Johannesburg – The draw provided no favours for South Africa's top tennis players, Kevin Anderson and Chani Scheepers, in their quest for a first-ever grand slam quarterfinal berth at the US Open which starts on Monday.
The 6ft 8in Anderson has reached the last 16 round on five previous occasions in grand slam events and is one of an auspicious group of six players, along with world number one Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who have made it to the fourth round of this year's previous grand slam tournaments.
Anderson's progress, however, encountered a shuddering halt in each of his last 16 round matches, and it could prove just as difficult to make the elusive breakthrough this time around.
While the world's 20th-ranked Anderson will be favoured to overcome 40th-ranked Uruguayan clay court specialist Pablo Cuevas in the first round as a result of his booming serves, his matches would become increasingly more difficult if he overcomes the opening hurdle.
Jerzy Janowicz is a potential second-round opponent, with the enigmatic Polish player having recovered his best form this week at the Winston-Salem Open after a frustrating year while Anderson suffered an early exit from the tournament, after entering in the last minute as a wild card.
Talented 14th-seeded Croatian Marin Cilic is earmarked to meet the 18th-seeded Anderson in the third round and a possible fourth round opponent is nuggety, fourth-seeded David Ferrer, whose relentless style has provided the South African with insoluble problems in their recent match-ups.
Scheepers, whose world ranking has deteriorated from a career-best 37th to 72nd in the last year, has also not been blessed with an easy path, coming up against 22 year-old American prospect Christina McHale in the first round. And a meeting against two-time Australian Open winner and world number one Victoria Azarenka in the offing in the second round.
Scheepers, who has reached one previous grand slam fourth round, can take a measure of comfort from the fact that both McHale and Azarenka have experienced problems and managed to produce relatively little success over the last six months.
After reaching the quarterfinals of the Australian Open in January, Azarenka has been blighted by a succession of injuries and next week's tournament at Flushing Meadows is in the nature of a comeback campaign for the Belarussian.
McHale climbed to a world ranking of 22nd as a 20 year-old in 2012, but predictions that she could make further progress and become a possible grand slam title contender have not materialised in the last two years.
But no matter what success the top South Africans achieve, the monetary rewards are substantial for all the qualifiers at the US Open, with a record overall amount in prize money of over R400-million up for grabs. – Sapa