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Mathieu first up for Djokovic in Melbourne hat-trick quest

updated 7:25 AM EST, Fri January 11, 2013
Defending Australian Open champions Novak Djokovic and Victoria Azarenka at the draw in Melbourne
Defending Australian Open champions Novak Djokovic and Victoria Azarenka at the draw in Melbourne
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Novak Djokovic to begin defense of Australian Open title against Paul-Henri Mathieu
  • Djokovic gunning for third straight Melbourne title after epic win over Rafael Nadal last year
  • Victoria Azarenka to start defense with a clash against Monica Niculescu
  • Current world No. 1 Azarenka in same half of the draw as Serena Williams

(CNN) -- Novak Djokovic will kick start his quest for a third straight Australian Open crown against Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu in Melbourne.

The Serbian world No. 1 is in a different half of the draw to Andy Murray, who registered his first grand slam success at the U.S. Open last year, and the British No. 1 could face Roger Federer in the semifinals.

The Swiss veteran, who has 17 major titles to his name, takes on Mathieu's compatriot Benoit Paire in round one while Murray plays Dutchman Robin Haase.

With 11-time grand slam winner Rafael Nadal absent due to a stomach virus Spain's main hopes rest with fourth seed David Ferrer, who begins against Belgium's Olivier Rochus and could face Djokovic in the semis.

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Czech fifth seed Tomas Berdych squares off against American Michael Russell while home favorite and double grand slam winner Lleyton Hewitt takes on Serbian eighth seed Janko Tipsarevic.

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In the women's draw defending champion and world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka, from Belarus, could face nemesis Serena Williams in the semifinals.

Williams defeated Azarenka on her way to the Wimbledon title and an Olympic gold medal in 2012. The 31-year-old also beat Azarenka in the U.S. Open final and at the season-ending WTA Championships in Istanbul.

Azarenka's first match is against Romania's Monica Niculescu. Williams, a five-time Australian Open champion, will tackle another Romanian, Edina Gallovits-Hall.

Maria Sharapova, seeded second, will take on fellow Russian Olga Puchkova in round one and could face Polish fourth seed Agnieszka Radwanska in the final four.

Radwanska, who won the Auckland title earlier in January, kicks off her campaign against Australian Bojana Bobusic.

Former world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki, from Denmark, faces a tricky opening encounter against Sabine Lisicki while 2010 French Open winner Francesca Schiavone plays 2011 Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova.

Kvitova told CNN of the draw: "I practiced with Schiavone only yesterday! She is a dangerous player. She has a great slice from the backhand side and great spin from the forehand.

"She also has a strong kick serve so I have to be prepared for every shot. She is very fit and can run a lot so I will not play rallies with her.

"I think it's a great challenge. It will be a good match for the first round and I look forward to playing here in Melbourne again."

The Australian Open gets underway in Melbourne on Monday.

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