MELBOURNE, Australia – The Williams sisters are on one side of the Australian Open draw. Most of the early intrigue is on the other side, with Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin.
Defending champion Serena Williams can't meet her sister, sixth-seeded Venus, until the semifinals at the Australian Open, which starts Monday.
If Henin is to get that far in her Grand Slam comeback, she could have to beat Olympic champion and fifth-seeded Elena Dementieva in the second round and U.S. Open champion Kim Clijsters in the quarterfinals. That's if Henin gets past fellow Belgian Kirsten Flipkens in the first round on Monday.
"Every match -- first round and then potential second round and third rounds -- it's arguably some of the best tennis we're going to see for a long time," tournament director Craig Tiley said at Friday's draw at Melbourne Park.
It was Clijsters' run to the U.S. Open title in only her third tournament back from retirement -- including a semifinal win over 2008 champion Serena Williams -- that inspired Henin to return to the tour.
On the same side as Clijsters and Henin but in the bottom section, 2008 champion Maria Sharapova could meet No. 2-ranked Dinara Safina, routed by Williams in the final here last year, in the fourth round and No. 3 Svetlana Kuznetsova, the reigning French Open champion, in the quarters.
Sharapova was unable to defend her title at Melbourne Park last year following surgery on her right shoulder that kept her off the tour for 10 months.
Roger Federer is on top of the men's draw, on the same half as No. 3 Novak
Djokovic. The top half of the men's and women's draws won't play until Tuesday. The other leading contenders are on the other side: defending champion Rafael Nadal and Britain's Andy Murray are in the same section; U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro and Wimbledon finalist Andy Roddick are in the same quarter.
Federer will play Igor Andreev of Russia in the first round, could face former No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt or 2006 Australian Open finalist Marcos Baghdatis in the fourth round, and someone like Fernando Verdasco or sixth-seeded Nikolay Davydenko in the quarters before a chance at Djokovic in the semis. Davydenko beat Federer last week in Doha, and has won six titles since August.
Djokovic had an upset win over Federer in the 2008 Australian Open semifinals, then won the final. He hasn't won another major since. Federer, meanwhile, won his 14th and 15th Grand Slam titles at the French Open and Wimbledon last year to break Pete Sampras' record for most men's singles majors.
Federer won three Australian titles and lost to the winner here three other times over the last six years.
Last year, it was Nadal in the final, when the Spaniard was ranked No. 1 and won a major for the first time on hardcourts.
Andy Murray lost rankings points by not defending his Doha title this year and it cost him. He dropped out of the top four for the first time since 2008, meaning he couldn't avoid having one of the top players in his section. He'll likely have to beat Nadal to make the semifinals.
Serena Williams, the defending champion and No. 1 seed, will take on Urszula Radwanska of Poland in her first-round match and could play Spain's Carla Suarez Navarro, who had an upset win over Venus in the second round here last year, in the third round.
Her likely quarterfinal rivals are No. 7 Victoria Azakrenka of Belarus or 2008 Australian runner-up Ana Ivanovic.
"It's the strongest field we've had for a long, long time," Ivanovic said at the draw. "It's exciting to be part of ... so many former No. 1 players. If you're going to win a Grand Slam, you want to deserve it."
Ivanovic is among the eight former No. 1-ranked players in the 128-strong women's draw. Along with Serena and Venus Williams, the others are: Henin, who spent a total of 117 weeks at the top and quit when she was ahead in May 2008, Clijsters, Safina, Sharapova and eighth-seeded Jelena Jankovic.
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