Defending champion Serena Williams could face a rematch with last year’s finalist Maria Sharapova as early as the quarter-finals after being dealt a devilish Australian Open draw.
The draw could hardly have been worse for the six-time champion, who faces Italian Camila Giorgi in the opening round which gets underway on Monday.
Giorgi, who finished 2015 at No.34, was the highest-ranked player not seeded for the season’s first major and made the third round at Melbourne Park last year.
Williams could also meet former world No.1 Caroline Wozniacki in the fourth round before a possible showdown with Sharapova.
Williams hasn’t completed a competitive match since her US Open semi-final exit in September, which prevented her claiming a calendar year grand slam.
She pulled out of her first Hopman Cup match earlier this month and then withdrew midway through her second against Australian Jarmila Wolfe with her troublesome knee flaring up.
But the 34-year-old said she just needed rest and had trained hard in the off-season and was raring to go.
“Everything is really well and I am feeling really good,” Williams said at the draw announcement at Melbourne Park.
“I’ve been training every day for so long and I’m ready.”
Second seed Romanian Simona Halep will open against a qualifier, while two-time champion and No.14 seed Victoria Azarenka, who won last week’s Brisbane International, will play Belgian Alison Van Uytvanck.
Halep, who has been playing with an Achilles injury, is in the same half of the draw as eighth seed Venus Williams, who will meet Brit Johanna Konta in round one.
Third-seeded Spaniard Garbine Muguruza, who made the fourth round in Melbourne last year and was runner-up at Wimbledon, faces Estonia’s Anett Kontaveit.
Polish fourth seed Agnieszka Radwanska takes on American Christina McHale, while Sharapova, seeded five, has an opening meeting with Japan’s world No.58 Nao Hibino.
WHO THE TOP EIGHT SEEDS FACE IN ROUND ONE OF THE AUSTRALIAN OPEN
1-Serena Williams (USA) v Camila Giorgi (ITA)
2-Simona Halep (ROM) v qualifier
3-Garbine Muguruza (ESP) v Anett Kontaveit (EST)
4-Agnieszka Radwanska (POL) v Christina McHale (USA)
5-Maria Sharapova (RUS) v Nao Hibino (JAP)
6-Petra Kvitova (CZE) v qualifier
7-Angelique Kerber (GER) v Misake Doi (JAP)
8-Venus Williams (USA) v Johanna Konta (GBR)