Andy Murray was drawn against Japan’s Go Soeda in the first round of the Australian Open but it was the pairing of world number one Rafael Nadal with home hope Bernard Tomic that really captured the imagination.
There were gasps at Melbourne Park when the unseeded players were placed in the draw and the blockbuster match-up emerged.
Tomic is a mercurial talent who will relish taking on Nadal, with the Spaniard back in Melbourne for the first time in two years after missing the tournament 12 months ago as he recovered from knee problems.
Murray, who lost this morning in his final warm-up match against Lleyton Hewitt 7-6 (7-1), 7-6 (7-4) at the AAMI Classic in Kooyong, is seeded fourth for his first grand slam since undergoing back surgery in September and there was mixed news for the Scot from the draw.
Soeda who he has never played before, is a 29-year-old ranked 112th in the world and should not present any real problems. Should Murray prevail, however, he would then play a qualifier before potentially meeting familiar foe Feliciano Lopez in the third round.
Given Murray’s lack of matches, a kind first few rounds would have been his main hope, but from there things get a lot trickier. The draw is markedly top heavy and, after John Isner in the fourth round, Murray could find himself having to beat Roger Federer, Nadal and Novak Djokovic if he is to lift a third grand slam title.
Second seed Djokovic, who has won the title for the last three years, will play Slovakia’s Lukas Lacko in the first round, while sixth seed Federer Australian wild card James Duckworth.
Djokovic, who travelled to the draw on a tram with reigning women’s champion Victoria Azarenka, is playing his first grand slam since hiring two-time Australian Open champion Boris Becker as his head coach.
The Serbian said: “It’s an honour to have him alongside all my other team members. We’ll do our best to make a success of our partnership and it’s just the start.”
Laura Robson, Britain’s only direct entrant into the women’s draw, was given a tough first-round tie against Belgium’s Kirsten Flipkens.
Flipkens is seeded 18th and had a surprise run to the semi-finals at Wimbledon last year.
Robson has yet to complete a match this season because of a left wrist problem but has been practising at Melbourne Park. There was also an enticing match-up at the top of the women’s draw, with world number one Serena Williams playing Australian wild card Ashleigh Barty.
Barty, 17, made two grand slam doubles finals last year and is ranked 153rd in singles having won the Junior Wimbledon title in 2011. Williams is in the same half of the draw as fourth seed Li Na, who meets a qualifier first up, while second seed Azarenka plays Johanna Larsson of Sweden.
Also in the bottom half is third seed Maria Sharapova, who has returned to the tour after shoulder problems brought a premature end to her 2013 season.
The Russian has a potentially tricky draw against American Bethanie Mattek-Sands.
Play is due to begin at Melbourne Park on Monday, but the weather could cause delays, with projected temperatures of more than 40C. The Australian Open has an extreme heat policy, and tournament director Craig Tiley revealed there are expected to be six days when the temperature tops 30C.