MELBOURNE, Australia – Only in her third Grand Slam event, Coco Gauff is planning challenges that will already be familiar to her, as revealed in the Australian Open draw ceremony on Thursday evening.
Gauff, 15, will open in the first round against seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams, 39, as he did in Wimbledon’s first round last year. Gauff, then out of the Top 300, became an international hit by beating Williams, five times Wimbledon champion, 6-4, 6-4. Gauff supported the victory with a race in the fourth round, where he lost to the eventual champion, Simona Halep.
Williams retired from Australian lead tournaments this month in Brisbane and Adelaide, citing a hip injury, but he trained in Melbourne this week.
Should Gauff advance to the third round in Melbourne, he could go against defending champion Naomi Osaka, who is placed third here. He faced Osaka in last year’s United States Open third round, where Osaka was also the reigning champion. Osaka won that match 6-3, 6-0, and consoled a disheartened Gauff after the match point, creating one of the most celebrated sporting moments of the tournament.
Gauff’s star studded section is part of a group of tough opponents in his fourth. Two sowed Americans, the fourteenth Sofia Kenin and the twenty-fourth Sloane Stephens, await as much opponents of the fourth round as possible for anyone who advances in that section.
Eighth seed Serena Williams, who is looking for a singles title from the record-breaking 24th Grand Slam here, awaits a possible quarter-final opponent. Williams got a favorable path in the first week of the tournament, opening against Anastasia Potapova in 90th place, then facing Tamara Zidansek in 69th place or Han Na-lae in 177th place in the second round.
Caroline Wozniacki, the former WTA n. 1 that announced it was playing her final tournament here before retiring, she is a possible fourth round opponent for Serena Williams. Wozniacki opens against the American Kristie Ahn.
Ashleigh Barty, first in the lead, is in the lead in the upper half of the draw, which includes all of the above players. Opens against the 120th classified Lesia Tsurenko. The seventh sowing Petra Kvitova, the second placed here last year in Osaka, is also in her fourth of the draw.
The lower half of the women’s draw is anchored by the second seed Karolina Pliskova, who won the prestigious lead-up tournament in Brisbane last week. Pliskova has a difficult opening game against 39th placed Kristina Mladenovic, to whom she has lost two of four games. The lower half of the draw also features the fourth Halep seed, the fifth Elina Svitolina seed and the sixth Belinda Bencic seed.
The men’s draw has an apparently more uniform distribution of the contenders. The most authoritative Rafael Nadal, who would tie Roger Federer to the all-time lead of men with a 20th Grand Slam title here, opens up against 72nd place winner Hugo Dellien of Bolivia.
Nadal has a possible captivating fourth round match against Nick Kyrgios, the flashy Australian who has won two of his three matches with Nadal on tough pitches. In the quarterfinals, Nadal could face Dominic Thiem, fifth seed, who has beaten in the French Open final each of the past two years.
Frances Tiafoe, the exuberant American who broke through a quarter-final here last year, received one of the toughest draws, having to open Daniil Medvedev against the fourth seed, the second highest seed in the middle of Nadal. Medvedev, who led Nadal to five sets in last year’s United States Open final, he could face 2014 champion Stan Wawrinka in the fourth round and seventh seed Alexander Zverev in the quarterfinals.
In the lower half of the draw, third-seed Federer opens against American Steve Johnson, in 81st place. The seeded he was able to face in the third round is the 31st seed of Hubert Hurkacz, a Polish pole who improved his ranking by 50 points last season. Federer could face the eighteenth Grigor Dimitrov, who beat him in the quarterfinals of the United States Open last year, in the fourth round, and the eighth seed Matteo Berrettini in the quarterfinals.
The last quarter of the men’s draw is anchored by seven-time champion Novak Djokovic, who is sown second. Djokovic played one of the most difficult opening rounds, against 37th placed Jan-Lennard Struff, a tall and powerful German who Djokovic beat in the fourth round of the French Open last year.
Tournament director Craig Tiley addressed players’ concerns on Thursday about the smoke from the fires taking place in Australia, which delayed the game during the qualifying matches on Tuesday and Wednesday. Tiley said the game would be suspended if the air quality index, which measures pollutants known as PM 2.5, exceeded 200, as it did on Wednesday.
Before the draw was made Thursday, local hopes were dealt a blow with the withdrawal of Australia’s best male player, 21st place Alex de Minaur, who retired due to an abdominal tear he suffered during the ATP Cup. last week while playing for the Australian team.
De Minaur admitted that he was overwhelmed by the patriotic fervor fueled in the new event of the national team, pushing through the pain he began to experience in his second of five games and jeopardizing his chances of playing the most important tournament in his country , where it reached the third round of last year.
“Playing for your country is a different feeling: I am going to do everything to leave everything there,” said de Minaur. “It seems, this time, that he pushed me back a little.”