Tough draw for home favourites in Australian Open

Nadal stands in the way of Tomic, Djokovic handed enviable draw

 Australian Open winners Victoria Azarenka and Novak Djokovic arrive at the players draw to return their trophies. Photograph: Joe Castro/EPA

Australian Open winners Victoria Azarenka and Novak Djokovic arrive at the players draw to return their trophies. Photograph: Joe Castro/EPA

 

The hearts of the officials overseeing the draw ceremony for the Australian Open seemed to sink by the time they had read just the first two lines of the men’s singles draw.

Rafael Nadal, the number one seed, occupied the top line. The name below his was that of Bernard Tomic, the tantalizingly talented troublemaker on whom Australian hopes for the future have rested for nearly a decade, even though he is still only 21. Tomic has made it to at least the second round of his country’s Grand Slam each time since first playing the tournament at 16.

It did not get much better for Australians as their eyes continued to scroll down. A promising 17-year-old, Thanasi Kokkinakis, would run into Nadal in the second round, and grizzled but resurgent veteran Lleyton Hewitt, who beat Roger Federer in the final of Brisbane on Sunday, would face Nadal in the fourth.

Nadal, the 2009 champion, who missed this tournament last year because of lingering knee injuries, has plenty of obstacles outside the local opposition. Flashy crowd-pleaser Gael Monfils, whom Nadal beat in three sets in the final of Doha on Sunday, looms as a third-round opponent.

In the quarter-finals, Nadal could face fifth-seeded Juan Martin del Potro, the only man outside of Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Federer to have won one of the last 35 Grand Slam events (the 2009 US Open). Murray or Federer, both coming off seasons that were derailed by back problems, looms as a potential semi-final opponent for Nadal.

With those heavy hitters loaded into the top half, Djokovic, the defending champion, was awarded an enviable path to the final. Djokovic, who has won this tournament four times, including each of the past three years, has third-seeded David Ferrer, a man he thrashed, 6-2, 6-2, 6-1, in last year’s semifinals, in his half of the draw.

Compared with the top-heavy men’s draw, the women’s draw was more equitably distributed. Serena Williams, the top seed, could face No. 3 Li Na, a two-time finalist in Melbourne, in the semi-finals, and the other semi-final is projected to include Victoria Azarenka, the two-time defending champion, and fourth-seeded Maria Sharapova.

Sloane Stephens, who lost to Azarenka in a contentious semi-final last year, could get a rematch in the fourth round. Venus Williams, the most dangerous unseeded floater in the women’s draw, drew a tough opening match against No. 22 Ekaterina Makarova, who has reached the quarterfinals the past two years here.

The Australian women did not fare much better than the men. Promising 17-year-old Ashleigh Barty, who reached the finals of three Grand Slams in doubles last year, drew Serena Williams in the first round. Samantha Stosur, the 2011 US Open champion and the highest-ranked Australian woman at No. 15, pulled a potential third-round meeting with the recent Auckland champion Ana Ivanovic. A victory there could lead to a fourth-round encounter against Serena Williams. New York Times Service

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