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Tennis - 10. January 2019.

Women’s draw: Halep's familiar first-round foe

World No.1 Simona Halep will face a familiar foe in her opening match of the Australian Open 2019 women’s singles draw, having drawn Kaia Kanepi in the first round for the second Grand Slam tournament in succession.

The top seed, who reached last year’s final before falling against Caroline Wozniacki, lost to Kanepi in New York shortly before calling time on her season prior to the WTA Finals to recover from a back injury. 

Should Halep prevail, things are unlikely to get easier. The Romanian has been drawn in the same section seven-time champion and No.16 seed Serena Williams, with the duo slated to face off in the last 16, while unseeded Venus Williams is a potential third-round opponent.

Williams returns to Melbourne Park for the first time since winning the 2017 title while pregnant with daughter Alexis Olympia, and chasing a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam singles title. The 37-year-old opens against Germany’s Tatjana Maria, while sister Venus, a two-time finalist at Melbourne Park, faces No.25 seed Mihaela Buzarnescu.

No.3 seed Wozniacki will launch her title defence against Belgium’s Alison Van Uytvanck, having been drawn in the bottom half of the draw with No.2 seed Angelique Kerber.

“I can’t believe it’s been a year already – it’s awesome to be back,” Wozniacki said during her appearance at the draw ceremony before reflecting on her 2018 triumph.

“It means so much to me. It’s something I’ve wanted my whole career, and something I waited for for a long time. To finally get that here was very special – it’s the Happy Slam, it’s the first slam of the year, and it just made my year so much more enjoyable.

“It’s something I always hoped for and dreamt of, and to be back here, it just feels so great. The first time I came back here and hit on the courts, I thought, ‘Okay, I’m home.’ I feel like these courts are suited for me, so it’s incredible to be back. I’m just enjoying every minute of it.”

The 28-year-old beat a hasty retreat before the draw was announced, in line with her habit of not checking the bracket beyond the next opponent.

“When I was a junior, a long time ago, I used to look, but most of the time I used to lose and realise it doesn’t matter,” she explained. “So then I stopped looking at the draws, and I started winning, so I figured I may as well keep going. For me, it’s so important to stay in the moment. 

“There’s so many great players out there, so many that can beat anyone on a good day. So for me it’s all about focusing on this opponent and what I need to do out there in my next match.”

MORE: Women’s singles draw for Australian Open 2019

Wozniacki could find herself on a collision course with fellow former champion Maria Sharapova, with the duo projected to meet in the third round. The Russian, seeded No.30, will begin her campaign against a qualifier, as will No.6 seed Elina Svitolina and No.7 seed Karolina Pliskova

Also in an intriguing third quarter are Australian No.1 Ashleigh Barty, who faces Thailand’s Luksika Kumkhum in the first round, and Petra Kvitova, the No.8 seed taking on Slovakia’s Magdalena Rybarikova

Kerber, the No.2 seed and 2016 champion, will face Slovenia’s Polona Hercog in her opener. The German shares the bottom quarter with No.5 seed Sloane Stephens, who opens against compatriot Taylor Townsend, and No.9 seed Kiki Bertens, taking on another American in Alison Riske.

Elise Mertens, last year’s semi-finalist and No.12 seed, joins Svitolina and reigning US Open champion Naomi Osaka in the second quarter. The Belgian starts against Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, while Osaka faces Poland’s Magda Linette, with the possibility of a showdown with two-time former champion Victoria Azarenka in the third round.

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