Fri | Aug 18, 2017

Tough first round for Aussie champ Djokovic

Published:Saturday | January 14, 2017 | 1:18 AM
Defending men's and woman's champions Serbia's Novak Djokovic (left) and Germany's Angelique Kerber pose with their trophies prior to the official draw ceremony ahead of the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia yesterday.

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP):

Six-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic drew a difficult first-round opponent in Fernando Verdasco, and Roger Federer's fall in the rankings complicated his chances at Melbourne Park after he ended up in same quarter as top-ranked Andy Murray, No. 5 Kei Nishikori and No. 10 Tomas Berdych.

The official draw for the season's first major was held yesterday and delivered an awkward opponent for second-seeded Djokovic. Verdasco had an upset win over fellow Spaniard Rafael Nadal in the first round here last year, and had five match points before losing to Djokovic in the semi-finals at Doha last week.

Six-time women's champion Serena Williams, aiming for an Open-era record 23rd Grand Slam singles title, drew a challenging first-round opponent in Swiss teenager Belinda Bencic who was seeded 12th last year and also had No. 9 Johanna Konta, No. 17 Caroline Wozniacki and No. 6 Dominika Cibulkova in her quarter.

Top-ranked Angelique Kerber, who beat Williams in the final here last year to win her first Grand Slam title and also won the U.S. Open to finish the year at No. 1, is set to play Lesia Tsurenko in the first round. Tsurenko withdrew from her semi-final later Friday in Hobart, citing a viral problem which forced her to pull out of the Brisbane tournament the previous week. She said she hoped to be OK for the Australian Open.

Federer had surgery on his left knee last February after reaching the Australian Open semi-finals and, after ending his record run of 65 consecutive majors by skipping the French Open, spent the second half of 2016 on the sidelines recovering after a semi-final exit at Wimbledon.

The 17-time Grand Slam winner slipped to No. 16 in the year-end rankings, and dropped a further spot this week to be seeded 17th after Grigor Dimitrov beat Nishikori in the Brisbane International final last Sunday and moved up to No. 15.