NEW YORK, N.Y. - The biggest question heading into the U.S. Open draw was: Which highly seeded woman could be stuck facing Serena Williams in the third round? The answer: No. 4 Victoria Azarenka of Belarus.
"Poor, poor, poor Victoria Azarenka," seven-time major champion John McEnroe said at Thursday's draw ceremony in Flushing Meadows.
Azarenka was a Wimbledon semifinalist in July, as was No. 22 Sabine Lisicki of Germany, who could play Williams' older sister Venus in the second round. Both Williams sisters lost in the fourth round at the All England Club.
Serena Williams is a three-time U.S. Open champion who leads all active women with 13 Grand Slam titles. Venus Williams is a two-time winner in New York and owns a total of seven major singles trophies.
The Grand Slam tournament starts Monday.
After missing nearly a year of action because of a series of health problems, Serena Williams returned to the tour in June and won two of her four tournaments. She is seeded 28th for the U.S. Open, which followed the rankings rather than taking into account players' past performances.
McEnroe's brother, former U.S. Davis Cup captain Patrick, called her "the most dangerous 28th seed in the history of the U.S. Open."
Venus Williams, meanwhile, is ranked 36th and unseeded; she could face No. 14 Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia in the third round.
Looking at the latter stages of the men's field, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer were drawn to possibly meet in one semifinal, while defending champion Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray could meet in the other.
The top-ranked Djokovic is 57-2 in 2011, and one of those losses came against Federer in the French Open semifinals, ending the Serb's 43-match winning streak that began in December. A year ago at Flushing Meadows, Djokovic beat five-time U.S. Open champion Federer in the semifinals before losing to Nadal.
This year, though, Djokovic is 5-0 against Nadal, with all of those matches coming in tournament finals, most recently at Wimbledon. That allowed Djokovic to overtake Nadal in the rankings in July.
"To finish the year as No. 1 for me is impossible. That is not going to happen, because Djokovic is going to finish No. 1, because he deserves to be No. 1 this year. For me, it is not a question. For me, it is not something that worries me," Nadal said after participating in the draw for the women's field. "What really worries me is to be competitive. ... I did not lose the No. 1 (ranking). Djokovic won (it)."
The possible men's quarter-finals are No. 1-seeded Djokovic against No. 7 Gael Monfils; No. 3 Federer against No. 8 Mardy Fish, the highest-seeded American man in New York for the first time; No. 2 Nadal against No. 5 David Ferrer; and No. 4 Murray, who is 0-3 in Grand Slam finals, against No. 6 Robin Soderling, a two-time French Open runner-up.
The women's quarter-finals could be No. 1-seeded Caroline Wozniacki, the 2009 runner-up at the U.S. Open, against reigning French Open champion Li Na; Serena Williams or Azarenka against 2010 French Open champion Francesca Schiavone; 2006 U.S. Open champion Maria Sharapova against the woman who beat her in this year's Wimbledon final, No. 5 Petra Kvitova; and Venus Williams or No. 2 Vera Zvonareva, last year's U.S. Open runner-up, against 2007 Wimbledon finalist Marion Bartoli.
Seeking his first U.S. Open title, Djokovic appears to have been placed in a section that doesn't look as though it will be particularly difficult. He will play a qualifier in the first round, then could face former top-10 player Nikolay Davydenko or No. 32 Ivan Dodig in the third.
Federer might face a third-round test against Australian teen Bernard Tomic, who became the youngest Wimbledon quarter-finalist since Boris Becker in 1986. Federer has won a record 16 Grand Slam titles, but none since the Australian Open in January 2010.
"I think Federer is going to win another major," John McEnroe said. "I don't know if it's going to be this one here. But he seems to be healthy. He hasn't played his best tennis, but he wants to save it for the majors."