MELBOURNE -- The 2015 Australian Open draws were released on Monday morning in Melbourne, and aside from a few divots, the men's and women's sides are relatively balanced. Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams are the top seeds, and neither has a tricky draw. The same can't be said for Roger Federer and Caroline Wozniacki.
The No. 1 seed avoids Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal until the final and has some easy early round matches to get himself into form. After he lost in the quarterfinals of the Qatar Open two weeks ago, the match play will be important for the Serb going for his fifth Australian Open title. His toughest road to the semifinals -- based on rankings -- would be Andrey Kuznetsov, Fernando Verdasco, Roberto Bautista Agut and Milos Raonic. He's 4-0 against Raonic. He could face either defending champion Stan Wawrinka or Kei Nishikori in the semifinals. That is a very workable road.
On the whole, if you got drawn into the top half of the men's draw you're pretty pleased with your luck. The defending champion has a weak road to the quarterfinals -- the first seed he could face is 27th seed Pablo Cuevas, then Fabio Fognini or Alexandr Dolgopolov to make the quarters. Wawrinka has been working hard to keep expectations in Melbourne low. But with two potential blockbuster matches against Nishikori and Djokovic, and then any of Federer, Nadal or Murray looming in the final, his draw should help him avoid an early upset.
The No. 2 seed finds Simona Halep, Ana Ivanovic and Eugenie Bouchard in her half of the draw. Bounced in the fourth round last year by Dominika Cibulkova, Sharapova should avoid any early danger. She opens against a qualifier and is projected to play No. 31 Zarina Diyas in the third round. She's also projected to play Bouchard in the quarterfinals.
Nadal said it himself: he needs matches and he needs wins to get his confidence up. Though drawn into the tough bottom half topped by Federer -- the two could face in the semifinals -- Nadal won't face any heavy opposition early in the tournament. He opens against Mikhail Youzhny and will play either an Aussie wild card or qualifier in the second round, before a potential matchup with his old friend from Wimbledon, Lukas Rosol. From there he could face either Kevin Anderson or Richard Gasquet in the fourth round before Tomas Berdych in the quarterfinals. A fit Nadal shouldn't mind that road.
The seventh seed had her breakout run here last year when she beat Ana Ivanovic to make her first Grand Slam semifinal. The big question this year is whether she can deal with the pressure and expectation of being asked to do it again. Getting some easy early wins to settle the butterflies will be key. After two fairly straight-forward opponents, she's projected to face a struggling Svetlana Kuznetsova in the third round, Angelique Kerber in the fourth round, and Sharapova in the quarterfinals. Looming in the semifinals could be Ivanovic or Halep. It won't be an easy second week, but if she conserves her energy in the first four rounds she'll be in good stead to make a title challenge.
It's never ideal for Federer to see Nadal in his half of the draw, but with so many question marks surrounding the Spaniard, there's no guarantee they'll meet. The No. 2 seed opens his tournament against Rendy Lu, then either Juan Monaco or Simone Bolelli, and 29th seed Jeremy Chardy in the third round. Looming in the fourth round are Ivo Karlovic, who just knocked off Djokovic in Doha, and the wily Tommy Robredo. Murray then looms in the quarterfinal. You know the Brit would love to get revenge for his 6-0, 6-1 loss at the ATP Finals last fall.
Caroline Wozniacki, Sloane Stephens, and Victoria Azarenka
Throw in Taylor Townsend, too. All four women landed next to each other in Serena Williams' quarter. Two-time champion Azarenka is unseeded this year after an injury-addled 2014 season and she opens against Stephens in a rematch of last year's fourth round and the infamous 2013 semifinal. Wozniacki was on the short list of pre-season favorites for the Australian Open title, but she has the toughest early draw of anyone in the field. She opens against Townsend, who had set points on the Dane in Auckland two weeks ago, and then will play either Azarenka or Stephens. A second-round battle with Azarenka would be a must-watch encounter.
Also looming is No. 25 Barbora Zahlavova Strycova in the third round. The two have already played each other twice this year, with Wozniacki winning 6-4 in the third. All that and then she could face Serena in the quarterfinals. Brutal.
She lands in the bottom half of the draw in Halep's quarter. She could face No. 32 seed Belinda Bencic and then the surging Karolina Pliskova in the fourth round. Then it's possibly Halep and then Sharapova or Bouchard in the semifinals. That's a lot to ask for a player trying to better her quarterfinal appearance last year.
Juan Martin del Potro
Now ranked No. 338 after missing most of 2014 with a left wrist injury, Del Potro made his return last week at the Sydney International and scored a Top 20 win over Fabio Fognini to make the quarterfinals. Everyone is rooting for the big man to find his mojo, but he's already admitted to feeling growing pain in his wrist with each match. He has a tricky first round match in former Wimbleon semifinalist Jerzy Janowicz. The Pole may be struggling, but he's always dangerous. To make it even worse, he could play Gael Monfils in the second round.
Here's the test for Martina Navratilova: Get Radwanska through the early rounds in easy straight sets, because she is going to need her legs after the third round. The No. 6 seed is in Serena's half of the draw in Petra Kvitova's quarter. She opens against Kurumi Nara and could play No. 30 seed Varvara Lepchenko, who had a quality run to the Brisbane quarterfinals two weeks ago. And then it gets tough. She could have to beat Venus and Kvitova to make the semifinals where Serena could be looming. All that just to match her semifinal result from last year.
More draw notes:
The No. 1 seed needs to get some quality wins to put her up and down play in Perth behind her. She opens against Alison Van Uytvanck. The first seed she could see is 26thseed Elina Svitolina and a potential rematch against Garbine Muguruza (the young Spaniard stunned her at the French Open) in the fourth round. Her quarterfinal opponent will likely come out of that Wozniacki, Azarenka and Stephens cluster.
Full of confidence after rallying to beat Caroline Wozniacki to win the ASB Classic in Auckland, Venus finds herself in Radwanska's section of the draw. Venus has not made it to the quarterfinal stage since 2010 but she's back playing top 10 tennis. She opens against Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor and could pull off the Radwanska upset in the fourth round.
The No. 1 American is in Djokovic's section and opens against a qualifier.
First round men's matches to watch
Juan Martin del Potro vs. Jerzy Janowicz, Grigor Dimitrov vs. Dustin Brown, Sam Querrey vs. Vasek Pospisil, Jiri Vesely vs. Viktor Troicki, Ernests Gulbis vs. Thanasi Kokkinakis, Rafael Nadal vs. Mikhail Youzhny, Fernando Verdasco vs. James Ward, Roberto Bautista Agut vs. Dominic Thiem, Gael Monfils vs. Lucas Pouille, Jeremy Chardy vs. Borna Coric.
First round women's matches to watch
Caroline Wozniacki vs. Taylor Townsend, Sloane Stephens vs. Victoria Azarenka, Jelena Jankovic vs. Timea Bacsinzsky, Flavia Pennetta vs. Camila Giorgi CoCo Vandeweghe vs. Francesca Schiavone, Andrea Petkovic vs. Madison Brengle, Belinda Bencic vs. Julia Goerges, Svetlana Kuznetsova vs. Caroline Garcia.