NEW YORK • The first player standing between Serena Williams and a historic tennis feat is Vitalia Diatchenko, a Russian ranked 86th.
The draw for the US Open was announced on Thursday, laying out the American's path to become the first woman to win all four Grand Slam events in one year since Steffi Graf in 1988.
At Wimbledon, Williams secured a second so-called Serena Slam by winning four Major tournaments in a row. On Thursday, she called that achievement "unbelievable practice" for what was at stake for her in Flushing Meadows.
"That really gave me the best practice and preparation in terms of going for the Grand Slam."
THE GREATEST FEMALE PLAYER?
No, I can't sit here and say that. But I can sit here and say that I'm the greatest player that I've been able to be.
In the second round, Williams could face a qualifier or Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, a Croatian veteran who beat second-seeded Simona Halep to reach the fourth round of the US Open last year.
The first seeded player Williams could meet is No. 29 Sloane Stephens in the third round.
The latter has been one of her most difficult opponents this year, twice winning the first set against her fellow American in three matches contested.
US Open: 4 first-round matches to watch
ANDY MURRAY VERSUS NICK KYRGIOS
Murray leads series 3-0: Australian Kyrgios, 20, is hard to keep out of the headlines but with Murray, the 2012 champion, holding a 3-0 head-to-head advantage, the world No. 37 may have a short stay in New York. Kyrgios was handed a suspended ban and fine for his lurid verbal attack on Stan Wawrinka at the Montreal Masters. He triggered widespread revulsion for his on-court taunt that fellow Aussie Thanasi Kokkinakis had had a fling with WTA professional Donna Vekic, reportedly the girlfriend of Wawrinka.
RAFAEL NADAL VERSUS BORNA CORIC
Coric leads series 1-0: Two-time champion Nadal has a tough opener against the world No. 35. Coric, just 18, defeated the Spaniard in the quarter-finals at Basel last year. He also beat Murray in the quarter-finals in Dubai this year before losing to Roger Federer.
SERENA WILLIAMS VERSUS VITALIA DIATCHENKO
First meeting: Diatchenko, the world No. 86 from Russia, has won just two matches on the Tour this year, the last of which was in the French Open first round. She will be playing in the US Open for the first time since 2011 when the 25-year-old was beaten in the opening round. Her favourite player is Williams, who is seeking to complete a calendar Grand Slam at Flushing Meadows.
MARIA SHARAPOVA VERSUS DARIA GAVRILOVA
Series level 1-1 : Gavrilova, 21, is Russian-born but represents Australia at the Majors. She stunned Sharapova in their first meeting in Miami this year before the five-time Grand Slam title winner exacted revenge in Rome in the semi-finals. World No. 37 Gavrilova will be playing in the US Open main draw for the first time.
In the fourth round, Williams could face 15th-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska, in a rematch of the 2012 Wimbledon final. Another possible opponent is 19th-seeded compatriot Madison Keys, whom Williams defeated in the semi-finals of this year's Australian Open .
Williams' sister Venus, seeded 23rd, and 12th-seeded Belinda Bencic, who defeated Williams this month in Toronto, are also in her quarter of the draw.
Third-seeded Maria Sharapova is a possible semi-final opponent.
Possible final contenders on the other half of the draw are the second-seeded Halep, fourth-seeded Caroline Wozniacki - Williams' opponent in last year's US Open final, fifth-seeded Petra Kvitova - the only other player to defeat Williams this year, and sixth-seeded Lucie Safarova, who lost to Williams in three sets in the French Open final.
If Williams wins the US Open, she would tie Steffi Graf's Open-era record of 22 Grand Slam singles championships. Asked if she already considered herself the best woman to have played tennis, Williams demurred.
"No, I can't sit here and say that," she said. "But I can sit here and say that I'm the greatest player that I've been able to be."
Her coach Patrick Mouratoglou said he believed that, win or lose, the tournament should not determine Williams' legacy.
"This will never change who Serena is, even in terms of as a player, whether she does the Grand Slam or not," he said. "She's going to beat the record of Steffi, if not at the US Open, then in Australia or Roland Garros. She'll be the greatest of all time anyway now."
On the men's side, Roger Federer would figurehe has a strong chance to win this tournament, coming off a title in Cincinnati that included wins over Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic.
Federer, the No. 2 seed, has not reached a US Open final since 2009. He is in the bottom half of the draw and could face third-seeded Murray or fifth-seeded Stan Wawrinka in the semi-finals.
Murray has perhaps the toughest first-round match, opening his tournament against Nick Kyrgios.
Defending champion Marin Cilic, who beat Japan's Kei Nishikori in a final of surprise packets last year, expects Djokovic to claim the crown once again.
"I would still put Novak at the top of the list, even though Andy has shown his tennis has gone up and he is motivated," Croatian ninth seed Cilic said. "And Roger is a guy who will always be a contender. His win at Cincinnati was great to see."
Djokovic, the top seed, could face eighth-seeded Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals.
Nadal, who won the title when he last competed here in 2013, has struggled throughout this year.
If he does not win this tournament, he will go a year without a Grand Slam title for the first time since 2004. He has a difficult first-round foe, 18-year-old Borna Coric, who defeated the Spaniard in their only previous meeting.
NEW YORK TIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE