Published: Sat, January 13, 2018
Sport | By Cameron Gross

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal learn opponents for Australian Open first round

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal learn opponents for Australian Open first round

World number one Simona Halep meanwhile is hoping to win her first grand slam down under this month and will begin her challenge against Australian opponent Destanee Aiava.

Defending champion Federer will be back sniffing a 20th major at the Australian Open but the build-up to the men's tournament has been more about who will even make the start line in Melbourne next Monday, rather than who will last the course. Djokovic fell to Zverev in their only prior clash in the final of last year's Masters 1000 in Rome.

In the women's bracket, Serena Williams will miss the Australian Open as she recovers from her pregnancy, but Venus Williams has an extremely hard draw herself.

A six-time Australian Open champion, Djokovic wore a compression sleeve on his troublesome right elbow in his long-awaited return to the tennis court on Wednesday.

Williams's sister Venus, who lost to her sibling in the final last year, is seeded fourth and the 37-year-old was handed a tricky first encounter against Swiss former world number seven Belinda Bencic, who is 17 years her junior.

Stan Wawrinka, the 2014 victor, meets Ricardas Berankis, while fourth seed Alexander Zverev has been drawn against Thomas Fabbiano.

Federer displayed that freedom past year and Wilander believes that fellow Swiss Wawrinka, who ended last season in August with a knee complaint, could arrive with a similar attitude this time around at Melbourne Park. Rublev reached the quarter-finals, beating David Goffin in the fourth round in straight sets.

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In the bottom half, Wozniacki will not be unduly anxious by the first week, although Ostapenko could lurk in the quarters.

Nadal's half notably includes Marin Cilic, Nick Kyrgios, Jack Sock and Grigor Dimitrov.

With so many players in contention and so much firepower, handling the stress will be the key, according to Mats Wilander.

Djokovic had a contrasting 2017, starting at No. 2 but losing in a second-round upset at the Australian Open and not playing again after Wimbledon.

A similar controversy blew up at the Auckland Classic this week when four players pulled out before their opening matches, citing injury or illness. Thiem, who admittedly played far from his best, barely got a read of it.

They will also be restricted to five minutes' warm-up time on court, and another one minute before the first point.

There has been little to cheer since the turn of the century and the last time an Australian made it to the men's final at Melbourne Park was Lleyton Hewitt in 2005. New rules reverting Grand Slams to 16 seeds from the current 32 are due to come into force in 2019.

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