Murray, Serena handed tough routes to Australian Open final

Friday’s draws see world number one potentially facing Federer, Wawrinka on his way to title match


Afp January 13, 2017
Murray is still chasing his first Australian Open title, having lost five times in the final. PHOTO: AFP

MELBOURNE: World number one Andy Murray could face challenges from Kei Nishikori and Stan Wawrinka if he is to reach a sixth Australian Open final following Friday's draw.

The Scot, coming off a magnificent 2016 with a second Wimbledon crown, a successful Olympic title defence and the year-end top ranking, has lost five Melbourne finals, four of those to defending champion Novak Djokovic.

Murray, who was knighted in Britain's New Year Honours list, faces Ukraine's Illya Marchenko first up and could meet Japanese fifth seed Nishikori or Swiss legend Roger Federer in the quarters and 2014 winner Wawrinka in the semis.

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Federer, seeded 17, faces a qualifier first up and could play 10th seed Tomas Berdych in the third round as he bids to add to his record 17 Grand Slam titles.

Djokovic, in the bottom half of the men's draw as the second seed, has a tough first-round against experienced Spaniard Fernando Verdasco.

Verdasco, ranked 40, has beaten Djokovic four times in their 13 encounters and the Serb had to save five match points in prevailing over him earlier this month in the semi-finals in Doha.

Last year Verdasco knocked out compatriot Rafael Nadal in a five-setter first round thriller in Melbourne.

Serbia's Djokovic, bidding for a record seventh Australian Open title, is seeded to face Brisbane International winner Grigor Dimitrov in the fourth round and powerful Austrian eighth seed Dominic Thiem in the quarters.

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He could then meet Canada's big-serving third seed Milos Raonic in the semi-finals.

Raonic opens against flashy German Dustin Brown while 13th seed and recent Chennai champion Roberto Bautista Agut is a likely fourth-round matchup.

Nadal, who won the 2009 Australian Open and has been in two other Melbourne finals, is seeded nine and is in Raonic's third quarter of the draw and in the bottom half with Djokovic.

The Spanish left-hander could have a third-round clash in store against rising German star Alexander Zverev.

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Six-time champion Serena Williams was handed a tough draw, while defending champion Angelique Kerber has a slightly easier route towards another final.

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The American powerhouse, bidding for a 23rd Grand Slam crown at the tournament starting in Melbourne on Monday, faces dangerous former world number seven Belinda Bencic of Switzerland in the opening round.

Second seed Williams, who lost the top ranking to Kerber last year, could then encounter in-form Briton Johanna Konta in the fourth round and Slovak sixth seed Dominika Cibulkova in the quarters.

She could potentially then meet her US Open conqueror Karolina Pliskova in the semi-final of the bottom half of the draw.

Williams' drop to world number two was triggered by her shock defeat to Pliskova at Flushing Meadows last year, which also denied her the chance to better Steffi Graf's 22 Grand Slam victories.

Pliskova is seeded to meet two-time Melbourne Park semi-finalist Agnieszka Radwanska in the quarter-finals.

World number one Kerber is seeded for a last-eight clash with Spanish seventh seed and French Open champion Garbine Muguruza in the top half of the draw.

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