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Women's draw: Azarenka adds to intrigue

Serena Williams is the woman to beat at Australian Open 2015 but the first-round meeting between Victoria Azarenka and Sloane Stephens leaps out of the draw.

According to Li Na, the answer to this year's Australian Open women's draw depends on Serena Williams. Fulfilling the traditional role of draw ceremony honoured guest, the defending champion was asked if she thought Serena could win. “If she wants to,” Li quipped, bringing her inimitable charm back to Melbourne Park.
Whether she wants to or not, 130 days since winning her 18th Grand Slam singles title in New York, it is Williams who tops the draw at Australian Open 2015, the first major of the year, joined at the other end by Maria Sharapova, the No.2 seed.

Neither Williams nor Sharapova will be overly troubled by their first-round opponents, Williams meeting Belgium’s Alison Van Uytvanck while Sharapova faces a qualifier. But this draw is not without its intrigue, and as always, defining the eight quarterfinalists, let alone semifinalists and finalists, is no easy task.

The match of the top quarter will undoubtedly be Victoria Azarenka v Sloane Stephens. Azarenka enters this year’s Australian Open with two Daphne Akhurst trophies to her name, but no seeding, the first time since 2007 that she has entered a Grand Slam not in the top 32. Stephens, meanwhile, has been struggling for momentum ever since her breakthrough tournament on these courts two years ago, storming her way to the semifinals in a blur of youthful confidence. It will be the pair’s third meeting, for the third year in a row, at Melbourne Park. Azarenka beat Stephens in an infamous semi in 2013, and again in the fourth round last year.
Others to watch are Caroline Wozniacki (8) against the precocious Taylor Townsend, of whom much is thought. Wozniacki has been nursing an injured wrist, but it is likely that her superior experience will be too much for the young American, as it was when they met in the fourth round in Auckland just last week.

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