World No. 1 Novak Djokovic was handed no favors Friday at the U.S. Open draw.
The defending champion was put in a stacked top half of the field for the year’s final major, which is set to begin Monday in Flushing Meadows, Queens.
Djokovic, who had early losses at Wimbledon and the Olympics, will open against big-server Jerzy Janowicz, who has struggled as of late. Djokovic then could meet Jiri Vesely, who upset him earlier this year on clay, in round two.
Former world No. 1 is seeded No. 4 in New York, and joins Djokovic in the top half of the draw, the two set to meet in the semifinals should their seeds hold.
World No. 2 Andy Murray anchors the bottom half of the draw. The Wimbledon and Olympic champion has won 22 of his last 23 matches this summer. Stan Wawrinka is the No. 3 seed and also on the bottom half as the men’s draw, which is missing Roger Federer for the first time since 1999.
Doubts have swirled around Djokovic since Wimbledon, when American Sam Querrey shocked him in the third round. The Serb was then stunned by 2009 U.S. Open champion Juan Martin Del Potro in his Olympic first-round match, leaving the court in Rio in tears.
Two all-American match ups will be must-see for fans at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in the opening days, as John Isner meets young gun Frances Tiafoe in the first round, while Jack Sock takes on Taylor Fritz, who is just 18 and ranked No. 54 in the world.
If the seeds hold, the men’s quarterfinals are projected as follows: Djokovic vs. 2014 U.S. Open winner Marin Cilic; Nadal against Wimbledon finalist Milos Raonic; Wawrinka vs. rising star Dominic Thiem; and Murray taking on Kei Nishikori, the bronze medalist in Rio just two weeks ago.
Top 10 stalwart Tomas Berdych joins Federer on the sideline, having withdrawn from the event last week due to an appendicitis.
The men’s draw is full of dangerous lurkers, including Del Potro, who opens against countryman Diego Schwartzman and could meet American Steve Johnson, the No. 19 seed, in the second round.
Nick Kyrgios, the Australian who has ruffled some sensitive tennis feathers over the last two years, is seeded No. 14 and could take on fellow Australian Bernard Tomic in the third round. Kyrgios or Tomic is a potential fourth-round ask for Wawrinka, who plays the always-dangerous Fernando Verdasco to start his Open while young German Alexander Zverev looms in the third round for Wawrinka, as well.
There are 13 American men in the draw, with Johnson, Isner, Sock and Querrey leading the way. Fritz and Tiafoe are the two young guns who have had the most success on tours, so murmurs went through the room as they were drawn against respective American foes.
Nadal has not played a best-of-five-set match since withdrawing after the second round of the French Open in late May. He was doubles gold medalist in Rio alongside countryman Marc Lopez, but lost subsequent three-set matches to Del Potro and Nishikori to finish fourth in singles.
While Djokovic is the top seed and defending champion, many have tipped Murray as the more in-form player, who lost his first match since June last week in the Cincinnati final to Cilic.
Djokovic withdrew from Cincinnati because of a left wrist injury, which he said he has been addressing as best as possible. He also said a “private issue” he had been facing during Wimbledon had since been resolved, as well.
"Everything is fine," he said. "I'm in a position like everyone else, we all have private issues. You have things you have to encounter and overcome ... It happened right there (at Wimbledon). Life goes on like everything else."
Of his U.S. Open approach, Djokovic said: “The mindset is not much different than any previous year. The approach is the same, the ambitions are high. … The Olympics and Wimbledon haven’t gone the way I wished them to, but in sport sometimes you have to hit the wall to understand certain things are happening for a reason and you have to learn from that. When you experience a big loss, you can learn much more than from any win.”
Djokovic hopes that — once again — he will go seven wins for seven matches as he chases Grand Slam No. 13 in his career. Querrey thwarted his attempt at the calendar Slam this year, the Serb having been halfway there after his French Open triumph.