Djokovic is in the bottom half anchored by second-seeded Roger Federer, who opens his title defense against 51st-ranked Aljaz Bedene. Federer could face seventh-seeded David Goffin or 12th-seeded Juan Martin del Potro in the quarterfinals.
That cache of contenders figures to leave the top half relatively open for top-seeded Rafael Nadal, who opens against 81st-ranked Victor Estrella Burgos. Nadal could face sixth-seeded Marin Cilic in the quarterfinals before a meeting with third-seeded Grigor Dimitrov in the semifinals — the round in which he beat Dimitrov in five sets last year.
On the women’s side, Serena Williams is not defending her title as she regains her fitness after childbirth and debilitating blood clotting that followed, leaving the family interests in the hands of the defending finalist, Venus Williams.
Venus Williams was dealt one of the toughest possible opening draws, facing 77th-ranked Belinda Bencic, a teen prodigy whose ranking fell after undergoing left wrist surgery last year. It could also be a good omen, however: Bencic was Serena’s first opponent here last year en route to an eventual title.
Williams’s quarter also includes fourth-seeded Elina Svitolina, a recent champion in Brisbane, and 13th-seeded Sloane Stephens, who won last year’s United States Open but has lost all seven matches she’s played since. Those players are on the bottom half with second-seeded Caroline Wozniacki, who is ranked inside the top-two for the first time since 2012.
Wozniacki’s path appears relatively clear, though she could face seventh-seeded Jelena Ostapenko or 10th-seeded CoCo Vandeweghe in the quarterfinals.
Top seed Simona Halep opens against wild card Destanee Aiava, and could face slumping star Eugenie Bouchard in the second round. Bouchard, who reached a Wimbledon final and two more major semifinals in 2014, will slip outside the top 100 for the first time in five years in next week’s rankings.
In the third round, Halep could face 27th-seeded Petra Kvitova, who beat Bouchard in that 2014 Wimbledon final for her second major title.
Sixth-seeded Karolina Pliskova and ninth-seeded Johanna Konta are also in Halep’s quarter of the draw.
Reigning Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza, seeded third, rounds out the top half of the draw. She could face a daunting test in the third round from either 2016 champion Angelique Kerber or 2008 champion Maria Sharapova.
Sharapova, who is returning to Melbourne for the first time since testing positive here in 2016 for the banned substance meldonium and serving a 15-month ban, was made an eyebrow-raising choice by the tournament to carry the women’s trophy into Margaret Court Arena during the draw ceremony, following defending champion Federer with the men’s trophy.
Tournament director Craig Tiley said the tournament “needed a former champion” for the task and that Sharapova “deserved the opportunity.” Kerber, the only other past champion in the draw, is playing a tournament in Sydney this week.
”In fairness to Maria, the adjudication has occurred on that,” Tiley said of her ban.
Tiley addressed reporters on the court of Margaret Court Arena, the name of which has drawn scrutiny and rebuke after continuous controversial comments by Court on topics including same-sex marriage and transgender children. Several past and present players expressed disapproval of Court’s comments during last year’s French Open after further inflammatory remarks, but Tiley said he had received “no pushback from the players.”
“I think it’s clear to us we’re here ready to play,” he said. “We have three arenas with a retractable roof, and we’re in constant communication with players to make sure they’re ready to compete and play on all arenas.”