(Reuters) - Maria Sharapova’s return to grand slam action will begin with a high-profile clash against Romanian second seed Simona Halep while Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal could meet in the U.S. Open semi-finals, according to Friday’s draw.
For Sharapova, a former world number one and five-times grand slam champion who returned from a 15-month doping ban in April and was awarded a wild-card invitation to the U.S. Open, it will mark her first match since pulling out of the Stanford Classic three weeks ago with an arm injury.
The 30-year-old Russian, who was banned after testing positive for heart drug meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open, has had mixed results since re-joining the WTA Tour and will need to be at her best early to keep alive any hope of her first title at Flushing Meadows since 2006.
Defending women’s champion Angelique Kerber has a tricky test as she takes on Japan’s Naomi Osaka in the opening round and could face red-hot Elina Svitolina, who won a tune-up event at Toronto, in the quarters.
Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza, who is one of the favorites and fresh from her triumph at the Cincinnati Open, could face former world number one Caroline Wozniacki in the quarters.
Czech world number one Karolina Pliskova, runner-up at last year’s tournament, will play her first round against Poland’s Magda Linette and is projected to play 2004 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova in the last eight.
Swiss third seed Federer, who is seeking his third grand-slam title of the year after wins at the Australian Open and Wimbledon, will open his quest for a sixth U.S. Open triumph against American Frances Tiafoe.
Federer, who has been enjoying a remarkable campaign after missing the last six months of 2016 to heal his knee, would face two-times champion and long-time rival Nadal in the semi-finals should the top half of the draw go according to seed.
The pair have never met at the U.S. Open, and while Nadal leads 23-14 in head-to-head meetings, Federer has won their past four clashes, including three hardcourt meetings in 2017 at the Australian Open, Indian Wells and Miami.
Australian Nick Kyrgios, the 14th seed and recent Cincinnati runner-up, or American 17th seed Sam Querrey, who is enjoying a career-best year, would pose a threat to Federer in the fourth round.
British second seed Andy Murray, who is returning from a hip injury that forced him to miss all the U.S. Open tune-up events, will play American Tennys Sandgren in the opening round while resurgent 21st seed David Ferrer of Spain is a potential fourth-round opponent.
German fourth seed Alexander Zverev, who has five titles this year and is one of the favorites to win the year’s final grand slam, opens against a qualifier and could face Croatian fifth seed Marin Cilic in the quarters.
The U.S. Open will be played Aug. 28-Sept. 10 in New York.
Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto