Rarely has a 128-man draw come out as unfavourably for one of the leading contenders than the US Open line-up has for the world No 2 Murray.
Murray in for rough ride
If Andy Murray fulfils the great expectations, his admirers have of him, and snares a first grand-slam title at Flushing Meadows over the next fortnight, then the young Scot will have done it the hard way. Rarely has a 128-man draw come out as unfavourably for one of the leading contenders than the US Open line-up has for the world No 2 Murray.
The second seed has a host of formidable obstacles lying in wait if results go with form at the year's concluding major, beginning with a challenge against Latvia's Ernests Gulbis, a much more difficult opponent than most of the top seeds will face. After a relatively straight-forward second-round date with either Chile's Paul Capdeville or Victor Crivoi, of Romania, the most potent weapon in the game - the ferocious serve of the gigantic Croatian Ivo Karlovic - is likely to be aimed at Murray in the third round.
If the Scot evades those deadly bullets then either Marin Cilic or, more probably, the dangerous Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka will be lurking in the last 16. As the action will hot up, a projected quarter-final against the powerful Juan Martin Del Potro precedes a semi-final against the fit-again Rafael Nadal for the right to meet the five-time champion Roger Federer in the final. That scenario is, of course, subject to an absence of shock casualties along the way but Murray, runner-up last year and more at home on North American hard courts than anywhere else in the world, could be forgiven for bemoaning the luck of the draw.
Murray maintained his winning record over Gulbis in the second round of Wimbledon two months ago in a match which was given a touch of acrimony by the Latvian's claim that he had feigned injury before winning their first clash at Queen's Club a year earlier. Murray has a similar 3-0 head-to-head record against Karlovic, but Wawrinka has defeated Murray three times and was desperately close to a fourth in an epic match at Wimbledon, the first full game to be played under the venue's new roof.
Del Potro looked like beating Murray for much of the recent Rogers Cup final in Montreal before the strapping Argentine ran out of steam and was steamrollered by the super-fit Murray in the deciding set. Then there is Nadal, the biggest imponderable of the entire draw. The last time the Spaniard was fully fit in a grand slam he won it, breaking the heart of Federer at the Australian Open in January.
If Nadal safely guides his dodgy knees through the first week, he will start to believe that a seventh major title is by no means beyond him. Murray will need all of his talent, strength and experience to confirm his new-found status ahead of the Spaniard in the world rankings. Also cursing the draw are the Williams sisters who have five US Open titles between them. They could meet again in the concluding match of the women's tournament as they did for the 21st time in their careers at Wimbledon.
This time, as second and third seeds behind Russia's Dinara Safina, they are in the same half and, barring accidents, will renew family rivalry in the semi-finals, when Serena will be hoping to repeat a quarter-final victory over Venus which propelled her to her third New York triumph last year. The women's curtain-raiser to the Open was due to conclude last night when Danish teenager Caroline Wozniacki aimed to secure a second successive Pilot Pen title in New Haven at the expense of the unseeded Russian Elena Vesnina.