Serena Williams Could Face Top Seed Early at the Australian Open

MELBOURNE, Australia — Serena Williams could face a fourth-round match against top-seeded Simona Halep, or perhaps her sister Venus, in the Australian Open, which begins on Monday.

Williams, who is seeded 16th and seeking a record-tying 24th Grand Slam title, will play her first match on Tuesday against 71st-ranked Tatjana Maria, a neighbor of hers in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. In the second round, she could face the 2014 Wimbledon runner-up, Eugenie Bouchard.

Venus Williams could be Halep’s third-round opponent, meaning the Williams sisters could face off in the fourth round. The last time they faced each other in Melbourne was in the 2017 final, which Serena won, 6-4, 6-4, while two months pregnant. Serena Williams has not played the Australian Open since then.

As she seeks a second Grand Slam title, Halep will first have to make the best of a second chance.

At the draw ceremony on Thursday evening, Halep drew Kaia Kanepi for a first-round match for the second consecutive Grand Slam event.

In the opening match of the 2018 United States Open, Kanepi decisively blasted the top-seeded Halep off the court, winning, 6-2, 6-4, and sending shock waves through the tournament in its first hours.

Though she has maintained the No. 1 ranking she consolidated by winning last year’s French Open, Halep has not won a match since her loss to Kanepi more than four months ago, running up a five-match losing streak as she struggled with a back injury. She lost her only match of this year, to 15th-ranked Ashleigh Barty in Sydney on Wednesday. Halep also does not have a coach after splitting with Darren Cahill in the off-season.

An Estonian veteran capable of overpowering Halep’s world-class defense, Kanepi is ranked 70th but has reached the third round or better at her last three Grand Slam events on hardcourts. After beating Halep, she reached the fourth round of the U.S. Open last year, and took a set off the eventual finalist Serena Williams before losing in three.

Seventh-seeded Karolina Pliskova, who won the WTA tournament in Brisbane on Sunday, looms as a quarterfinal opponent in that top quarter of the draw.

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Simona Halep at a practice session in Melbourne before the Australian Open.CreditScott Barbour/Getty Images

Fourth-seeded Naomi Osaka, who beat Serena Williams in the final of the U.S. Open last year, is also in the top half of the draw. Osaka could face the two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka in the third round.

The bottom half of the women’s draw is anchored by second-seeded Angelique Kerber, last year’s Wimbledon champion. She could face fifth-seeded Sloane Stephens in the quarterfinals. Stephens opens against her fellow American Taylor Townsend, who was the 2012 Australian Open junior champion.

The defending women’s champion, Caroline Wozniacki, seeded third, is also in the bottom half of the draw. She could face 30th-seeded Maria Sharapova, the 2008 champion, in the third round, and Barty, the highest-ranked Australian in either draw, in the fourth round. Big hitters like No. 8 Petra Kvitova and No. 11 Aryna Sabalenka are also possible quarterfinal opponents.

In men’s singles, third-seeded Roger Federer, seeking a third consecutive title, was drawn into the bottom half of the draw with second-seeded Rafael Nadal. They could meet in the semifinals.

Federer’s road there will not be easy. He opens against 99th-ranked Denis Istomin. He could face 14th-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas in the fourth round, and sixth-seeded Marin Cilic or 10th-seeded Karen Khachanov in the quarterfinals.

Nadal has struggled with his durability on hardcourts, completing only one of the 12 tournaments he entered on the surface last year before withdrawing or retiring from a match. Nadal received a comfortable opening-round match; he will face 238th-ranked James Duckworth, an Australian wild card.

Nadal could face fifth-seeded Kevin Anderson or ninth-seeded John Isner in the quarterfinals. Isner faces a rare challenge in his first round: an opponent taller than he is. The 6-foot-10 Isner will face Reilly Opelka, a 21-year-old from Michigan who breaks the seven-foot barrier.

In the top half, top-seeded Novak Djokovic, who won Wimbledon and the U.S. Open last year, opens against a qualifier and could face the wild card Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the second round. Djokovic, who is seeking his seventh Australian Open title, beat Tsonga for his first in the 2008 final. In the quarterfinals, Djokovic could face eighth-seeded Kei Nishikori, who won the ATP event in Brisbane on Sunday for his first title in three years.

The only other Grand Slam champion in the top half of the draw with Djokovic is unseeded Stan Wawrinka, who opens against Ernests Gulbis and could face 16th-seeded Milos Raonic or Nick Kyrgios in the second round. Those players are in the quarter of the draw anchored by fourth-seeded Alexander Zverev, who was the champion of the year-end ATP Finals in London last year and who has yet to reach the semifinal of a Grand Slam.

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