Novak Djokovic to start Australian Open title defence against Jeremy Chardy

Novak Djokovic begins his Australian Open title defence against Jeremy Chardy while reigning women’s champion Sofia Kenin meets wild card Maddison Inglis after the draw for the year’s first grand slam was made on Friday.

World No 1 Djokovic captured a record-extending eighth title at Melbourne Park last year by beating Dominic Thiem, who is seeded third and faces Mikhail Kukushkin.

Dan Evans and Cameron Norrie, the only Britons in the men’s event with Kyle Edmund missing through injury and Andy Murray unable to travel because of Covid-19 restrictions, will face each other in the first round.

There is the carrot for the winner of a possible third-round clash with second seed Rafael Nadal, while the pairing at least means there will not be a repeat of the French Open in October, where no British singles players reached the second round.

Evans is the 30th seed and Britain’s main hope for a good run along with women’s 13th seed Johanna Konta, who will play qualifier Kaja Juvan in the opening round. Heather Watson faces a rematch with Czech Kristyna Pliskova, who she beat at the same stage last year, while Katie Boulter will take on former top-10 player Daria Kasatkina.

Twenty-year-old qualifier Francesca Jones will make her grand slam main draw debut against big-hitting American Shelby Rogers.

Top-ranked Ash Barty resumes her quest to become the first homegrown singles winner at the Australian Open since 1978 when the 24-year-old takes on Danka Kovinic.

Other heavyweights in Barty’s half of the draw include two-time former Open champion Victoria Azarenka and fifth seed Elina Svitolina.

American Serena Williams, looking to win a record-equalling 24th grand slam, meets Laura Siegemund in the opening round while 2019 champion Naomi Osaka faces Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

Osaka could face Caroline Garcia and Ons Jabeur in her next two rounds before a likely match-up with either Garbine Muguruza or Angelique Kerber in the fourth round.

Second seed Simona Halep of Romania, a beaten finalist at Melbourne Park three years ago, will play wild card Lizette Cabrera while fifth-seeded Ukrainian Elina Svitolina faces Marie Bouzkova.

Nadal, seeking a first title at the major since 2009, faces Laslo Djere in his opener. A back issue that forced the Spaniard out of two ATP Cup matches this week has the 20-times grand slam winner under a serious fitness cloud.

But if he recovers, Nadal looms as a major fourth-round road block for Australian men’s No 1 Alex de Minaur, who will start against two-time quarter-finalist Tennys Sandgren.

Nick Kyrgios plays qualifier Frederico Ferreira Silva first and could strike Thiem in the third round. A former quarter-finalist who lost to Nadal in the fourth round last year, Kyrgios is unseeded after skipping most of the 2020 season because of the coronavirus pandemic.

ATP Finals champion Daniil Medvedev, who lost in the fourth round in the previous two years, meets Canada’s Vasek Pospisil, while young guns Jannik Sinner and Denis Shapovalov are set to face off in what promises to be a blockbuster opener.

Fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas has a tricky test against French veteran Gilles Simon while Alexander Zverev and Andrey Rublev have relatively easier first rounds against Marcos Giron and Yannick Hanfmann, respectively.

Iga Swiatek, who made her breakthrough last year by winning the French Open title, takes on Arantxa Rus of the Netherlands while Venus Williams plays Kirsten Flipkens.

Organisers were able to breathe a sigh of relief on Friday when the 507 people retested for coronavirus all returned negative results.

Preparations were thrown into chaos again two days earlier when an employee at one of the hotels used for the mandatory fortnight of quarantine tested positive for the virus.

Play in the six warm-up events was suspended on Thursday and the draw delayed but tournament director Craig Tiley expressed complete confidence the Australian Open would be able to start on time on Monday and matches resumed on Friday.

Fresh restrictions were imposed on Melbourne, which had experienced no community cases for nearly a month, but so far the city has seen no other positive tests aside from those in quarantine.