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Kind start but Murray is in line to face Federer in Aussie Open quarters

By Tom Allnutt

Sir Andy Murray will play Ukraine's Illya Marchenko in the first round of the Australian Open and could meet Roger Federer in the last eight.

Murray, the World No.1 and top seed, was drawn in the same quarter as Federer, who is seeded a lowly 17th after missing the second half of last season through injury.

The Scot is chasing a fourth Grand Slam title and his first in Melbourne, where he has reached the final five times.

In the women's draw, Britain's Johanna Konta, seeded ninth, was handed a tricky opening tie against Belgium's Kirsten Flipkens. Heather Watson and Naomi Broady will both face Australian opponents, with Watson playing the experienced Samantha Stosur and Broady up against Daria Gavrilova.

Britain's three other male participants see Kyle Edmund face Santiago Giraldo, Dan Evans play Facundo Bagnis while Aljaz Bedene was paired with Victor Estrella Burgos.

Marchenko, ranked 93rd in the world, and potentially Yen-Hsun Lu in round two represent a kind start for Murray but the 29-year-old's route could become tougher from the third round onwards. The British No.1 is then due to meet big-serving American Sam Querrey, who beat Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon last year, before a potential fourth round with the unpredictable Frenchman Lucas Pouille.

Federer was always the banana-skin in the draw but Murray would certainly start as favourite against the 35-year-old, who is playing his first competitive tournament since Wimbledon. Fifth seed Kei Nishikori is arguably a more likely opponent.

Stan Wawrinka is Murray's potential semi-final opponent before another possible showpiece against second seed Djokovic, to whom the Briton has lost four previous finals here.

Djokovic, a six-time champion, surrendered the World No.1 spot in November but undoubtedly remains Murray's biggest threat. The Serbian was given one of the tougher opening rounds in Spain's Fernando Verdasco.

"I've never beaten him here," Murray said. "I've lost to him four or five times, a couple of them were tough, a couple of them were easy for him so I need to try to turn that around here.

"There's a good chance that if I want to win the event I'll have to play him. He's played unbelievably here. Hopefully I can get by him this year but he's my biggest rival and someone I've been competing against for 18 years now."

Federer will face qualifiers in the opening two rounds. Ninth seed Rafael Nadal opens against Germany's Florian Mayer.

Konta has got it tough, however. After Flipkens, she may need to overcome the big-hitting 19-year-old Naomi Osaka, US Open semi-finalist Caroline Wozniacki, World No.6 Dominika Cibulkova and then Serena Williams just to reach the last four.

Williams, who is bidding to win an Open-era record 23rd Grand Slam title, faces Swiss up-and-comer Belinda Bencic.

Belfast Telegraph

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