Ten takeaways from the Australian Open draws

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Former Australian Open champion Maria Sharapova and Simona Halep could face early challenges, but Venus Williams' first match is the toughest. (AP)

MELBOURNE—The draw ceremony for the first Grand Slam tournament of 2018 was held in Melbourne on Thursday night, and from compelling opening-round matches to potential blockbusters in the second week, storylines are already emerging.

In no particular order, here are ten things to watch for in this year’s Australian Open draws:

1. If history is any indication, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer shouldn’t have much trouble in week one. They both have losses to players they could face in the early going: Nadal has dropped two matches to Borna Coric and one to Damir Dzumhur (by retirement), each a potential third-round opponent; Federer has two losses to Richard Gasquet, the first seeded player he could face. But overall, Nadal is 11-3, and Federer 20-2, against all potential first week opponents, combined.

2. Nick Kyrgios is in Grigor Dimitrov’s quarter of the draw—and Nadal’s half. Dimitrov, the No. 3 seed behind Nadal and Federer, and a semifinalist at the Australian Open last year, could meet No. 17 seed Kyrgios in the fourth round, which would be a rematch of their Brisbane semifinal last week. Kyrgios won that match for his sixth career victory over a Top 3 player:

3. Novak Djokovic is in Alexander Zverev’s quarter of the draw—and Federer’s half. Don’t let Djokovic’s No. 14 seed deceive you—he’s only ranked that low because he’s been out since Wimbledon. The Serb is a six-time Australian Open champion and has won the title in five of the last seven years. He opens against Donald Young, could play Gael Monfils in the second round and No. 4 seed Zverev in the fourth round.

4. The toughest first round match of all could be on the women’s side. Venus Williams, a finalist in Melbourne last year and seeded No. 5 this year, opens against resurgent former No. 7 Belinda Bencic. The Swiss fell as low as No. 318 in September due to injury but has risen all the way back up to No.77. Venus is 4-0 against Bencic, but Bencic does have six career Top 5 wins.

Here are highlights from the last time the 37-year-old and the 20-year-old played, at the US Open two years ago:

5. Simona Halep has a tough road early on, too. The world No.1 opens with Australian wildcard Destanee Aiava, and things also get tougher from there. She could play former No. 5 Eugenie Bouchard in the second round and two-time Grand Slam champion Petra Kvitova in third round.

6. Maria plays Maria in the first round. Maria Sharapova’s Australian Open comeback begins against her somewhat-namesake Tatjana Maria. If she gets past that, she could face No. 14 seed Anastasija Sevastova, who took ousted her from last year's US Open in the fourth round, in the second round.

Get past that, and Sharapova could face Angelique Kerber in the third round. The No. 21 seed and Sharapova are the only two women with Australian Open titles in this year's draw.

7. Federer could get a major rematch with Juan Martin del Potro in the quarterfinals. Del Potro, who just secured a return to the Top 10 by reaching the semifinals of the tune-up event in Auckland, took Federer out in the quarterfinals of the US Open, and they could meet in the quarterfinals in Melbourne.

Here’s how the US Open quarterfinal blockbuster between the two fan favorites went down last year:

8. Three American men and three American women are seeded in the Top 16. If the seeds hold, six Americans will be in the second week: Jack Sock (No. 8), Sam Querrey (No. 13) and John Isner (No. 16) on the men’s side, and Williams (No. 5), CoCo Vandeweghe (No. 10) and Sloane Stephens (No. 13) on the women’s side. Sloane is 0-7 since winning the US Open—can she turn it around?

9. Madison Keys barely missed a Top 16 seed, but could be just as dangerous. Keys, who sat out the Australian Open a year ago while recovering from wrist surgery, is the No. 17 seed and opens against China’s Wang Qiang. Keys loves these courts—she’s a former semifinalist here, in 2015. She could face No. 11 seed Kristina Mladenovic in the third round and No. 8 seed Caroline Garcia in the fourth.

10. Stan Wawrinka is back. Having been out since Wimbledon due to a knee injury that required surgery, Wawrinka will play Ricardis Berankis first round in his comeback match. The 2014 Australian Open champion has never played the former World No.50.


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