Men’s draw: Federer’s quest for 100

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The men’s draw for Australian Open 2019 has promised an enthralling event, with a plethora of pulsating first-round encounters locked into the schedule.

MORE: The men’s singles draw for AO 2019

Two-time defending champion Roger Federer joined the official draw ceremony on Thursday evening in Melbourne clutching the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup, and the Swiss maestro will open his quest for a hat-trick facing Denis Istomin.

Federer, who has won all six of their previous encounters, will still be on guard, because the world No.99 stunned Novak Djokovic in the 2017 second round in Melbourne.

Like Federer, Djokovic will also hope to clinch a record-breaking seventh Australian Open title this month, and the Serbian world No.1 faces a qualifier at the first hurdle.

However, the top seed, who enjoyed a stunning renaissance in 2018 with the Wimbledon and US Open crowns, is placed in a tricky quarter. Djokovic could meet Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who he beat in the 2008 Australian final, in the second round, and has a potential third round against Next Gen superstar Denis Shapovalov

In the same quarter as Djokovic, recent Brisbane champion Kei Nishikori also takes to the court against a qualifier.
 

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Novak Djokovic could meet former final foe Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in round two

Federer, the 20-time Grand Slam champion and six-time Melbourne victor, is pitched in the same quarter of 2018 final opponent Marin Cilic, who has to navigate past home charge Bernard Tomic in round one. Next Gen prodigy Stefanos Tsitsipas stands out in that section, alongside five-time finalist Andy Murray.

The Scot, unseeded at Melbourne Park for the first time since 2006 due to a prolonged absence with hip surgery, has an intriguing opening encounter against Doha champion and 22nd seed Roberto Bautista Agut.

A potential blockbuster semifinal between Federer and long-time rival Rafael Nadal could occur towards the end of the month.

Nadal, now a decade on from his sole title triumph in Melbourne, has to tackle home wildcard James Duckworth in his first match.

Before any talk of facing Federer, Nadal has Wimbledon finalist Kevin Anderson in his section too.

In terms of Australian interest, we have a scintillating first-round duel between the unseeded Nick Kyrgios and big-serving Canadian Milos Raonic, the 16th seed.

Kyrgios, a quarterfinalist at his home major back in 2015, will hope to be in peak condition to fend off 2016 Wimbledon finalist Raonic. The pair are split at 3-3 in the head-to-head record, and Kyrgios will look to utilise the home support from the Australian fans to ignite a deep run in Melbourne.

“Nick’s the most dangerous floater by far as he’s beaten all the top guys,” declared analyst Darren Cahill at Thursday’s draw. “He’s coming into his home Grand Slam fresh, hungry and no-one will want to play him.”

The winner of Kyrgios vs Raonic will book another captivating contest with either 2014 champion Stan Wawrinka or Ernests Gulbis.
 

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Could Roger Federer take home the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup for a seventh time this January?

Alex de Minaur shot into the limelight in 2018, and the fiercely-determined home charge opens his tournament against world No.103 Pedro Sousa.

The Djokovic, Nadal and Federer triumvirate has clinched 50 of the past 60 Grand Slam titles, with ATP Finals winner Alexander Zverev tipped as the nearest contender to break through the established elite.

The towering German, in the same quarter as Roland Garros finalist Dominic Thiem, has drawn a stern first test in the shape of world No.67 Aljaz Bedene.

Another first round which pops out from the draw will see 2018 semifinalist Kyle Edmund go toe-to-toe on court with veteran Tomas Berdych.

Federer spoke at the draw ceremony ahead of knowing his first opponent, and was nostalgic looking back at his previous six title wins on the big screens at Margaret Court Arena in Melbourne.

“I love seeing highlights, with all the music, it’s very emotional. I can’t believe it’s been 20 years, plus juniors, plus qualifying, so it’s been more actually.

“How good it was to win another five-set thriller in the final last year. It was epic, it was unbelievable,” reflected the No.3 seed, who defended his Hopman Cup title alongside Belinda Bencic last week to provide perfect preparation for his Australian Open pursuit.

“I was seeking confirmation that my level of play was good from practice. In the off-season I felt great. It was a great event and I played some great tennis.”

Federer, who sprinted off to practice before the draw was conducted, has a staggering 99 career titles to his name.

Could the milestone of 100 be chalked up in Melbourne?

“99 is already an incredible number. I’m so close, I’ll give it a go. Every tournament I go to people might talk about it. Again, I’m not trying to look too far ahead,” insisted Federer, who points to Djokovic as the clear favourite. 

“But if I made 100 at the Australian I’d take it, I’d gladly accept it and I’ll give it all I have.”