Nadal faces tough road to U.S. Open title

By Julian Linden

The Spaniard will launch his championship campaign against unseeded Russian Teymuraz Gabashvili but was given no favors during Thursday's official draw at Flushing Meadows.

If results go according to the rankings, the top seed will face the in-form Briton Murray in the semi-finals then Federer in the final, if the Swiss master successfully navigates his own tricky path to reach a seventh consecutive New York final.

If Federer survives that, he could then meet Serbia's third seed Djokovic, the 2008 Australian Open champion, in the semi-finals of the two-week tournament starting Monday.

"The first four are of course the biggest favorites," Djokovic told Reuters. "But you also have (Andy) Roddick, Soderling, (Tomas) Berdych, these guys have all played extremely well and have played finals of grand slams."

The women's draw, weakened by the absence of injured world number one Serena Williams and former champion Justine Henin, is looming as one of the most open in years with at least a dozen players looming as genuine contenders.

Last year's runner-up Caroline Wozniacki was promoted to top seed after the withdrawal of Williams while the defending champion Kim Clijsters was elevated to second seed, in the bottom half of the draw.

Her previous win was in 2005 but injury prevented her from defending her crown in 2006 and the Belgian said she was looking forward to finally returning to the courts as the reigning champion.

"This is a new experience for me," she told Reuters. "Now that I'm a little bit older and I've been away for a little bit I feel a little bit more experienced and I can look back and my wins and losses and wins from the past in a completely different way."

Williams, a two-times U.S. Open champion, was drawn to play Italian Roberta Vinci first up and is in the same quarter of the draw as Italy's French Open champion Francesca Schiavone, who plays Japan's Ayumi Morita in the first round.

But Wozniacki faces a tantalizing fourth-round showdown with Maria Sharapova, who joins Svetlana Kuznetsova as former Russian U.S. Open champions in the same quarter.

Serbia's Jelena Jankovic looms as a possible semi-final opponent in the top half of a draw that is notable for the absence of the imposing figure of Serena Williams.

(Editing by Frank Pingue)