Bookmakers are also expecting the world No 2 to successfully defend his title
Roger Federer will open his Australian Open title defence against Slovenian Aljaz Bedene next week, while top seed Rafa Nadal, the losing finalist last year, was paired with Dominican Victor Estrella Burgos at the draw yesterday.
Women’s top seed Simona Halep of Romania faces Australian wildcard Destanee Aiava in the first round, with second seed Caroline Wozniacki starting out against Halep’s compatriot Mihaela Buzarnescu. Serena Williams will not defend the women’s title having had her first child last year but 2008 champion Maria Sharapova, who failed a drugs test at the tournament in 2016, is back unseeded after a ban and will face Germany’s Tatjana Maria.
Williams’s sister Venus, who lost to her sibling in the final last year, is seeded fourth and the 37-year-old was handed a tricky first encounter against Swiss former world number seven Belinda Bencic, who is 17 years her junior.
Men’s third seed Grigor Dimitrov will face a qualifier, with Alexander Zverev, ranked fourth, playing Italian Thomas Fabbiano but with 2014 champion Stan Wawrinka, returning after surgery, in his section of the draw.
Six-times Melbourne Park champion Novak Djokovic, seeded 14th after missing the back end of last season with an elbow injury, will take on American lefthander Donald Young in his first match with mercurial Frenchman Gael Monfils looming in round two.
Federer also has Milos Raonic, Juan Martin del Potro, David Goffin and Tomas Berdych in his quarter of the draw, while Nadal would appear to have the easier section, although former US Open champion Marin Cilic looms as a possible last-eight opponent.
So with all this in mind it seems like Federer (pictured) is the “clear favourite” to retain his Australian Open title over an injury-riddled field tennis analysts said on Wednesday. Federer’s bid for a 20th Grand Slam title will be aided by the absences of Andy Murray and Kei Nishikori.
But more so than the competition, it is the 36-year-old Federer’s dominant play at this month’s Hopman Cup, where he won all four of his singles matches and led Switzerland to a third title, that gives him the edge.
“He looks younger than ever,” ESPN tennis analyst and former professional Patrick McEnroe told reporters on a call on Wednesday.
“He’s moving as beautifully as ever. He’s hitting the ball brilliantly. Wins four or five matches at the Hopman Cup against high-level competition. To me, he’s the clear favourite.”
Bookmakers are also expecting the world No 2 to successfully defend his title.
“He could always get picked off early,” McEnroe said.
“But based on what I’ve seen so far I don’t think there’s anybody else that you could say is a favourite other than Roger at the moment.”
ESPN analyst and former world number one Chris Evert said Federer’s experience and smooth style of play, which has left him relatively injury-free, set him apart from the field.
“This is a guy who is so relaxed I think that affects him mentally as well as physically,” she said.
“Mentally and emotionally, having kids, having a family, he gets away from the game. He knows how to compartmentalise really well.”
“He lets the losses roll off his back, there’s no tension there. I think he has a real joy for the game,” she said.
“That’s what makes Federer, Federer.”
The Australian Open runs from January 15-28.