Australian Open: Andy Murray to face qualifier in round one

By Piers NewberyBBC Sport at Melbourne Park
Andy Murray
Andy Murray reached the Australian Open final in 2010, 2011 and 2013
Australian Open 2015
Dates: 19 January-1 February Venue: Melbourne Coverage: Commentary on BBC Radio 5 live sports extra, selected live text commentaries and daily reports on the BBC Sport website

Andy Murray will play a qualifier in the Australian Open first round but faces a tough route if he is to reach a fourth Melbourne final.

The 27-year-old Briton, a runner-up three times, has been drawn in the same half as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

Murray could also face Grigor Dimitrov, the man who ended his Wimbledon reign last summer, as early as the last 16.

James Ward takes on Spain's Fernando Verdasco, while Heather Watson plays Bulgaria's Tsvetana Pironkova.

Four-time champion Novak Djokovic begins against a qualifier and is in the same half as champion Stan Wawrinka, while Federer plays Yen-Hsun Lu and Nadal faces Mikhail Youzhny.

"I definitely don't think it's an easy draw, there are a lot of good players and people that can have a great run, but I agree that Djokovic is the favourite," said Federer.

5 live tennis correspondent Russell Fuller
Murray may be relieved not to be on a quarter-final collision course with Djokovic, but being outside the top four always makes the second week very tough. Melbourne will prove no exception if Murray makes progress, with Dimitrov and Federer seeded to lie in wait before the semi-finals.
Fellow Briton James Ward's form and confidence give him a genuine chance against Fernando Verdasco and, given the way she is playing, Heather Watson would not be overawed by a second-round meeting with Dominika Cibulkova. Tsvetana Pironkova will, however, be an awkward opening opponent, especially after Watson's busy week in Hobart.

Asked if he believes he can win an 18th Grand Slam title in Melbourne, the 33-year-old Swiss added: "I do believe it. I think I had a great year last year - I could have won Wimbledon, was somewhat close at the Australian Open, at the US Open I had my chances as well.

"I hope this one's going to go well for me. I've won here before and I've been playing so well the last six months, I do believe that I'm one of the guys who's got a shot."

For Nadal it is a return to Grand Slam action after he missed the US Open while spending three months out with injury. He said: "It's a special match for me because the last six or seven months I played only four matches.

"Every match is tough for me as it is like we are starting everything again."

In the women's draw, world number one and five-time champion Serena Williams plays unseeded Belgian Alison van Uytvanck, while second seed Maria Sharapova opens against a qualifier.

Andy Murray's potential route
Round oneQualifier
Round twoMarinko Matosevic (Aus, ranking 80)
Round threeMartin Klizan (Svk, 34)
Round fourGrigor Dimitrov (Bul, 11)
Quarter-finalRoger Federer (Swi, 2)
Semi-finalRafael Nadal (Spa, 3)
FinalNovak Djokovic (Ser, 1)

Murray, seeded sixth, has made an encouraging start to 2015 with an early exhibition win over Nadal followed by three victories at the Hopman Cup in Perth.

The Scot changed his support team during the off-season, with coach Dani Vallverdu and fitness trainer Jez Green departing, leaving Amelie Mauresmo to take sole charge of coaching duties in Melbourne.

Murray could play a fellow Briton in round one, with Kyle Edmund and Liam Broady in the final round of qualifying on Saturday.

Ward, 27, is assured of a place in the main draw after qualifying directly for the first time thanks to a solid run of form that has taken him close to the world's top 100.

Watson will be the only British woman in the singles draw in the absence of Laura Robson, who has yet to return from the wrist injury that has kept her out since last year's Australian Open.

Heather Watson
Heather Watson's best Australian Open performance was reaching the third round in 2013

The 22-year-old from Guernsey has a 2-2 record against Pironkova and won their most recent match on grass in Eastbourne last summer.

In the same section of the draw, two-time champion Victoria Azarenka - unseeded after an injury-ravaged 2014 - has been drawn against American Sloane Stephens.

It is the third year running the pair have met at the tournament, with the 2013 semi-final notable for accusations of gamesmanship after Azarenka took a medical timeout.

The winner will play Caroline Wozniacki or American teenager Taylor Townsend in a tough part of the draw.

Monday's order of play will be released after qualifying concludes on Saturday, with the first round played across Monday and Tuesday.