Williams to meet Belgian in 1st round at Australian Open

Associated Press

January 16, 2015

Serena Williams of the US gestures with her coach Patrick Mouratoglou to a hitting partner during a practice session on Rod Laver Arena ahead of the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Thursday, Jan. 15, 2015.

MELBOURNE, Australia Top-seeded Serena Williams will play Alison Van Uytvanck of Belgium in the first round of the Australian Open as she begins her attempt to win a 19th Grand Slam singles title.

Williams could meet former No. 1-ranked Caroline Wozniacki in the quarterfinals and Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova in the semifinals following Friday's draw. The season-opening major begins Monday at Melbourne Park.

In the other half, second-seeded Maria Sharapova, who plays a qualifier in the first round, could meet Eugenie Bouchard in the quarterfinals and Ana Ivanovic, whom she beat in the Brisbane International final last weekend, in the semis.

Two-time champion Victoria Azarenka, unseeded after an injury-hit 2014, will take on American Sloane Stephens in the first round in a rematch of their acrimonious semifinal two years ago when Azarenka left the court for a medical time out and Stephens questioned her reasons for doing so.

Stephens had beaten Williams in the quarterfinals the same year.

In the men's draw, No. 2 Roger Federer and No. 3 Rafael Nadal were drawn into the same half. Top-seeded Novak Djokovic and defending champion Stan Wawrinka are in the other half of the draw.

Djokovic drew a qualifier in the first round and Federer, who recently won his 1,000th career match when he beat Milos Raonic in the Brisbane International final, will play Lu Yen-hsun of Taiwan. Djokovic and Raonic, who also will open against a qualifier, are in the same quarter of the draw.

Federer could meet sixth-seeded Andy Murray of Britain, who plays a qualifier in the first round, in the quarterfinals. The 17-time Grand Slam winner also has "Baby Fed," No. 10-seeded Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria, in his quarter.

Nadal, still recovering from appendix surgery he underwent in November, has a tough first-round match against former top 10-player Mikhail Youzhny of Russia.

"Youzhny is a tough rival who knows how to play good in important matches," Nadal said Friday.

"It's normal that every match is dangerous when you are in good shape. Imagine when you are not playing matches in a row, when you have only played four matches for the last 6-7 months. Every match is really dangerous, anything can happen."

Wawrinka will begin his title defense against Marsel Ilhan of Turkey.

"Starting the year with a Grand Slam and finishing with the Davis Cup, it was an incredible 2014," Wawrinka said as he and Li Na, the 2014 Australian Open women's champion who retired in September, delivered the trophies to the draw location outside the newly refurbished Margaret Court Arena.

Wawrinka and Federer were part of the Swiss team that beat France in the Davis Cup final in November, the country's first win in the competition.

U.S. Open finalist Kei Nishikori of Japan also will play a former top 10 player, Nicolas Almagro of Spain, in the opening round. Juan Martin del Potro, the 2009 U.S. Open champion on the comeback from a left wrist injury, will open against Jerzy Janowic, who helped Poland win the Hopman Cup last week.

Former No. 1-ranked Lleyton Hewitt, contesting his 19th consecutive Australian Open, will meet Chinese wild-card entry Zhang Ze.

Li, who called it quits after four knee operations, said her plans are to open a tennis academy in China and to start a family.