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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

Novak Djokovic faces tricky path to Australian Open final as Roger Federer opens title defence against Aljaz Bedene

Serbian aiming for record seventh title in Melbourne but lowly seeding has made his campaign especially challenging

Novak Djokovic is aiming to win a record seventh Australian Open title this month. Michael Dodge / Getty Images
Novak Djokovic is aiming to win a record seventh Australian Open title this month. Michael Dodge / Getty Images

Novak Djokovic is going to have to do it the hard way if the former world No 1 is to win a record seventh Australian Open title this year.

Djokovic, 30, is seeded 14th for this year's grand slam tournament in Melbourne - a reflection of his slide down the rankings following six months out with an elbow injury.

Following Thursday's draw, the Serbian 12-time major champion will begin his campaign against American world No 63 Donald Young, a player he has beaten in both of their previous encounters.

Should Djokovic come through that, he could face France's former world No 6 Gael Monfils, who enters the Australian Open as the recently-crowned Qatar Open champion - a tournament Djokovic has twice won but opted to miss this year to continue his recovery.

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A place in the third round could set up a tie with either Albert Ramos-Vinolas, the world No 22 from Spain, or American Jared Donaldson.

If Djokovic should be expected to get through the early rounds, the challenge then steps up significantly in the fourth round where world No 4 Alexander Zverev awaits, if the draw goes according to seeding.

Germany's Zverev won their only match so far, comfortably defeating Djokovic in straight sets in the Rome Masters final last year.

Get through that and Djokovic will likely face either Austria's world No 5 Dominic Thiem or three-time grand slam champion Stan Wawrinka in the quarter-finals.

Defending champion Roger Federer could then await in the semi-finals before a potential showdown with world No 1 Rafael Nadal in the final.

Meanwhile, Nadal will begin his bid for a second Australian Open title against Victor Estrella Burgos, the world No 81 from the Dominican Republic.

Federer, who is present at Thursday's draw, will open his title defence against Slovenian world No 51 Aljaz Bedene.

“It’s great to be back. I don’t normally like going to draws as they freak me out," Federer, 36, said. "I only like to see the draw sheet and see who my first round opponent is.”

Grigor Dimitrov, the world No 3 and reigning ATP Finals champion, will take on a qualifier in the first round and could meet Australian world No 17 Nick Kyrgios in the fourth round. Kyrgios won their most recent match in the Brisbane International semi-finals.

Argentina's Juan Martin del Potro, competing at the Australian Open for the first rime since 2014 due to a series of career-threatening wrist injuries, will compete in one of the most intriguing match-ups in the first round when he faces American prospect Frances Tiafoe.

In the women's draw, top seed Simona Halep will face Australian wildcard Destanee Aiava in the opening round and could face two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova in the third round.

Arguably the standout tie of the first round will see last year's finalist Venus Williams, the No 5 seed, take on Switzerland's Belinda Bencic, who reached a career-high No 7 in the rankings before an injury layoff.

Second seed Caroline Wozniacki will open her tournament against Romania’s Mihaela Buzarnescu, while third seed Garbine Muguruza takes on French wildcard Jessika Ponchet.

In the absence of Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka, only two former champions are in the women's draw.

Germany's Angelique Kerber, the 2016 champion will face compatriot Anna-Lena Friedsam, while 2008 champion Maria Sharapova will also face a German, the world No 46 Tatjana Maria.

The Australian Open will begin on January 15.