World No.1 Ash Barty has been delivered a tough side of the draw at the Australian Open after a potential showdown with Naomi Osaka looms in the Round of 16.
Barty will play a yet-to-be-known qualifier in the first round when the season's first grand slam finally gets under way on Monday after a tumultuous build-up overshadowed by the Novak Djokovic saga.
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Australia's top seed was pitted against the qualifier at Thursday's much-anticipated draw, which was delayed by more than an hour.
If she wins her opener, Barty will play another qualifier or Russia's World No.79 Varvara Gracheva and is slated to strike Italy's 30th seed Camila Georgi in the Third Round.
However, if Barty is reach the Round of 16 again she could be looking at a showdown with Osaka.
Barty recently won the Adelaide International tournament and was in imperious form, while Osaka looked good at the Melbourne Summer WTA event before withdrawing to get some rest.
The potential match up, which coincided with a strong top-half of the draw, proved to offer Barty a formidable path to an elusive Australian Open title.
Osaka has dropped to 14th in the rankings after a turbulent second half of 2021 in which the Japanese superstar sat out the French Open and Wimbledon and was an early-round casualty at the US Open and Tokyo Olympics.
However, Osaka appeared in good form last week before deciding to withdraw from the Melbourne Summer Set 1 to rest for the Aus Open.
Barty is seeded to face either French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova or Spaniard Paula Badosa in the semi-finals and Aryna Sabalenka or WTA Finals champion Garbine Muguruza in the January 29 championship decider.
Australian men's No.1 Alex de Minaur, seeded 32nd, will open his tournament against Italian World No.60 Lorenzo Musetti.
Former quarter-finalist Nick Kyrgios plays a qualifier almost certainly for the right to take on second-seeded 2021 runner-up and reigning US Open champion Daniil Medvedev.
Novak Djokovic named in Aus Open draw
While there was no mention of Djokovic's deportation status on Thursday, the World No.1 was named in the Aus Open draw.
Bidding for a men's record 21 grand slam titles and a ninth Aus Open title, Djokovic was drawn against fellow Serb World No.78 Miomir Kecmanovic.
Djokovic's inclusion in the draw could become controversial if Minister Hawke does decide to use ministerial powers and deport the World No.1.
The UK Telegraph writer Oliver Brown said it was an 'absurd state of affairs' Djokovic's participation status is still in doubt.
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