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Ash Barty will launch her Australian Open assault against world number 77 Danka Kovinic while the draw hasn’t been overly kind to Australia’s leading men’s hopes.
Women’s top seed for the second year running, Barty could face compatriot Daria Gavrilova in the second round at Melbourne Park.
If she makes the second week, as she has done the past two years, world number one Barty’s first big test is likely to come against 16th seed Petra Martic in the fourth round.
Former world number one Karolina Pliskova or 11th seed Belinda Bencic could be lurking in the quarter-finals, with defending champion Sofia Kenin looming as the projected semi-final opponent for Barty.
Kenin ended Barty’s campaign at the same stage last year after the Queenslander became the first local woman since Wendy Turnbull in 1984 to reach the Open semi-finals.
Other heavyweights in Barty’s half of the draw include two-time Open champion Victoria Azarenka and fifth seed Elina Svitolina.
All in all, it’s an inviting draw for Barty – not that she’s getting carried away.
“The depth in women’s tennis is exceptionally strong. There are certainly no easy matches,” she said.
(Mark Brake/Getty Images)
“I think everyone is in a little bit of the same boat in the sense it’s a start of a new season, not many matches under our belts, but I think that can bring out the best in you sometimes.
“You have to fight and scrap and find a way to get through those tough matches to get yourself a chance to continue to improve and get another opportunity to play.”
Australian men’s number one Alex de Minaur will start against dual quarter-finalist Tennys Sandgren and has landed in the same section of the draw as second-seeded world number two Rafael Nadal.
A back issue that has forced Nadal out of Spain’s two ATP Cup matches this week has the 20-times grand slam winner under a serious fitness cloud. But if he recovers, Nadal looms as a major fourth-round road block for de Minaur, the 21st seed.
Nick Kyrgios plays qualifier Frederico Ferreira Silva first and could strike third-seeded US Open champion Dominic Thiem in the third round.
A former quarter-finalist who lost to Nadal in the fourth round last year, Kyrgios is unseeded after skipping most of the 2020 season because of the coronavirus pandemic.
De Minaur and Kyrgios lead a 13-strong local challenge in the men’s singles.
Fellow grand slam quarter-finaist John Millman opens against rising Frenchman Corentin Moutet, while Bernard Tomic plays Japan’s Yuichi Sugita after successfully qualifying for his 11th Open tilt.
Veteran Samantha Stosur, making her 19th and potentially last Open after becoming a mother last year, faces Destanee Aiava in an all-Australian affair.
Men’s world number one Novak Djokovic begins his quest for a ninth Open crown against Jeremy Chardy, while superstar Serena Williams plays Laura Siegemund in her bid for an elusive 24th career major, which would match Margaret Court’s all-time record.
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