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Australian Open: Djokovic and Halep lead the way at season's first Grand Slam

media Novak Djokovic will begin the Australian Open as top seed. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

Men's top seed Novak Djokovic will start his quest for a third consecutive major triumph and a record seventh Australian Open title against a qualifier when the season's first Grand Slam tournament gets underway on 14 January.

Following Thursday's draw in Melbourne, Simona Halep, his counterpart in the women's event will begin her bid for glory in Melbourne with a more daunting task - a third meeting against Kaia Kanepi from Estonia.

The Romanian won't harbour fond memories of their second encounter last August at the US Open where the 33-year-old beat her 6-2, 6-4 in the first round.

Halep, last year's beaten finalist in Australia, has only played one match in four months since she was struck down with a hip injury.

Caroline Wozniacki, who overcame her in the 2018 women's singles showdown, opens the defence of her title against the world number 51 from Belgium, Alison Van Uytvanck.

"I've always dream of returning to Melbourne as the defending champion," she said after the draw. "I feel very at home here. The courts are perfect for me."

The courts have also been kind to the American Serena Williams. Seeded 16th, the 37-year-old has won seven of her 23 Grand Slam singles titles in Melbourne.

The hunt for number eight is launched against Tatjana Maria who has never been further than the second round in six visits to the tournament since 2008.

Second round exits for either Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal would be deemed a shock. Federer, 37, won his sixth title in Australia in 2018 following a five set battle with Marin Cilic. Federer claimed the 2017 crown after coming from a break down in the final set to see off Nadal.

In that match, Federer and Nadal were ranked 17th and ninth respectively. The old boys are getting better. It's three and two now.

Federer, who is seeking a 100th career title, will play Dennis Istomin while Nadal takes on James Duckworth from Australia. The seemingly eternal foes are seeded to meet in the semi- final.

Fourth seed Alex Zverev effectively anointed himself as the young man most likely to break the old guard's parade when he beat Federer and Djokovic on his way to the ATP's season ending championships in London last November.

Zverev, 21, will play Aljaz Bedene from Slovenia. Zverev's fellow German, Angelique Kerber, has tasted success on the Rod Laver Arena. She beat Serena Willliams to hoist the 2016 singles title. The 30-year-old second seed will begin against Polona Hercog from Slovenia.

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