Australian Open draw: Rafael Nadal avoids Novak Djokovic, Simona Halep and Maria Sharapova handed tough path

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The top seeds of the men’s and women’s singles draws at the Australian Open were handed mixed fortunes as Rafael Nadal managed to avoid Novak Djokovic in his half while Simona Halep was given a brutal path.

Nadal, last year’s runner-up in Melbourne, opens his campaign against Dominican Victor Estrella Burgos. The first seed he could meet is Bosnian No. 28 seed Damir Dzumhur in the third round with No. 16 seed John Isner lying ahead as a possible fourth round opponent for the Spaniard.

Sixth-seeded Marin Cilic could be Nadal’s quarter-final foe or Spanish No. 10 seed Pablo Carreno Busta. No. 3 seed Grigor Dimitrov or No. 8 Jack Sock are seeded to potentially take on Nadal in the semi-finals.

Roger Federer, the No. 2 seed, begins his title defence against Slovenian Aljaz Bedene. The Swiss could square off with 29th-seeded Frenchman Richard Gasquet in the third round, 2016 semi-finalist Milos Raonic in the fourth round, and seventh-seeded David Goffin — who beat Federer in the ATP Finals last November — or Juan Martin del Potro — who ousted Federer at the 2017 US Open — in the quarter-finals.

Djokovic, a six-time Australian Open champion, is seeded 14 since his ranking slipped due to his six-month injury hiatus. The Serb landed in the quarter of the draw that is home to fourth-seeded Alexander Zverev and fifth-seeded Dominic Thiem. Djokovic faces American Donald Young in the opening round. His possible path could see him face Zverev in the fourth round, Stan Wawrinka, Thiem or Roberto Bautista Agut in the quarters, before a mouth-watering prospect that is a semi-final against Federer.

The 20-year-old Zverev might have a tough task at hand. If he wants to make it out of his quarter of the draw, he might have to beat his brother Mischa — a quarter-finalist in Melbourne last year — in the third round, or Australian wildcard Thanasi Kokkinakis — who defeat Alexander Zverev at the Hopman Cup last week — before a showdown with Djokovic in the last-16.

Meanwhile, last year’s semi-finalist and current ATP Finals champion Dimitrov has No. 17 seed Nick Kyrgios, Canadian teen Denis Shapovalov, or former runner-up Jo-Wilfried Tsonga all as potential fourth round opponents.

Sock or in-form 11th-seeded Kevin Anderson could face Dimitrov in the quarters.

Potential last-16 clashes by seed

Rafael Nadal (ESP x1) v John Isner (USA x16)

Marin Cilic (CRO x6) v Pablo Carreno Busta (ESP x10)

Grigor Dimitrov (BUL x3) v Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA x15)

Kevin Anderson (RSA x11) v Jack Sock (USA x8)

Dominic Thiem (AUT x5) v Stan Wawrinka (SUI x9)

Novak Djokovic (SRB x14) v Alexander Zverev (GER x4)

David Goffin (BEL x7) v Juan Martin del Potro (ARG x12)

Sam Querrey (USA x13) v Roger Federer (SUI x2)

THE LADIES

On the women’s side, Halep might have to tame several power-hitters if she plans on making it through her quarter of the draw. While former champion Maria Sharapova also has a daunting path ahead of her.

Halep commences her assault on a first Grand Slam title against local wildcard Destanee Aiava. If she wins against the 17-year-old Aussie, the Romanian world No. 1 would then face either former semi-finalist Eugenie Bouchard or French big-hitter Oceane Dodin.

Two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova or German former top-10er Andrea Petkovic are possible third round opponents for Halep. Talented No. 18 seed Ashleigh Barty or Japanese Naomi Osaka — who hits a big ball — could lie ahead in the fourth round before potential quarter-final showdowns with either Karolina Pliskova or Johanna Konta.

Tunisian Ons Jabeur is in Halep’s quarter and opens her campaign against No. 16 seed Elena Vesnina.

Pliskova and Konta could clash in the fourth round but the Czech No. 6 seed might have to defeat fellow Czech Lucie Safarova first in the third round. .

Garbine Muguruza, the No. 3 seed, and eight-seeded Caroline Garcia, are both potential semi-final rivals for Halep or Pliskova.

A juicy third round between Muguruza and ex-world No. 2 Agnieszka Radwanska could be in the cards, if the latter manages to get through her tough opener against Kristyna Pliskova.

Muguruza could get 2016 champion Angelique Kerber, or Sharapova or 14th-seeded Anastasija Sevastova in the fourth round, before a possible quarter-final against Garcia.

Sharapova begins her Australian Open against Germany’s Tatjana Maria then in the second round could get a rematch with Sevastova, who ousted the Russian in the US Open last year.

If Sharapova manages to get through that one, she could then face an in-form Kerber in the third round before possibly Muguruza in the last-16.

The bottom half of the draw has some incredible match-ups with last year’s runner-up Venus Williams drawing Belinda Bencic in the first round. Bencic, who came back from left wrist surgery last year is on a 15-match winning streak and showed stunning form in the Hopman Cup last week.

If Williams advances, up ahead is a possible tough clash with Auckland champion and No. 12 seed Julia Goerges, who is on a 14-match winning streak, claiming three titles back-to-back.

Fourth-seed and Brisbane champion Elina Svitolina is a potential quarter-final rival for Williams, while US Open champion Sloane Stephens is also in that quarter of the draw but the American has a tough opener against Zhang Shuai to get through.

Second-seeded Caroline Wozniacki shares a quarter with French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko, and the pair are possible semi-final opponents for Svitolina or Williams.

Potential last-16 clashes by seed

Simona Halep (ROU x1) v Elena Vesnina (RUS x16)

Johanna Konta (GBR x9) v Karolina Pliskova (CZE x6)

Garbine Muguruza (ESP x3) v Anastasija Sevastova (LAT x14)

Kristina Mladenovic (FRA x11) v Caroline Garcia (FRA x8)

Venus Williams (USA x5) v Julia Goerges (GER x12)

Sloane Stephens (USA x13) v Elina Svitolina (UKR x4)

Jelena Ostapenko (LAT x7) v Coco Vandeweghe (USA x10)

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (RUS x15) v Caroline Wozniacki (DEN x2)

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