Ash Barty's pursuit of a third major and first at home faces a huge early hurdle with defending champion Naomi Osaka looming as a likely fourth-round opponent after the women's draw for Australian Open 2022 was revealed on Thursday.
Following a dream start to her season, in which she swept the singles and doubles titles in Adelaide, the top seed was placed in the same half of the draw as three Australian Open champions and last year's Roland Garros winner, fourth seed Barbora Krejcikova.
Thirteenth seed Osaka could meet Tokyo Olympics gold medallist Belinda Bencic in the third round, while 2020 champion Sofia Kenin could square off against 17-year-old compatriot Coco Gauff at the same stage.
We break down the best of the women's singles draw for Australian Open 2022.
Fourth-round test looms for top seed
Typically coy on her aspirations, the 25-year-old Barty has made no secret of her dream to become the first Australian in 44 years to win her home Grand Slam event.
Top seed for the third year running, the reigning Wimbledon champion begins her campaign against a qualifier, with Italian 30th seed Camila Giorgi on track for a third-round clash.
The Queenslander could face Osaka or Bencic in the fourth round before fifth seed Maria Sakkari in the quarterfinals and Czech fourth seed Krejcikova in the semifinals.
Osaka, who made her return from a four-month hiatus in Melbourne last week, was drawn against Colombian Camila Osorio in the opening round of her campaign to defend a major for the first time.
Krejcikova's hot start to be tested
In only her fifth singles main draw appearance, unseeded Krejcikova swept all before her to prevail on the clay at Roland Garros last year. Only the third Czech champion in Paris, the 26-year-old finished the season with second-week showings in the two subsequent majors.
The Czech is running hot in Sydney, dropping just eight games in two matches to reach the semifinals. She could run into the 2017 Roland Garros champion Jelena Ostapenko in the third round and two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka in the fourth round at Melbourne Park, with eighth-seeded Spaniard Paula Badosa slated for a quarterfinal showdown.
Former world No.1 Azarenka would potentially need to defeat Ukrainian 15th seed Elina Svitolina in the third round, while Kenin or Gauff loom as possible roadblocks for the 24-year-old Badosa.
Muguruza searches for form, Sabalenka's tricky start
Spain's Garbine Muguruza came close to adding an Australian Open to her French and Wimbledon trophies in 2020 when she lost a three-set final to Kenin.
While she has failed to pass the fourth round at a major since, the 28-year-old closed out 2021 on a high note with the WTA Finals title in Guadalajara.
Muguruza could run into fellow dual major champion Simona Halep or the newest women's Grand Slam titlist Emma Raducanu in a dangerous fourth round, before a possible quarterfinal against in-form Estonian sixth seed Anett Kontaveit. Second seed Aryna Sabalenka was drawn to face Muguruza in the semifinals in what would be a sure-fire heavy-hitting tussle.
Still searching for her first Grand Slam final, the 23-year-old Sabalenka has suffered back-to-back defeats to open the new season and will be wary of a troubling first-round opponent in Australian wildcard Storm Sanders.
The left-handed Sanders won the Adelaide doubles title with Barty last week and took a set off eventual finalist Elena Rybakina in the singles event.
The 2016 Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber or last year's US Open finalist Leylah Fernandez could prove tricky for the Belarusian second seed in the fourth round, while 2020 Roland Garros champion and seventh seed Iga Swiatek or 2019 runner-up Petra Kvitova were a potential quarterfinal hurdle.
After Australian coach Darren Cahill agreed to join her team in the off-season, former world No.21 Amanda Anisimova hit the ground running in 2022. The 20-year-old, now ranked No.61, won the Melbourne Summer Set 2 trophy for her first title in almost three years last week. She could meet Olympic champion Bencic in the second round before Osaka in the third round.
The unlucky highest-ranked player to miss out on a seeding, American Shelby Rogers, poses a significant danger, following her upset of Barty en route to the US Open fourth round before her defeat to eventual champion Raducanu last year.
The 29-year-old reached the quarterfinals at the WTA 500 event in Adelaide last week with a win over third seed Sakkari. She opens against Croatian Ana Konjuh and could meet Kontaveit in the third round.
Australia's No.2 Ajla Tomljanovic has long possessed the artillery, but consistency has often proved her Achilles heel. The 28-year-old made inroads last season with her first Grand Slam quarterfinal at Wimbledon before she ran into compatriot and eventual champion Barty. With crowd support on her side, Tomljanovic could surprise eighth seed Badosa in the first round.
Best first-round matches
After landing the unlikeliest of breakthroughs at Flushing Meadows to become the first qualifier to win a major championship, British teenager Raducanu's torrid run since does not get any easier.
The 17th seed was drawn to face 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens first up, with the winner expected to clash with last week's Melbourne Summer Set 1 champion Halep in the third round.
A runner-up to Osaka two years ago in Melbourne, two-time Wimbledon champion Kvitova came unstuck against the aggressive Romanian, Sorana Cirstea, in the second round last year. This year the pair will cross paths in the opening round in their third showdown after Kvitova claimed the honours at Wimbledon in 2016.
Elsewhere, Americans Kenin and Madison Keys square off in the first round. Their head-to-head reads 2-1 in Keys' favour, but all in 2019, before 11th seed Kenin captured the 2020 Australian Open.