MELBOURNE, Australia -- Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic are aiming for the same record from opposite sides of the draw, leaving open the prospect of them playing in the final for a seventh Australian Open title.
Top-ranked Djokovic and defending champion Federer enter the season-opening major equal with Roy Emerson, who won his six Australian singles championships between 1961-67, before the Open era.
Serena Williams already has won seven Australian Open singles titles, and is a strong contender to add another after skipping last year's tournament while on leave after having a baby.
Now seeded 16th, Williams was drawn into the same section Thursday as No. 1-ranked Simona Halep, the runner-up last year. The pair could meet in the fourth round.
Djokovic starts at the top of the draw and will open against a qualifier. Things could get much tougher quickly, with a potential second-round meeting against wild-card entry Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who he beat in the 2008 Australian final, and with Denis Shapovalov in the same section. Eighth-seeded Kei Nishikori, who opened the season with a title in Brisbane, is a potential quarterfinal rival and No. 4 Alexander Zverev looms as a semifinal opponent if both players advance that far.
Federer, who has won the last two at Melbourne Park in a career resurgence, is in the bottom half of the draw with second-ranked Rafael Nadal, who is returning from an injury layoff.
Aiming for a 21st Grand Slam trophy and a 100th career singles title, Federer will open against Denis Istomin. And with No. 6 Marin Cilic in the same quarter, there's potential for a rematch of the 2018 final a few rounds early.
"I'm so close, I'll give it a go," Federer said. "If I made 100 at the Australian I'd take it, I'd gladly accept it -- and I'll give it all I have."
But, he noted before heading out to practice after attending the tournament draw with his trophy, "the moment you find out the draw, that's when you shift your focus to the first round and only the first round."
Cilic was drawn into the same section as five-time finalist Andy Murray, who is coming back from a long-term hip injury and is set to open against No. 22-seeded Roberto Bautista Agut.
Murray won only two games in an incomplete practice match with Djokovic at Melbourne Park, showing signs he's still not fully fit after spending most of the last 18 months off the tour.
Murray played at the season-opening Brisbane International last week, where he won his first-round match against James Duckworth but lost in straight sets to Daniil Medvedev in the second, limping between points and admitting he's still dealing with his troublesome right hip.
One of the most intriguing men's first-round matches features 2016 Wimbledon finalist Milos Raonic against mercurial Australian Nick Kyrgios, who is unseeded after his ranking slid from 13 into the 50s, but has tour-level victories over Federer, Nadal and Djokovic to his credit.
Williams will face Tatjana Maria in the first round, and could meet either Genie Bouchard or Peng Shaui in the second. Halep has drawn another first-round against Kaia Kanepi, who beat her at the same stage at last year's U.S. Open, and a possible third rounder against unseeded Venus Williams.
Caroline Wozniacki, who won her first Grand Slam title in Melbourne last year after a tough final against Halep, is in the same section as Maria Sharapova and has Petra Kvitova at the top of her quarter.
Second-seeded Angelique Kerber, who won the Australian and U.S. Opens in 2016 and added the Wimbledon title last year, is in the same half as Wozniacki and has 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens in her quarter.
At a glance
A look at the Australian Open, the year’s first Grand Slam tennis tournament:
SURFACE Hard courts
SITE Melbourne Park
SCHEDULE The 14-day tournament begins Monday (Sunday EST). The women’s singles final is Saturday, Jan. 26; the men’s singles final is Sunday, Jan. 27. Like the U.S. Open, there are separate day and night sessions.
2018 MEN’S SINGLES CHAMPION Roger Federer of Switzerland
2018 WOMEN’S SINGLES CHAMPION Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark
LAST YEAR Federer beat 2014 U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic 6-2, 6-7 (5), 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 for a second consecutive title in Melbourne and sixth overall. The victory also lifted Federer’s men’s-record Grand Slam trophy haul to 20. Wozniacki edged Simona Halep 7-6 (2), 3-6, 6-4 to finally grab her first major championship. Wozniacki had lost in two previous Grand Slam finals, as well as exiting in the semifinals four other times.
SHE’S BACK Serena Williams returns after missing the Australian Open a year ago; she gave birth to her daughter, Olympia, on Sept. 1, 2017, then dealt with health complications from childbirth and did not return to Grand Slam play until the French Open last May. Also back in Melbourne: Two-time champion and former No. 1 Victoria Azarenka, who last entered the Australian Open three years ago.
WHAT’S NEW For the first time, the Australian Open will have final-set tiebreakers for men’s matches that reach a fifth set and women’s matches that go to a third set. The tournament joins Wimbledon in eliminating the possibility of never-ending final sets; previously the U.S. Open was the only major with a last-set tiebreaker. The tiebreaker in Australia will come at 6-6 and will be won by whichever player is the first to 10 points, ahead by at least two; at Wimbledon later in the year, the tiebreaker will be the standard first-to-seven, win-by-two format, but it will be used only when the final set reaches 12-12. Also changing in Melbourne in 2019: A “heat stress scale” will take into account temperature, radiant heat, humidity and wind speed and could lead to 10-minute suspensions of men’s matches before a fourth set, following the lead of last year’s U.S. Open. Women’s matches will continue to have the possibility of a 10-minute break before a third set.
PRIZE MONEY A tournament-record total of 62.5 million Australian dollars (about $45 million), with 4.1 million Australian dollars (about $3 million) each to the men’s and women’s singles champions.
Switzerland's Roger Federer is shown holding the trophy after winning the final with Belinda Bencic against Alexander Zverev and Angelique Kerber of Germany at the Hopman Cup in Perth, Australia, Saturday Jan. 5, 2019.
Sports on 01/11/2019
Print Headline: Djokovic, Federer each seek 7th title