Djokovic opens vs Verdasco; top-seed Murray, Federer fall in same quarter in Aussie Open draw
Australian Open defending champs Novak Djokovic and Angelique Kerber face tough opponents to kick off their respective title defense. AP

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

The official draw for the season's first major was held Friday and delivered an awkward opponent for 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 semifinals at Doha last weekend.

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 Belinda Bencic 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 Serena 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, will open against Lesia Tsurenko.

Federer had surgery on his left knee last February after reaching the Australian Open semifinals 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 semifinal exit at Wimbledon.

The 35-year-old, 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.

Federer will play qualifiers in the first two rounds, then potentially former Wimbledon finalist Berdych in the third round and 2014 U.S. Open finalist Nishikori in the fourth round. Murray, who has lost five finals at the Australian Open, won nine titles in 2016 — including Wimbledon, the Olympic tournament and the season-ending ATP Finals to replace Djokovic in the year-end No. 1 ranking.

He will play Illya Marchenko in the first round and has a potential third round against No. 31 Sam Querrey, who upset Djokovic at the same stage last year at Wimbledon.

U.S. Open champion Stan Wawrinka is on the bottom of the same half of the draw.

No. 2-ranked Djokovic is in the other half and has No. 4 Dominic Thiem, No.11 David Goffin and No. 15. Dimitrov in his quarter.

Nadal and third-ranked Milos Raonic are in the top quarter on that side of the draw.


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