Mathieu first up for Djokovic in Melbourne hat-trick quest

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

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.

Read: Changing of the guard: Will 'big four' become two?

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.

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

Funny: Open Court outtakes
Funny: Open Court outtakes


    Funny: Open Court outtakes


Funny: Open Court outtakes 02:48
Tennis stars face quickfire challenge
Tennis stars face quickfire challenge


    Tennis stars face quickfire challenge


Tennis stars face quickfire challenge 03:14
Is Serena Williams the greatest ever?
Is Serena Williams the greatest ever?


    Is Serena Williams the greatest ever?


Is Serena Williams the greatest ever? 04:12

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.


    • Rafael Nadal of Spain watches the ball in his match against Martin Klizan of Slovakia during during day seven of the China Open at the National Tennis Center on October 3, 2014 in Beijing, China.

      What does 2015 hold for Rafa?

      Rafael Nadal's body might be giving him a few problems, but his mind remains as strong as ever. Will the Spaniard add to his haul of 14 grand slam titles?
    • LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 17: Wimbledon champion Andy Murray and his long time girlfriend Kim Sears arrive at Buckingham Palace on October 17, in London, England. Murray will become an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) and receive his medal from the Duke of Cambridge. (Photo by John Stillwell - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

      Love game: Andy Murray to tie knot

      The Scot has served up a few changes to his support team in 2014 but there's one person who isn't going anywhere -- his new fiancée Kim Sears.
    • Despite being forced to retire at the age of 24 due to health problems, Lacoste remained in the game and went on start the "Lacoste" brand in 1933, which specialised in tennis products. The inspiration for the company's logo came from his nickname as a player, "le crocodile."

      'Crocodile' who broke all the rules

      His distinctive crocodile logo is seen on clothing all over the world, but Rene Lacoste also left a lasting legacy in the development of tennis.
    • Serena Williams of the US holds the US Open trophy after defeating Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark during their US Open 2014 women's singles finals match at the USTA Billie Jean King National Center September 7, 2014 in New York. AFP PHOTO/Stan HONDA (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)

      Serena savors U.S. Open win

      Serena Williams is without peer in the modern women's game and now she is on a par with two American tennis legends from the past.
    • American tennis player and golfer Althea Gibson (right) receives a kiss from compatriot Darlene Hard, whom she beat in two sets to become the first black woman to win the Women's Singles Finals at Wimbledon.

      The amazing life of Althea Gibson

      Over the course of her remarkable life, Althea Gibson was many things to many people -- but it was tennis where she really left her mark.
    • Courting couple at match point

      "I didn't cry once when I practiced in front of the mirror," says Martin Emmrich. But the nerves kicked in when he got down on one knee on court.
    • LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - JULY 03: Tennis / Frauen: Wimbledon 2004, London; Finale; Siegerin Maria SHARAPOVA / RUS 03.07.04. (Photo by Bongarts/Bongarts/Getty Images)

      'Baby' Sharapova's big moment

      It's 10 years since a teenage Maria Sharapova became the darling of Wimbledon's hallowed Center Court, launching herself as a star.
    • 'Swiss Miss' follows mom's lead

      Five-time grand slam champion Martina Hingis has followed her mom into a coaching role, setting up a new tennis academy in Barcelona, Spain.