MELBOURNE, Australia — His ranking staggered after an injury-plagued year, Roger Federer found himself in a peculiar position Friday as the Australian Open draw ceremony got underway.
Federer, 35, was seeded 17th, his lowest seeding at a Grand Slam event since the early, unseeded days of his career. But the draw proved relatively kind. Federer, the holder of 17 Grand Slam singles titles, is scheduled to play his first two rounds against qualifiers. If he gets past them, he could face No. 10 Tomas Berdych in the third round. Federer is 16-6 against Berdych and has won their last 11 sets.
Federer could face No. 5 Kei Nishikori, against whom he is 4-2, in the fourth round, and then top-seeded Andy Murray in the quarterfinals. Federer, a four-time Australian champion, has won his last five matches and 10 straight sets against Murray, but the two have not played since August 2015, before the surge in which Murray overtook Novak Djokovic for the top spot last year.
Djokovic, the second seed and defending champion, was dealt the toughest hand of any top player, having to open against 40th-ranked Fernando Verdasco, a semifinalist here in 2009.
Verdasco held five match points against Djokovic last week in the semifinals of the tournament in Doha, Qatar, but was unable to convert any, as Djokovic escaped and ultimately beat Murray in the final. Verdasco has often played his best tennis in Melbourne, including a five-set upset of Rafael Nadal in the first round last year.
No. 9 Nadal is in No. 3 Milos Raonic’s quarter of the draw and could meet No. 6 Gaël Monfils in the fourth round.
Second-seeded Serena Williams was dealt the toughest opening among the top women’s contenders, drawing Belinda Bencic in the first round. Bencic, a 19-year-old Swiss prodigy, reached a career high of No. 7 early last year before struggling with a lower-back injury. Now ranked 48th, Bencic won her most recent match against Williams in the semifinals of the Toronto tournament in 2015.
Williams’s second round could also prove difficult if she has to face Lucie Safarova, her opponent in the 2015 French Open final. Should Williams clear those early hurdles, No. 25 Timea Babos and No. 16 Barbora Strycova are the seeds she is projected to face before the quarterfinal. In that quarterfinal, her opponent could be No. 6 Dominika Cibulkova, No. 9 Johanna Konta or No. 17 Caroline Wozniacki.
The defending champion and top seed Angelique Kerber was given a favorable draw for her first major title defense, opening against 61st-ranked Lesia Tsurenko. Kerber has been unimpressive in her lead-up events, losing early in tuneup tournaments in Sydney and Brisbane.
The Brisbane champion, No. 5 Karolina Pliskova, is one of the few top women’s players in good form as the season begins. She could face No. 3 Agnieszka Radwanska in the semifinals.