The first Grand Slam of the 2018 season gets underway next week in Melbourne, and there’s no shortage of former US Open singles champions in contention for the first silverware of the year.
Even with the withdrawals of six-time winner Serena Williams, who is still recovering from giving birth to her first child, and 2012 champ Andy Murray, who underwent hip surgery earlier this week, there are still 11 past US Open titlists in the mix for the Australian Open crown.
The top two seeds in the men’s draw, world No. 1 Rafael Nadal and defending champion Roger Federer, have combined to win eight US Open trophies over the past 14 years.
Nadal opens his Australian Open campaign against Victor Estrella Burgos and could face American No. 16 seed John Isner in the Round of 32. Nadal is in the same half of the draw as No. 3 seed Grigor Dimitrov and would not play Federer – for what would be the 39th time, and 10th time in a Grand Slam finale – until the championship match.
The Swiss begins against Slovenia’s Aljaz Bedene in the first round and could meet Richard Gasquet, the No. 29 seed in Round 3. The 13th-seeded American Sam Querrey could be a potential fourth-round matchup, with No. 7 seed David Goffin of Belgium waiting in the quarterfinals. No. 4 seed Alexander Zverev and fifth-seeded Dominic Thiem are in the other half of Federer’s draw and would, therefore, represent possible semifinal opponents.
With the exception of Murray, who will likely be sidelined until late spring, every other men’s champion in New York since 2004 will be seeking another major title at Melbourne Park.
2009 US Open victor Juan Martin del Potro will start his campaign against American teenager Frances Tiafoe, who pushed Federer to five sets in the first round at Flushing Meadows last year. Elsewhere, 2014 winner Marin Cilic will face Yen-Hsun Lu in the first round Down Under and could face Nadal in the quarterfinals.
In addition, there are two former US Open winners returning from injuries who are subsequently seeded lower than they may otherwise be.
2016 champion Stan Wawrinka and two-time winner Novak Djokovic both hope to be healthy in time for deep runs in Australia, but they appear to be headed in different directions.
Ninth seed Wawrinka, who won the US Open in 2016 but was unable to defend his title last year after undergoing knee surgery, is racing against the clock after withdrawing from an exhibition on Wednesday with a reported shoulder injury.
Djokovic, meanwhile, a winner in New York in 2011 and 2015, was reluctant to say he was 100-percent ready, despite looking sharp in his first match in six months earlier this week.
Former world No. 1 Djokovic, the No. 14 seed, suffered an elbow injury at Wimbledon and did not play again for 182 days before beating Thiem in straight sets at the Kooyong Classic earlier this week.
Open Lens: US Open champs ring in 2018
In the women’s draw, five former US Open singles champions are entered in the Australian Open.
Leading the way is Venus Williams, who won her home Slam in 2000 and 2001 and made finals in New York in her debut in 1997 and again in 2002.
Williams begins against one-time teen prodigy and former world No. 7 Belinda Bencic, who has been hampered with injuries but partnered with Federer to win the 2018 Hopman Cup last weekend.
The 37-year-old Williams is in the same quarter of the draw as reigning US Open champ Sloane Stephens, who has struggled for form since triumphing in the Big Apple in September.
Stephens is seeded No. 13 and plays Shuai Zheng of China in the first round. She could potentially face Williams in the fourth round, but that may require her getting past world No. 4 Elina Svitolina in the Round of 32.
In the bottom section of Williams’ half of the draw is 2011 US Open winner Sam Stosur. She takes on 2016 Rio gold medalist Monica Puig in the first round and could play No. 24 seed Dominika Cibulkova in a potentially explosive second-round match.
Stosur is one of two former US Open champions unseeded at the 2018 Australian Open. The other is 2006 winner Maria Sharapova, who won in Melbourne in 2008 and has appeared in three other finals there.
Sharapova reached the quarterfinals in Australia in her most recent appearance in 2016. She missed the next six majors while serving a suspension before returning to Grand Slam action in New York last fall.
She plays Germany’s Tatjana Maria in Round 1 and would face the winner of No. 14 seed Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia and Varvara Lepchenko of the U.S. in the Round of 64.
Another seed – and another former US Open champion – may await Sharapova in Round 3 in what would likely be one of the most widely watched matches of the first week.
Former world No. 1 Angelique Kerber, the 2016 US Open winner, is the 21st seed in Melbourne after a disappointing 2017 campaign that included first-round exits in both Paris and New York.
Kerber plays countrywoman Anna-Lena Friedsam in the first round and either Nao Hibino of Japan or Donna Vekic of Croatia in Round 2. Adding to the intrigue in a packed quarter of the draw is that reigning Wimbledon champion and 2016 French Open winner Garbiñe Muguruza would await the winner in Round 4.