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Friday, August 24, 2012
Draw set up for Serena at U.S. Open

By Jane McManus

FLUSHING MEADOWS, N.Y. -- The good news for Maria Sharapova at the U.S. Open is Serena Williams isn't on her side of the draw.

Although Sharapova, who won in Queens in 2006 and scored her first French Open title this season, has played well enough of late to earn the No. 3 seed, she was denied gold in the Olympics by the younger Williams sister in decisive fashion.

A Sharapova-Williams final would be fit for the prime-time slot Saturday night.

Williams is only the No. 4 seed here, but she has been at her best this summer, preceding her Olympic championship with her fifth Wimbledon title as she puts distance between her current form and a back injury that may have contributed to a first-round loss at the French Open.

Given that top-seeded Victoria Azarenka and No. 2 Agnieszka Radwanska have never won a U.S. Open title, consider Williams a heavy favorite to win her fourth title here, and her first since 2007.

First quarter: No free pass for top-seeded Azarenka

With Azarenka, No. 23 seed Kim Clijsters and defending champion Samantha Stosur, the No. 7 seed, all in this quarter of the draw -- it is easily the most challenging. In addition, there are a few others who excel on hard courts, such as Julia Goerges and Sabine Lisicki.

Azarenka won her first major in Australia in January and had a respectable showing at the French (fourth round) and Wimbledon (semifinal), but hasn't really played much after winning the bronze at the Olympics.

She could face either Goerges or Lisicki in the fourth round.

Clijsters, who plans to retire at the end of the season, and Stosur could meet in the fourth round. The winner would meet the top seed in the quarterfinal.

Prediction: Azarenka.

Second quarter: Sharapova's to lose

The Russian won Wimbledon at age 17 in 2004. By the time Sharapova won the U.S. Open two years later, she looked poised to rack up Grand Slam titles as easily as she was picking up endorsement deals.

With the French Open capping a career slam, Sharapova has a comfortable draw from which to double up on titles in Queens.

No. 15 Lucie Safarova or No. 5 Petra Kvitova could challenge Sharapova in the quarterfinal, though both could be upset by unseeded Daniela Hantuchova in their half of the draw.

Prediction: Sharapova

Third quarter: Serena Williams special

The most potent player in Williams' quarter might just be her first-round opponent, Coco Vandeweghe. The unseeded American had set points against Williams in the Stanford final, which she reached as a lucky loser, but Vandeweghe found out firsthand how well Williams is playing right now.

No. 8 Caroline Wozniacki has struggled this summer and has never been able to convert a high seed into a U.S. Open title. She could also face No. 12 Ana Ivanovic in a fourth-round match.

If she is playing well and is healthy, Williams is a tough out for any player. Given the relative strength of her draw, she should sail to the semifinals.

Prediction: C'mon man.

Fourth quarter: Tough spot for American women

It's a logjam of American women at the top part of this quarter. Venus Williams and Bethanie Mattek-Sands will meet in the first round, and neither is playing her best tennis. The winner will likely meet No. 6 seed Angelique Kerber of Germany, and could then face No. 21 Christina McHale in the fourth round.

McHale withdrew from New Haven after a bout with a gastrointestinal ailment following her time in London. The New Jersey native has shot up the rankings this season after making a splash at last year's Open. She could face fellow American and friend Irina Falconi in the second round.

But whether it's an American or Kerber who advances out of that slice, she would likely meet No. 2 Radwanska in the quarter. Radwanska won Miami this year, a two-week event on hard courts that would be a fitting precursor to success here.

Prediction: Radwanska