Djokovic starts Australia defence against Mathieu

Fri Jan 11, 2013 2:36am EST
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By Ian Ransom

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - World number one Novak Djokovic's bid for a third successive Australian Open title has been given a boost with a relatively smooth draw in the first grand slam of the season.

The 25-year-old Serb kicks off his title defence with a first round tie against unseeded Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu in the draw announced on Friday and faces no major hurdles until a potentially dangerous quarter-final against fifth-seeded Czech Tomas Berdych.

In a top half of the draw free of 'Big Four' rivals Roger Federer, Andy Murray and the absent Rafa Nadal, a possible semi-final clash with fourth seed David Ferrer, looms for five-times grand slam winner Djokovic, who beat the tenacious Spaniard in the quarter-finals last year.

"I think realistically, three can win," Australia's former Wimbledon champion Pat Cash said at the draw, referring to Djokovic, second seed Federer and third-seeded Murray.

"You've got to say Novak, you'd expect him to be the favorite ... but Andy Murray is hitting his peak."

Former world number one Federer faces a tough first week in his bid to add to his record 17 grand slam titles, however.

The four-time champion will also play an unseeded Frenchman in Benoit Paire in his opener, but is likely to face former top-10 player Nikolay Davydenko of Russia in the second round before another potentially tricky clash with local hope Bernard Tomic in the third.

Big-serving Milos Raonic of Canada, the 13th seed, is then an unpalatable prospect in the last 16, with athletic Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga a good chance to meet the Swiss in the quarter-finals.   Continued...

Serbia's Novak Djokovic hits the ball during a practice session at Melbourne Park January 10, 2013, ahead of the Australian Open tennis tournament which begins on Monday. REUTERS/Tim Wimborne