January 15, 2016 / 1:11 AM / 3 years ago

Serena to play Giorgi first up at Melbourne Park

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. REUTERS/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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