Djokovic and Federer receive favorable draws; Kyrgios, Halep … not so much

MELBOURNE, Australia — The draw is out and the players know their fates. For some, the Australian Open brings a sense of optimism — a new year, a fresh start and a favorable bracket. For others, say, Nick Kyrgios, not so much.

Unseeded Kyrgios drew No. 16 Milos Raonic and that cannon of a serve in the first round. Probably not the start the Aussie star was hoping for. And it doesn’t get any easier for Kyrgios with Stan Wawrinka and Sam Querrey looming in the next two rounds.

What are other takeaways from the draw? Here are some notable ones:

Federer’s path to three-peat not great, but not terrible

There’s no question Australia agrees with Federer. He broke a five-year Grand Slam drought by winning the title here in 2017, then backed it up last year. Now at 37, he is feeling sharp heading into the event.

“This year, again, we’ll see what happens, but I’m very happy with the preparation thus far,” Federer said Sunday in his pre-tourney presser. “Yeah, super excited that it’s just a day away now from my next match. This is going to be exciting.”

In the opposite half of the draw as Novak Djokovic, the odds-on favorite to win the title, Federer begins against veteran Denis Istomin (Monday, 3 a.m. ET on ESPN), but things could get tricky quickly, with Gael Monfils and Stefanos Tsitsipas in line before a potential quarterfinal against Marin Cilic, the man who pushed Federer to five sets in the final last year. Federer is chasing his 100th career title and 21st Grand Slam crown. He looked good in winning all four of his matches at the Hopman Cup in Perth earlier this month.

The world No. 1 stands in Serena’s way

If Melbourne is going to be the place where Serena Williams finally equals Margaret Court’s Grand Slam record tally of 24 (and a record eighth title here), she’s going to have to do it the hard way. Not only is Tatjana Maria of Germany no pushover in the first round, Williams, 37, could well face either world No. 1 Simona Halep or Venus Williams in the fourth round.

The pressure will be on Serena’s shoulders again, and after the drama in the US Open final, there’s little question she’ll be under the microscope. Williams has reached the finals of the past two Grand Slam, and she looked relatively sharp at the Hopman Cup in Perth in the first week of January. She’s still the favorite with the bookmakers, but with so many Grand Slam champions in the field, nothing is guaranteed.

Djokovic’s path looks easy-peasy

As if the world No. 1 needed any assistance, right? Djokovic won his first Grand Slam title here, in 2008, and since then, he has added five more in Melbourne to stand alongside Federer and Roy Emerson as six-time champions. This time last year, Djokovic was still playing in pain, and at one stage in 2018, he dropped out of the top 20. But after overcoming an elbow injury that required surgery, he stormed to Wimbledon and US Open titles last summer, taking his Grand Slam tally to 14 and propelling him back to the world No. 1 spot.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga might give him a battle in the second round, but otherwise, Djokovic’s path looks clear until a possible quarterfinal showdown against Kei Nishikori.

Top WTA names might not be 100 percent

Chris Evert, a former world No. 1 and current ESPN tennis analyst, said this week that it was almost impossible to pick a winner of the women’s event. Eight different champions in the past eight Grand Slams will do that, and the depth in quality means it’s hard to put one above the other. Six of the top eight ranked women have won a Slam, and with No. 6 Elina Svitolina triumphing at the WTA finals at the end of last year, she likely feels she can join them. Halep is the No. 1 seed but comes in a little underdone and faces renowned giant-killer Kaia Kanepi of Estonia in the opener. “I feel OK,” Halep said in her pre-Aussie presser. “I feel healthy. But you never know with the back. So we will see.”

Last year’s champion, Caroline Wozniacki, who revealed in October she is battling rheumatoid arthritis, nonetheless enters the draw feeling confident. “I think from person to person, how you react to different things,” Wozniacki said Sunday when asked about her arthritis. “I’m just trying to learn my body, getting to know my body even better. That’s really it.”

Nadal’s draw not the issue, but the state of his health could be

On the face of it, a man who has failed to complete 18 of his past 19 hard court events would not normally be considered a contender. But this is Nadal, the world No. 2, a man who is just three Grand Slams behind Federer in the overall list. Nadal has looked good in Melbourne in past years, even if injuries have often cost him in the end. He has still managed to make the final eight or better in 10 of his past 11 Australian Opens. Nadal plays Australian James Duckworth first, but a third-round clash against another Aussie, Alex de Minaur, could get interesting. Get through that and you would expect Nadal, if healthy, to make the semifinals and perhaps face Federer.

Zverev, Sabalenka and the young stars ready to take the next step

With Murray beginning his Aussie Open swan song, and Wawrinka still trying to get back to 100 percent after a knee operation last year, could this be the year the young guns really make their mark? Ostensibly, it seems they will have more opportunity than ever. In Alexander Zverev, Denis Shapovalov, Karen Khachanov, Daniil Medvedev and de Minaur, the future looks bright. Coming off a win at the ATP World Tour Finals in November, Zverev was unlucky to roll his ankle in the buildup to Melbourne. He might not be 100 percent. Khachanov beat Djokovic to win the Paris Masters at the back end of 2018 and is one of the dark horses.

On the women’s side, 20-year-old Aryna Sabalenka has a huge game and people are starting to take notice. Ashleigh Barty will shoulder most of Australia’s hopes, trying to become the first home champion in the women’s event since Chris O’Neil in 1978.

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