MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Novak Djokovic’s chances of winning a fifth Australian Open title have been boosted by a kind draw in the opening week, while women’s top seed Serena Williams kicks off her campaign against 106th-ranked Belgian Alison Van Uytvanck.
World number one Djokovic faces a qualifier first up and will avoid the top 10 seeds until at least the quarter-finals, where he could meet big-serving Milos Raonic, one of the highly-fancied crop of young players tipped to challenge the dominance of the ‘Big Four’.
Reigning champion Stan Wawrinka, seeded fourth, faces a tougher route if he is to defend his crown.
The Swiss takes on 99th-ranked Marsel Ilhan of Turkey before a possible fourth round matchup with 16th seeded Italian Fabio Fognini and a likely quarter-final against U.S. Open finalist Kei Nishikori.
On the comeback trail from injury and illness, third seed Rafa Nadal has also been given few favors with a dangerous opening round tie against Russian Mikhail Youzhny, a former top-10 player.
“Youzhny is not that easy to beat,” said 83-year-old Hall of Fame coach Nick Bollettieri at the draw ceremony at Melbourne Park on Friday. “I’m sure a lot of people will be looking at that first round to see how healthy Nadal is.”
Following that, the 2009 champion has a possible third round against Czech bogey-man Lukas Rosol, who upset him in the second round of Wimbledon in 2012.
Second seed Roger Federer starts his Australian Open against Taiwan’s Lu Yen-Hsun, a former Wimbledon quarter-finalist, and could face 15th seed Tommy Robredo in the fourth round.
Sixth seed Andy Murray may feel the most aggrieved of the men’s contenders. After first playing a qualifier, the Scot could meet Wimbledon semi-finalist Grigor Dimitrov in the fourth round with Federer to come in the quarters.
In the women’s draw, Williams, bidding for a sixth title at Melbourne Park, has no major danger matches until the last eight, where a potential clash against Caroline Wozniacki looms.
Second seed Maria Sharapova will play a qualifier as she aims for her second trophy after her 2008 triumph, with eighth seed Eugenie Bouchard a likely quarter-final opponent.
Simona Halep of Romania, ranked third and a dark horse to clinch her maiden grand slam, will take on Italian Karin Knapp first up.
Twice champion Victoria Azarenka is unseeded after her 2014 season was all but wiped by injury and shapes as a dangerous floater in the draw.
The Belarusian faces American Sloane Stephens in the first round, with the prospect of a mouthwatering showdown with Williams in the quarters.
Editing by Peter Rutherford