Toronto, Canada – By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Roger Federer faces a challenging path if he is to extend his record grand slam haul to 16 at the Australian Open, beginning his campaign next week with a first round test against Russian Igor Andreev.
In their last meeting, 36th-ranked Andreev took Federer to five sets at the 2008 U.S. Open and should the Swiss continue his march to the fourth round, local hope Lleyton Hewitt or 15th-seeded Frenchman Gilles Simon could block his path to the quarter-finals.
The Mallorcan world number two was paired with Australian Peter Luczak when the draw was made on Friday but may face a third-round hurdle against big-serving American John Isner, who knocked Andy Roddick out of the U.S. Open last year.
"I was just boarding the plane actually and one of my mates called up and he said I (had) Nadal," the 78th-ranked Luczak told reporters. "Yeah, it was a bit of a depressing flight that one."
In the women's draw, four-times champion and top seed Serena Williams opens against Poland's Urszula Radwanska to start what appears to be a relatively trouble-free run to the quarter-finals.
However, Russian fifth seed Elena Dementieva will need to be on her best form early on if she hopes to match or improve on her semi-final run last year after being dealt a possible second-round encounter with former number one Justine Henin.
The Belgian reached the Brisbane International final earlier this month in her first tournament back from retirement and should have too many weapons for compatriot and first-round opponent Kirsten Flipkens.
Should she continue through the tournament, Henin could set up a mouthwatering quarter-final against either French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova or fellow Belgian Kim Clijsters, who won the U.S. Open on her own comeback last year.
Clijsters, who needed three sets to subdue Henin in Brisbane, has drawn a qualifier in the first round.
"I didn't think that someone could come back that fast but Kim proved otherwise," John McEnroe told reporters referring to Clijsters, who gave birth to a daughter during her two-year break.
"Justine's one of the great players that played. Certainly to me the three favorites are those two (Belgians) and Serena (Williams)."
Third seed and 2008 champion Novak Djokovic will open against Spaniard Daniel Gimeno-Traver, while U.S. Open champion and fourth seed Juan Martin Del Potro will be hoping his wrist injury does not cause him too many problems during his match against American Michael Russell.
Fifth seed Andy Murray, who carries Britain's hopes of ending a 74-year wait for a men's grand slam champion, will play a qualifier in the first round but faces a potential quarter-final showdown with Nadal.
Tournament director Craig Tiley said ticket bookings were tracking up from last year and that their expectations were to have "record-breaking crowds every day right throughout the fortnight."
The final draw will be released after qualifying wraps up this weekend and could throw up a twist in the women's draw.
Belgian world number 16 Yanina Wickmayer, who was unable to enter the tournament due to a doping ban, is making her way through qualifying. The ban was overturned but too late for her to get direct entry or a wildcard.
The Australian Open starts on Monday.
(Editing by Pritha Sarkar)