Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 February 2020

Australian Open draw: Defending champions Novak Djokovic and Naomi Osaka learn first round opponents

The most intriguing draw sees teenage sensation Cori Gauff face Venus Williams in a rematch of their Wimbledon contest

Naomi Osaka begins her Australian Open title defence against Marie Bouzkova. Getty Images
Naomi Osaka begins her Australian Open title defence against Marie Bouzkova. Getty Images

Novak Djokovic will begin his bid to retain the Australian Open title against Germany's Jan-Lennard Struff in the first round, while women's champion Naomi Osaka starts her campaign against Czech Marie Bouzkova.

The draw for tennis' first grand slam of the season was made on Thursday, with playing conditions and player safety still high on the agenda following the bushfires that have engulfed Australia.

The players already in Melbourne awoke on Thursday to skies clear of obvious signs of the bushfire smoke that choked the city on Tuesday and Wednesday and disrupted qualifying.

Should the tournament start as scheduled on Monday, it will be the bottom half of the men's draw and top half of the women's draw that will kick off the action at Melbourne Park.

That includes women's top seed and world No Ashleigh Barty, who is aiming to end the host nation's long wait for a homegrown champion. She will begin against Ukraine's Lesia Tsurenko.

Djokovic will also start his campaign on Monday against the big-serving Struff. After guiding Serbia to the inaugural ATP Cup last week, Djokovic will start the Australian Open as the favourite to win the tournament for the eighth time.

Attempting to prevent another Djokovic triumph will be world No 1 and top seed Rafael Nadal, who faces Bolivian Hugo Dellien in the first round.

Serena Williams arrived in Australia with confidence high after a title win in the warm-up tournament in Auckland as she looks to finally match Margaret Court's record of 24 Grand Slam titles.

The 38-year-old eighth seed begins her bid for an eighth Melbourne Park crown with a first-round tie against Russian Anastasia Potapova.

The draw threw up an intriguing clash for Serena's 39-year-old sister Venus, who will face fellow American Coco Gauff.

Novak Djokovic begins his Australian Open title defence against Jan-Lennard Struff. AFP
Novak Djokovic begins his Australian Open title defence against Jan-Lennard Struff. AFP

Gauff, 15, exploded onto the tennis map at Wimbledon last year when, as a qualifier, she beat two-time Australian Open champion Venus on her main draw grand slam debut.

Osaka has enjoyed an even more stratospheric rise over the last couple of seasons and won her second grand slam crown in Australia last year.

The 22-year-old Japanese star will start her title defence against Bouzkova, although she may not know it yet after vacating the stadium court before the draw was revealed.

"I don't even like seeing who I'm first playing until the day before the match," the third seed said before making a hasty exit.

Ashleigh Barty carries the hopes of the home nation at the Australian Open. Getty Images
Ashleigh Barty carries the hopes of the home nation at the Australian Open. Getty Images

Another former champion, Maria Sharapova, needed a wildcard to get into the tournament and could present quite a challenge for 19th seed Donna Vekic.

Djokovic won a record seventh Melbourne Park crown last year to extend a still unbroken three-year dominance of the grand slam titles by the trio of the Serbian, Nadal and Roger Federer.

With Djokovic and Nadal now in their 30s and Federer, who will open his quest for a 21st major title against Steve Johnson, heading towards his 40s, all eyes are on the young guns who might break their grip.

"Daniil [Medvedev] is playing great tennis, he's definitely in that small group of players who are getting closer to a grand slam title," Djokovic said.

"Alongside him is Dominic Thiem, who is knocking on the door, and [Stefanos] Tsitsipas, who won a big tournament at the [ATP] World Finals.

Cori Gauff will face a rematch with Venus Williams in the Australian Open first round. AFP
Cori Gauff will face a rematch with Venus Williams in the Australian Open first round. AFP

"We are hoping this is not going to be the year they make the breakthrough, but it's inevitable and that it makes it exciting."

Russian fourth seed Medvedev faces the toughest challenge of the trio in the first round against American Frances Tiafoe, who reached the Australian Open quarter-finals last year.

Austrian Thiem, seeded fifth, plays France's Adrian Mannarino, while Greek sixth seed Tsitsipas takes on Italian Salvatore Caruso.

Nick Kyrgios looms as a tricky potential hurdle in Nadal and Thiem's quarter of the draw but most Australian hopes of success will rest on the shoulders of Barty, who is out to end the 42-year wait since Chris O'Neill won the title at Kooyong in 1978.

The Australian Open runs from January 20 to February 2.

Updated: January 16, 2020 03:01 PM

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