January 15, 2016 / 12:16 AM / 2 years ago

Serena to play Giorgi first up at Melbourne Park

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Serena Williams of the U.S. plays against Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark in their Champions Battle exhibition tennis match in Herning, Denmark November 26, 2015.Claus Fisker/Scanpix Denmark

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Top seed and defending champion Serena Williams will face a tricky first-round opponent in world number 35 Camila Giorgi when she begins her quest for a seventh Australian Open crown and could later meet Maria Sharapova in the quarter-finals.

The draw for the season's first grand slam, conducted at Melbourne Park on Friday, gave fifth seed Sharapova, runner-up to Williams last year and champion in 2008, 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 Garbine Muguruza, among the most exciting prospects in women's tennis, is seeded third and will meet 86th-ranked Estonian Annett Kontaveit.

Fourth seed Agnieszka Radwanska, still chasing a first grand slam title, plays American Christina McHale.

Two-time champion Victoria Azarenka, seeded 14th, looms as a dangerous floater in the draw and will play 44th-ranked Belgian Alison Van Uytvanck.

Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Peter Rutherford

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