All-Russian affair pleases Sharapova

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All-Russian affair pleases Sharapova

Drawcard Maria Sharapova has welcomed a first round all-Russian clash against Ekaterina Makarova to begin the defence of her Brisbane International title.

Third seed Sharapova has been pitted against world No.23 Makarova at Friday’s draw, in a rematch from last year’s Australian Open semi-final.

Five-time grand slam winner Sharapova holds a 6-0 record against her compatriot.

The 28-year-old says it will be a challenging way to begin her Australian summer campaign.

“This was a grand slam semi-final last year in Australia,” Sharapova said.

“For a first match, it’s a pretty high quality match against a pretty tough opponent.”

World No.2 Simona Halep has a bye for the opening round but the draw wasn’t too kind on the top seed with two-time Australian Open winner Victoria Azarenka her likely second round opponent.

Sharapova and Halep both feature in the top half of the women’s draw, which boasts nine of the world’s top 20 as well as former world No.1s Azarenka and Jelena Jankovic.

Australia’s Sam Stosur has been handed a helpful start to her home tournament by drawing a qualifier.

A perennial underachiever on the Australian tour, Stosur would book a second-round clash with either sixth-seed Carla Suarez Navarro or adopted Aussie wildcard Alja Tomljanovic.

The other wildcard, Brisbane teenager Priscilla Hon, will play a qualifier.

In the men’s draw, Australian wildcard and new father Ben Mitchell has the prime chance to take on Roger Federer in the Swiss tennis maestro’s first match of 2016.

Mitchell will play a qualifier in the opening round where victory will book a second-round appearance against 17-time grand slam champion Federer, who gets a first-up bye.

The Gold Coaster was granted a wildcard to his home tournament after withdrawing from the Australian Open wildcard playoffs to be at the birth of his first child last month.

The world No.231-ranked player is one six Queenslanders in the main draw of the men’s and women’s tournaments at the Brisbane International with the most high-profile, seventh-seed Bernard Tomic, to play French veteran Nicolas Mahut in the first round.

Davis Cup regular Sam Groth plays Korean Hyeon Chung and is in the same quarter of the men’s draw with wildcards John-Patrick Smith and James Duckworth.

Groth, who is recovering from foot surgery, said he was happy with the first round match.

“There’s a lot tougher players to play but Chung has had a great year,” he said.

“It’s better than playing one of the top 10 players, especially after having a lay-off, for my first match back.”

The tournament begins on Sunday.

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