Nadal draws tough opener in New York

Tennis draws are a largely ceremonial affair -- if you want a Grand Slam trophy, you are going to have to win all seven of your matches, regardless of who stands first or second, or seventh in line.

But, sometimes, there are a few gems to be mined from the debris of slotting 256 athletes in a major event. This is very much the case with the unveiling of the U.S. Open draw Thursday afternoon here at ESPN.

The leading question going in was where No. 3-seeded Rafael Nadal would fall. For the first time in more than four years, the possibility existed that Nadal would land on the same side of the draw as Roger Federer. The last time it happened was the 2005 French Open, when then-18-year-old Nadal was the No. 5 seed and Federer was No. 1.

Well, the news on Thursday was that there was no news on the Federer-Nadal front. They will not meet in a top-half semifinal.

Nadal was penciled into the bottom half of the draw, where he would have been if he had been seeded second. As it stands, he will have to beat No. 2 Andy Murray, who surpassed him in the rankings -- or No. 6 Juan Martin del Potro or No. 7 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga -- to reach the final and, if successful there, complete his career Grand Slam.

For the record, Nadal -- who is 5-2 since his return from cranky knees -- has a tasty first-round match with Richard Gasquet, who is back on the courts after that lurid kiss-and-tell with the mysterious Pamela.

Federer, for his part, seems to have a relatively easy path to his 22nd consecutive semifinal in a Grand Slam singles event. He would see No. 8 seed Nikolay Davydenko in the quarters.

While the Nadal-Federer question was first on most agendas, there was some news on the women's side.

Here, then, are nine more things to look for when the U.S. Open begins on Monday:

No. 2: The wild card in all of this, literally, is Kim Clijsters.

Since returning from retirement after giving birth to a daughter, Jada, Clijsters has been playing surprisingly well. She'll find out precisely where she is sooner, rather than later, since her placement in the draw leaves her facing a fourth-round match with No. 3-seeded Venus Williams. That's tough stuff for both women, and No. 8 seed Victoria Azarenka would await in the quarters.

Don't forget: The only major on Clijsters' résumé is the 2005 U.S. Open.

No. 3: Which brings us to the Williams sisters.

There will be no reprisal of their Wimbledon final. Although they have met each other eight times in major finals -- beginning with the 2001 U.S. Open -- it will have to be the semifinals of this U.S. Open. Venus and Serena are in the bottom half. Clearly, Serena, the defending champion, has the easier draw, with No. 7 Vera Zvonareva looming as the highest-seeded opponent in her quarter.

No. 4: Andy Roddick, believe it or not, is the last player not named Federer to win the men's title at the U.S. Open. He's reached the quarterfinals here in seven of the past eight years. Roddick is the No. 5 seed and will have a tough time just escaping the top half of the draw. No. 4 Novak Djokovic would be in line to meet him in the quarters, perhaps the best-looking men's match in that round.

Federer, who beat Roddick in a terrific Wimbledon final, winning 16-14 in the fifth set, would await in the semifinals.

No. 5: Dinara Safina, the No. 1-seeded woman, has won three titles in 2009 and has the best winning percentage on the WTA Tour this year -- .813 (52-12).

And yet, she has had a tough time on this stage. She's lost three of the past six major finals, and it isn't going to get any easier in New York.

The two Serbs, resurgent No. 5 Jelena Jankovic and No. 11 Ana Ivanovic, are lurking in her bracket of the quarters. With Clijsters and the Williams sisters in the bottom half of the draw, Safina will luckily dodge those bullets. If she gets to the final, she'll have to figure out how to win a set in that ultimate stage.

No. 6: When Murray passed Nadal in the rankings, he spared himself the worry of playing in Federer's half of the draw. He now has six matches to gather himself and try to reverse last year's U.S. Open final result. He has the physical goods to win his first career major -- does he have the mental toughness?

No. 7: That last question also pertains to Elena Dementieva, who comes into New York in the best form on the women's side. Like Safina, she benefits from having the Williams sisters and Clijsters in the bottom half of the draw.

No. 8: He was the youngest man ever to win the NCAA singles title earlier this year, but Devin Britton had rotten luck on Thursday.

The 18-year-old from Brandon, Miss., got a wild card from the USTA, but faces Federer in his first-round match.

No. 9: Is Maria Sharapova back?

We'll find out very quickly how that shoulder is -- she would play Dementieva in the third round, the best early match on the women's side.

No. 10: While Britton was unfortunate in the selection process, Ryan Sweeting is just happy to be in the main draw.

The 22-year-old, who was the 2005 boys champion at the U.S. Open, would have been forced to qualify, except … Ivo Minar of the Czech Republic withdrew, citing an injury, but later it was revealed he had tested positive for a banned substance. As a result, Rajeev Ram made the main draw off the alternate list … and Sweeting received Ram's wild card from the USTA.

Like Britton, he has a tough draw. First up is No. 16 Marin Cilic from Croatia.

Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.