Djokovic handed easy draw
Serena to start her bid for sixth title against Edna
World number one Novak Djokovic's bid for a third successive Australian Open title has been given a boost with a relatively smooth draw in the first Grand Slam of the season.
The 25-year-old Serb kicks off his title defence with a first round tie against unseeded Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu in the draw announced on Friday and faces no major hurdles until a potentially dangerous quarterfinal against fifth-seeded Czech Tomas Berdych.
In a top half of the draw free of 'Big Four' rivals Roger Federer, Andy Murray and the absent Rafa Nadal, a possible semifinal clash with fourth seed David Ferrer, looms for five-times Grand Slam winner Djokovic, who beat the tenacious Spaniard in the quarterfinals last year.
Former world number one Federer faces a tough first week in his bid to add to his record 17 Grand Slam titles, however. †
The four-time champion will also play an unseeded Frenchman in Benoit Paire in his opener, but is likely to face former top-10 player Nikolay Davydenko of Russia in the second round before another potentially tricky clash with local hope Bernard Tomic in the third.
Big-serving Milos Raonic of Canada, the 13th seed, is then an unpalatable prospect in the last 16, with athletic Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga a good chance to meet the Swiss in the quarterfinals.
US Open champion Murray will start his campaign against unseeded Dutchman Robin Haase but the Briton is
likely to have one eye on Argentina's Juan Martin del Potro, who looms as a possible quarterfinal opponent.
In the women's draw, Serena Williams will start her bid for a sixth Melbourne title against Romania's Edna Gallovits-Hall, with a potential quarterfinal clash against former Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova.
The 31-year-old Williams, raging favourite to win her 16th Grand Slam singles title and third in a row after her Wimbledon and US Open triumphs last year, would then be in line for a showdown with defending champion Victoria Azarenka.
Top seed Azarenka plays another Romanian, Monica Niculescu, in her first round with former world number one Caroline Wozniacki a potential quarterfinal opponent.
Second seeded Russian Maria Sharapova faces a perilous first week, with a likely third round encounter against Venus Williams following her opening match against compatriot Olga Puchkova.
Agnieszka Radwanska humbled Dominika Cibulkova 6-0, 6-0 to win her second Australian Open warm-up tournament in two weeks at the Sydney International on Friday.
In the men's draw in Sydney, Bernard Tomic scored a 7-6, 6-4 win over Italy's Andreas Seppi to reach final where the Australian will meet South African Kevin Anderson, who edged out Julien Benneteau 3-6, 6-4, 7-6. David Ferrer thrashed Gael Monfils 6-1, 6-2 to reach the final of the Auckland Open. The Spaniard will face Philipp Kohlschreiber, who beat American Sam Querrey 6-4, 7-6.
In the Hobart warm-up, Russian Elena Vesnina upset American eighth seed Sloane Stephens 6-2, 6-2. Vesnina will play Mona Barthel, who beat Kirsten Flipkens 6-4, 6-4.