Former World No.1 Novak Djokovic faces a brutal challenge if he is to win the Australian Open in his comeback to tennis.
Djokovic, 30, enters the 2018 Australian Open as the 14th seed, the first time he has been ranked outside the top 10 at the year’s first Grand Slam in a decade, after missing much of 2017 with an elbow injury, reports Xinhua news agency.
His hopes for a triumphant return at Melbourne Park were dealt a blow at the Australian Open draw on Thursday night with the Serbian set to face former top-10 player Gael Monfils in the second round before running into fourth seed Aleander Zverev and 2014 champion Stan Wawrinka.
Even if the six-time Australian Open champion should clear all those hurdles he could encounter 2017 champion Roger Federer in the semifinals.
Federer, who turned back the clock to win two Grand Slams in 2017 after a five-year drought, on Thursday night described the season as “unbelievable”.
“I don’t usually like going to draws, I just want to see the sheet. But what a pleasure to be here on Margaret Court Arena. Last year was an amazing final and it’s great to be back,” he said.
A string of local hopes were also dealt difficult draws; 17-year-old Destanee Aiava will face world number one Simona Halep while fellow teenager Alex De Minaur, who has made the semi-finals at both the Brisbane and Sydney Internationals, will play Tomas Berdych.
Berdych, the 17th seed, has never lost to an Australian at a Grand Slam in seven matches.
“He’s a very talented player. Has a very high level. I’m just going to go out there, try to weather the storm, and try to play my game,” De Minaur said.
Seeded women in the tournament were lucky to avoid the threat of Maria Sharapova who is ranked 47th in the world after serving a doping suspension in 2017.
China’s Zhang Shuai was not as lucky, drawing 2017 US Open Champ Sloane Stephens as she attempts to recreate the success of 2016 when she made the quarter-finals of the Australian Open.
Peng Shuai, China’s highest ranked tennis player, was drawn against a qualifier.