Early tests at Australia Open
Double defending champion Roger Federer will start his bid for a hat-trick of Australian Open titles next week against unseeded Uzbek Denis Istomin, who caused a huge upset when he defeated Novak Djokovic in the second round two years ago.
The draw for the first Grand Slam of the season was made on Thursday and the top seeds could face some early tests of their title credentials from Monday.
Six-times Australian Open champion Federer, who beat Marin Cilic in last year’s final, could meet the Croat in the quarterfinals, should the Swiss come through a potentially tricky fourth round against Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece.
The 37-year-old, seeded third, is bidding to extend his all-time leading men’s Grand Slam record to 21 titles and would capture a 100th ATP tournament win in the process.
“I always have tried to remind myself that this is a dream,” Federer said of his longevity at the draw ceremony held at Margaret Court Arena, where he discovered the world No 99 would be his opening opponent.
“I’m surprised I’m still at this level, still in the top 10.”
Men’s top seed Djokovic, who was defending his title when he lost to Istomin, will first meet a qualifier in his bid for a record seventh Melbourne title and third Grand Slam crown in succession following wins at Wimbledon and the US Open.
Serb Djokovic could then play a rematch of his 2008 final triumph over Frenchman JoWilfried Tsonga in the second round, with a possible quarterfinal against Kei Nishikori to follow.
Second seed Rafa Nadal, under an injury cloud after pulling out of the Brisbane International, will open against unseeded local James Duckworth.
Last year’s semifinalist Kyle Edmund looms as a possible fourth-round match-up for the Spaniard, who could then face big-serving Kevin Anderson in the quarterfinals.
The 2009 champion Nadal, who retired hurt in the 2018 quarterfinals against Cilic, could then meet old rival Federer in the last four.
In the women’s tournament, Serena Williams’s bid for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title and eighth at Melbourne Park will kick off against German world No 71 Tatjana Maria.
The American great faces a tough run to the quarterfinals, with top seed and last year’s finalist Simona Halep a possible fourth-round encounter.
Halep, however, has drawn her US Open nemesis, unseeded Estonian Kaia Kanepi.
Defending champion Caroline Wozniacki, who broke through for her maiden Grand Slam title with victory over Halep in last year’s final, is in line to face former winner Maria Sharapova in a mouthwatering third-round showdown.
DEFENDING CHAMP: Roger Federer, of Switzerland, holding the men’s singles trophy, waves to the crowd during the draw for the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on Thursday