinnati title last week. There, she beat Madison Keys, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Karolina Pliskova, and Simona Halep to become the first player to beat No.1 and No.2 at a tournament since 2012. Muguruza's summer run put to rest any doubts that she might fall into post-Slam slump and her week in Cincinnati proved she's playing better than ever.
Drawn into the bottom half of the draw, the 23-year-old will open against American Varvara Lepchenko and is projected to face Wimbledon semifinalist Magdalena Rybariova, hard-hitting Camila Giorgi, Caroline Garcia, or Petra Kvitova before the quarterfinals, where she could face either Caroline Wozniacki or Venus Williams. All that with Halep or Konta potentially looming in the semifinals.
Muguruza has never made it past the second round in New York, though she's committed to getting into a New York state of mind this year. Hear more on that in the WTA Insider Podcast:
First round matches to watch: Simona Halep vs. Maria Sharapova, Angelique Kerber vs. Naomi Osaka, Anett Kontaveit vs. Lucie Safarova, Kristina Mladenovic vs. Monica Niculescu, CoCo Vandeweghe vs. Alison Riske, Sloane Stephens vs. Roberta Vinci, Barbora Strycova vs. Misaki Doi, Ana Konjuh vs. Ashleigh Barty, Anastasija Sevastova vs. Carina Witthoeft, Mirjana Lucic-Baroni vs. Monica Puig, Petra Kvitova vs. Jelena Jankovic, Heather Watson vs. Alizé Cornet, Magdalena Rybarikova vs. Camila Giorgi, Elina Svitolina vs. Katerina Siniakova.
Get more insight and analysis from the WTA Insider team on the latest episode of the WTA Insider Podcast: