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Thursday, 11 January 2018 23:30 PM GMT
Breaking down the Australian Open draw takes a look at what the Australian Open singles draw means for the game's biggest names... READ MORE

“I don’t normally like going to draws,” revealed Roger Federer at the 2018 Australian Open draw ceremony.

“They freak me out. I only like to see the draw sheet and see who my first-round opponent is.”

Federer’s is a sentiment likely shared across the playing circuit, but many in the tennis world cannot resist peeking a little further ahead to see what the upcoming fortnight will hold in store.

With that in mind, here's's look at how the Australian Open draw treated the game's biggest names...

Contrasting fortunes for world No.1s

With Marin Cilic the only other Grand Slam singles champion in his half, 2017 finalist Rafael Nadal has plenty of reason to feel positive about his Australian Open draw.

According to ranking, the Spaniard’s projected route will see him face John Isner and Cilic before potential Melbourne rematches with Grigor Dimitrov and Roger Federer.

However, Gilles Muller and Nick Kyrgios could lie in wait at the quarter-final and semi-final stages respectively, and both have dealt Nadal famous defeats at Wimbledon in the past.

Nadal’s toughest opponent, though, could come in the form of his own health, as concerns remain about the ongoing knee issue that saw him skip the Brisbane international last week.

However, there were encouraging signs at the Tie Break Tens event held on Wednesday, with Nadal showcasing some trademark shotmaking en route to the final.

Should his body hold up, then another deep run here in Australia could well be in the offing.

Meanwhile, Nadal’s fellow singles world No.1 Simona Halep will have to do things the hard way if she is to claim a maiden Grand Slam singles title in Melbourne.

The Romanian has been handed a daunting draw that could see her face two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, Elena Vesnina and Karolina Pliskova before even reaching the semi-final stage.

Also featuring in her quarter are the in-form Ashleigh Barty and Johanna Konta, who beat Halep in the Wimbledon quarter-finals last year.

A loaded bottom half

Defending champion Roger Federer is joined by Novak Djokovic, Stan Wawrinka, Juan Martin del Potro, Alexander Zverev and Dominic Thiem in a star-studded bottom half of the men’s singles draw.

Having been placed in the same eighth of the draw, Djokovic and Zverev in particular face the most difficult projected routes to the final.

The young German will likely need to beat his older brother Mischa and then Djokovic to reach his first Grand Slam quarter-final, while six-time champion Djokovic, now the No.14 seed, is set to meet a number of established names en route to the final, including the mercurial Gael Monfils in the second round.

Elsewhere, Federer's title defence could feature an eye-catching third round encounter against his fellow one-handed backhand aficionado Richard Gasquet. David Goffin, who beat the Swiss at the ATP World Tour Finals last year, is his projected quarter-final opponent.

Also in Federer's quarter is Juan Martin del Potro, who will return to the top 10 on Monday after nearly four years away, and appears to be in the sort of form that saw him beat the 19-time Grand Slam champion at the US Open last year.

Should it come to pass, all eyes would be on a 47th career meeting between Djokovic and Federer in the semi-finals, although both have plenty of work to do to reach that stage.

Opportunity knocks for Wozniacki?

With the 2017 WTA Finals trophy to her name and a playing style suited to the Australian heat, many have tipped world No.2 Caroline Wozniacki for glory in Melbourne, and the Dane's chances have been boosted further by a draw that looks favourable in comparison to Halep's.

Nevertheless, it would be remiss to suggest that Wozniacki has been granted safe passage to the Australian Open final. Indeed, the 27-year-old has lost all four meetings with her projected quarter-final opponent Jelena Ostapenko, and has only beaten potential semi-final opponent Elina Svitolina once in four attempts.

Time for a breakthrough?

Dark horses Dimitrov and Svitolina were both handed draws that could set them up for strong runs at the Australian Open.

As the reigning ATP World Tour Finals champion, much is expected of Dimitrov, who will hope to go at least one better than last year's semi-final showing.

Having avoided the aforementioned bottom half of the men's draw, the Bulgarian begins against two qualifiers, but could then face a tough test from rising NextGen star Andrey Rublev.

While Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is Dimitrov's projected fourth round opponent by rank, he could just as easily come up against the in-form Nick Kyrgios, who beat Dimitrov in the Brisbane semi-finals last week.

Having herself won the Brisbane International, Svitolina comes into the tournament with a title already to her name this year, and looks to have been given every opportunity to continue her good form in Melbourne.

The ever green Venus Williams could await her in the quarter-finals, but should the Ukrainian come through that, she will fancy her chances of going all the way.

Sharapova's gauntlet

Perhaps the most difficult draw in the women's singles belongs to Maria Sharapova, who, from the second round onwards, could consecutively face Anastasija Sevastova, Angelique Kerber, Garbine Muguruza, Caroline Garcia, Simona Halep and Caroline Wozniacki.

First round classic

The match of the first round unquestionably belongs to Belinda Bencic and Venus Williams, with the pair drawn to meet in a headline opening clash.

Bencic, 17 years Williams' junior, has been on the comeback trail after suffering a series of injury problems during 2016 and 2017, but appears to be rediscovering the form that saw her reach a US Open quarter-final in 2014, winning the Hopman Cup alongside Federer last week.

But last year's finalist Williams will, as ever, pose a thorough test for whoever she plays, and Bencic will be no exception.

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