MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Top seed and defending champion Novak Djokovic’s road to a sixth Australian Open title starts with a first-round match against South Korean young gun Chung Hyeon, while women’s champion Serena Williams faces feisty Italian Camila Giorgi.
A rising star of Asian tennis, 19-year-old Chung was voted the ATP’s most improved player last season after his ranking soared into the top 60 from 173 at the end of 2014.
“That’s not going to be an easy match,” American super-coach Paul Annacone told reporters at Melbourne Park during the draw ceremony on Friday.
“Novak’s going to be tested right from the start.”
The iron-willed Serb otherwise enjoys a kind run in the draw’s top quarter, with a potential last eight match-up against seventh seed Kei Nishikori his first against a top-10 player.
Second seed Andy Murray, runner-up to Djokovic last year, will play another emerging talent in 18-year-old Belgian Alexander Zverev as the Briton bids for a first trophy in Melbourne after four trips to the final.
Third seed Roger Federer faces 117th-ranked Georgian Nikoloz Basilashvili in the first round while compatriot Stan Wawrinka, the 2014 champion and fourth seed, plays Russian veteran Dmitry Tursunov, now ranked 265 in the world.
Fifth seed Rafa Nadal, the 2009 winner, has an all-Spanish encounter in the first round against Fernando Verdasco before a possible quarter-final against Wawrinka.
In the women’s draw, defending champion Williams has hardly swung a racket in anger since the U.S. Open but will need to be on her game against hard-hitting Giorgi, who at world number 35, is the highest-ranked unseeded player.
Williams pulled out of the leadup Hopman Cup in Perth midway through her first match with soreness in the same left knee that troubled her during the U.S. Open.
But after parading the winner’s trophy with men’s champion Djokovic through Melbourne Park on Friday, she declared herself ready for her bid for a seventh title.
“Everything’s actually (going) really well,” the 34-year-old said at the draw ceremony. “I’m feeling really well and I’m excited about (the tournament).”
Fifth seed Maria Sharapova, runner-up to Williams last year and champion in 2008, has a first-round tie against 58th-ranked Japanese Nao Hibino.
Second seed Simona Halep, who is battling a nagging Achilles problem, faces a qualifier first up while third seed Garbine Muguruza meets 86th-ranked Estonian Annett Kontaveit.
Two-time champion Victoria Azarenka, seeded 14th, looms as a dangerous floater in the draw and will play 44th-ranked Belgian Alison Van Uytvanck.
Retiring men’s former world number one Lleyton Hewitt, playing a record 20th and final appearance at his home grand slam, kicks off his tour swansong against compatriot James Duckworth.
(By Ian Ransom, Editing by Peter Rutherford/Nick Mulvenney)