Djokovic Dodges Federer or Murray Until Australian Open Final

Novak Djokovic will avoid having to play Roger Federer or Andy Murray until the Australian Open final as he bids for an unprecedented hat trick of titles at the season-opening Grand Slam tennis tournament.

Top-seeded Djokovic of Serbia, who’s seeking to become the first man to win the championship three years in a row since the professional era began in 1968, was today drawn against 58th-ranked Paul-Henri Mathieu of France in the opening round, which starts Jan. 14 at Melbourne Park.

Men’s No. 2 Federer was paired with Frenchman Benoit Paire, while U.S. Open champion Murray takes on Robin Haase of the Netherlands. Federer and Murray, the No. 3 seed from Britain, were placed in the same half and are in line for a potential final-four matchup. Djokovic could meet David Ferrer, the No. 4 seed from Spain, in the other semifinal.

“Murray and Djokovic are the two favorites and you’d expect them to go through,” former Wimbledon champion Pat Cash said at the draw. “Though anybody who’s got Federer in their draw section is not going to be too happy.”

The 25-year-old Djokovic, who beat Murray in the semifinals 12 months ago before defeating Rafael Nadal in a final lasting almost six hours, is projected to meet Tomas Berdych, the No. 5 seed from the Czech Republic, in the quarterfinals. Spain’s Nadal withdrew from this year’s tournament because of illness.

Federer, 31, could face seventh-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France in the last eight as he seeks a record-extending 18th Grand Slam singles title. The Swiss won the last of his four titles in Melbourne three years ago.

Potential Quarterfinals

Should the top eight men advance, the other quarterfinals would feature Murray against sixth-seeded Juan Martin Del Potro of Argentina and Ferrer against eighth-seeded Janko Tipsarevic, who will play local favorite and two-time major champion Lleyton Hewitt in round one.

The women’s draw placed defending champion Victoria Azarenka of Belarus in the same half as five-time winner Serena Williams, who’s the bookmakers’ favorite after claiming the past two major titles.

Azarenka and Williams, who are projected to meet in the semifinals, will start their campaigns against Romanian players.

Azarenka, 23, faces Monica Niculescu first up and is in line to play seventh-seeded Sara Errani of Italy in the quarterfinals. Azarenka said she’d recovered from a toe injury caused by a pedicure that forced her to pull out of a tune-up tournament in Brisbane before her semifinal.

‘Behind Me’

“It’s much better,” Azarenka said at the draw. “I have been practicing for the last couple of days and it feels good. I am really happy it’s all gone and behind me.”

No. 3 seed Williams, on a 35-1 run since an upset loss in the first round of the 2012 French Open, takes on U.S.-based Edina Gallovits-Hall in round one and could face Petra Kvitova, the No. 8 seed from the Czech Republic, in the last eight.

The other women’s quarterfinals might pit No. 2 seed Maria Sharapova against fifth-seeded German Angelique Kerber and fourth-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland against China’s Li Na, the No. 6 seed and runner-up in Melbourne two years ago.

Sharapova, the 2008 champion, meets fellow Russian Olga Puchkova in the opening round, while Radwanska plays Bojana Bobusic of Australia.

It’s the first time in 15 years that both defending champions return as the top seeds. The last time a women’s No. 1 seed won any Grand Slam was Williams at Wimbledon in 2010.

Azarenka said breaking through for her first major title 12 months ago had given her confidence and self-belief that she can compete for the top prizes.

“I’d love to repeat this feeling again,” Azarenka said. “Last year was amazing and I’ve been trying to achieve the same feeling again. That’s what I’m here for.”

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