MELBOURNE: Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic are aiming for the same record from opposite sides of the draw, leaving open the prospect of them playing in the final for a seventh Australian Open title.
Top-ranked Djokovic and defending champion Federer enter the season-opening major equal with Roy Emerson, who won his six Australian singles championships between 1961-67, before the Open era.
Serena Williams already has won seven Australian Open singles titles, and is a strong contender to add another after skipping last year’s tournament while on leave after having a baby.
Now seeded 16th, Serena was drawn into the same section on Thursday as No. 1-ranked Simona Halep, the runner-up last year. The pair could meet in the fourth round.
Djokovic starts at the top of the draw and will open against a qualifier. Things could get much tougher quickly, with a potential second-round meeting against wild-card entry Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who he beat in the 2008 Australian final, and with Denis Shapovalov in the same section. Eighth-seeded Kei Nishikori, who opened the season with a title in Brisbane, is a potential quarter-final rival and No. 4 Alexander Zverev looms as a semi-final opponent if both players advance that far.
Federer, who has won the last two at Melbourne Park in a career resurgence, is in the bottom half of the draw with second-ranked Rafael Nadal, who is returning from an injury layoff.
Aiming for a 21st Grand Slam trophy and a 100th career singles title, Federer will open against Denis Istomin. And with No. 6 Marin Cilic in the same quarter, there’s potential for a rematch of the 2018 final a few rounds early.
“I’m so close, I’ll give it a go,” Federer said. “If I made 100 at the Australian I’d take it, I’d gladly accept it and I’ll give it all I have.”
But, he noted before heading out to practice after attending the tournament draw with his trophy, “the moment you find out the draw, that’s when you shift your focus to the first round and only the first round.”
Cilic was drawn into the same section as five-time finalist Andy Murray, who is coming back from a long-term hip injury and is set to open against No. 22-seeded Roberto Bautista Agut.
Murray won only two games in an incomplete practice match with Djokovic at Melbourne Park, showing signs he’s still not fully fit after spending most of the last 18 months off the tour. Murray played at the season-opening Brisbane International last week, where he won his first-round match against James Duckworth but lost in straight sets to Daniil Medvedev in the second, limping between points and admitting he’s still dealing with his troublesome right hip.
One of the most intriguing men’s first-round matches features 2016 Wimbledon finalist Milos Raonic against mercurial Australian Nick Kyrgios, who is unseeded after his ranking slid from 13 into the 50s, but has tour-level wins over Federer, Nadal and Djokovic to his credit.
Serena will face Tatjana Maria in the first round, and could meet either Genie Bouchard or Peng Shaui in the second. Halep has drawn another first-round against Kaia Kanepi, who beat her at the same stage at last year’s US Open, and a possible third rounder against unseeded Venus Williams.
Caroline Wozniacki, who won her first Grand Slam title in Melbourne last year after a tough final against Halep, is in the same section as Maria Sharapova and has Petra Kvitova at the top of her quarter.
Second-seeded Angelique Kerber, who won the Australian and US Opens in 2016 and added the Wimbledon title last year, is in the same half as Wozniacki and has 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens in her quarter.
Published in Dawn, January 11th, 2019