Though no player would admit to looking so far ahead, Novak Djokovic may have been the biggest winner when the U.S. Open bracket was set Thursday.
The defending champion and No. 2 seed can reach his third straight final at Flushing Meadows without having to face either Roger Federer or Andy Murray. Those two, meanwhile, wound up on the same side of the draw and could meet in the semifinals for a rematch of their recent finals at Wimbledon and the London Olympics.
"It's a question of luck," Djokovic said when asked about the only true drama in the unveiling of Thursday's bracket — whether third-seeded Murray would end up on his or top-seeded Federer's side of the draw. "You try to focus on what's in your hands, what's in your power. Thinking about the semifinal at this moment, I don't think it's the best thing."
In the women's bracket, third-seeded Maria Sharapova drew a possible semifinal matchup against top-seeded Victoria Azarenka and fourth-seeded Serena Williams could play No. 2 Agnieszka Radwanska in the semifinals.
Rafael Nadal, ranked third, is out of this year's tournament with a knee injury, marking the first time since 2008 that the quartet of Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray haven't been seeded 1 through 4 in some order at the U.S. Open.
Taking the fourth seed this year is David Ferrer, who has never made a Grand Slam final, and could face Djokovic in the semifinals.
Of the 16 semifinal spots over the last four Grand Slam tournaments, 14 have been occupied by one of the big four. Only Ferrer, at the French Open, and Jo Wilfried-Tsonga, at Wimbledon, have managed to break the stranglehold.
Djokovic has an 8-5 record against Ferrer, including a straight-set win in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open this year.
Top-seeded Federer is 8-9 against third-seeded Murray and the two have split their last two matches, both on Centre Court at the All England Club; Federer won the Wimbledon final and Murray took the gold-medal match at the London Olympics.
The potential men's quarterfinals are Federer vs. No. 6 Tomas Berdych, who upset him in the 2010 Wimbledon quarterfinals; Djokovic vs. 2009 U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro, seeded seventh; Murray vs. No. 5 Tsonga; Ferrer vs. No. 8 Janko Tipsarevic.
Sharapova completed the career Grand Slam at the French Open earlier this year, while Williams has 14 Grand Slam titles and is coming off wins at Wimbledon and the Olympics. Azarenka has one Grand Slam title — in Australia this year — while Radwanska's best finish in a major was her three-set loss to Williams in this year's Wimbledon final.
Williams' older sister Venus, who is ranked 47th this week and not seeded, plays American wild-card entry Bethanie Mattek-Sands in the first round and could face sixth-seeded Angelique Kerber in the second. Venus Williams, the 2000 and 2001 champion, pulled out of last year's U.S. Open hours before she was scheduled to play in the second round, revealing that she had been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease.
Four-time major champion Kim Clijsters will begin what she says will be the last tournament of her career against American wild-card recipient Victoria Duval. Clijsters, a 29-year-old Belgian who is seeded 23rd, might face the defending champion, seventh-seeded Sam Stosur, in the fourth round.
Clijsters won the U.S. Open the last three times she entered the hard-court tournament, in 2005, 2009 and 2010. She missed it last year because of a stomach muscle injury.
Stosur, meanwhile, has struggled since defeating Serena Williams in the final last year for her first Grand Slam title. She lost in the first round of the Australian Open and the Olympics and the second round of Wimbledon. Her only big run in a major this year came at the French Open, where she fell in a mistake-filled, three-set semifinal to Sara Errani.
"It's been a year of a few ups and downs, but a lot of players go through that," Stosur said. "In the last few weeks, being on hard court, I feel a lot better and a lot more comfortable on this surface. It's conditions that suits my game, so I'm glad to be back here."
No American man hasn won the U.S. Open since Andy Roddick in 2003. There are four seeded U.S. men trying to halt that streak: No. 9 John Isner, No. 23 Mardy Fish, No. 27 Sam Querrey and Roddick, who is seeded 20th. Roddick won a hard-court tournament in Atlanta in July, but has since fallen to Djokovic in the second round of the Olympics, then to 38th-ranked Jeremy Chardy in the first round in Cincinnati.
James Blake and Ryan Harrison are among the unseeded Americans in the draw. Roddick could face del Potro in the fourth round, while Isner is in the same quarter of the draw as Ferrer.
Federer, who has a record 17 Grand Slam titles, opens against another American, Donald Young, who is 2-20 this year.
Djokovic's first match is against 69th-ranked Paolo Lorenzi of Italy.
Serena Williams opens against another American, Coco Vandeweghe, the 2008 girls champion.