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AO Favorites Handed Tricky Draws

Friday's draw for the Australian Open handed tough draws to both defending champion Victoria Azarenka and No.1 seed Serena Williams.

Published January 10, 2014 12:14

AO Favorites Handed Tricky Draws
Victoria Azarenka

MELBOURNE, Australia - While the past few years on tour may have been dominated by Serena Williams, the opening stanza on each occasion has undoubtedly belonged to Victoria Azarenka.

In both 2012 and 2013, as other leading names floundered, it was Azarenka that reigned supreme claiming back-to-back Australian Open crowns. Her quest for title number three begins next week, and she has been handed no favors by the draw.

Azarenka, seeded No.2 this time around, meets Johanna Larsson in the first round, and should she safely clear this and her other opening hurdles, could be faced with her semifinal victim from 12 months ago, Sloane Stephens, in the last 16. Long-term rivals Agnieszka Radwanska and Maria Sharapova potentially lurk in the quarter and semifinals, respectively, although neither will be looking too far ahead either.

Sharapova is involved in one of the first round's more colorful encounters, taking on Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who arrives in good form, having recently upset Radwanska in Sydney.

On the other side of the draw, No.1 seed Williams has also been presented with a tricky passage to negotiate. Bidding for a sixth championship at Melbourne Park, the 32-year-old finds herself in a quarter surrounded by a bevy of young talent, including Madison Keys, Laura Robson, Eugenie Bouchard, Lauren Davis and her first round foe Ashleigh Barty.

Last year Williams came unstuck in dramatic fashion against Stephens in the quarterfinals, and with Li Na, Samantha Stosur, Ana Ivanovic, Angelique Kerber, Petra Kvitova and her Wimbledon conqueror Sabine Lisicki also lurking in the top half, her progress to the final is by no means a foregone conclusion.

See the full draw here.

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