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Australian Open: Federer starts hunt for 20th title against Bedene

Roger Federer has won 19 Grand Slam singles trophies. Reuters/Tony O'Brien

Roger Federer will start the defence of his Australian Open title and his bid for a 20th Grand Slam singles title against Slovenia's Aljaz Bedene following the draw on Thursday for the season's first Grand Slam event.

The Swiss was seeded 17 in January 2017 and in his first major tournament after a six month injury lay-off, he beat Rafael Nadal in the final in to claim the trophy. It was only his 12th victory over the Spaniard in 35 encounters since March 2004.

A year on Federer, after success at Wimbledon in July brought him his 19th Grand Slam crown, is the second seed and he will play Bedene for the first time.

Nadal, who claimed the French Open and the US Open in 2017, will launch his campaign against the world number 83, Victor Estrella Burgos.

The six-time champion Novak Djokovic, who has not played competitively since withdrawing from the quarter-final at Wimbledon in July, has been seeded 14th and he will begin against Donald Young from America.

The men's draw will be missing former world number one Andy Murray as well as Japan's Kei Nishikori.

Serena stays away

Serena Williams is the most notable absence from the women's event which is headed by the Romanian Simona Halep.

On 5 January 36-year-old Williams said she would not defend her title because she was not fit enough to play four months after giving birth to her first child. Two time winner Viktoria Azarenka has also pulled out as she continues a custody battle in the United States with the father of her son.

While Williams broods over when to recommence her tilt for a recod 24th Grand Slam singles title, Halep, 26, will begin her attempt to win her first major against the Australian 17-year-old Destanee Aiava.

Caroline Wozniacki, the second seed, will play Mihaela Buzarnescu from Romania in the first round and Garbine Muguruza will open against Jessika Ponchet from France.

Former champion Maria Sharapova will return to Melbourne Park for the first time since she tested positive for the banned substance meldonium during the 2016 championships. The Russian was suspended from the women's tour for 15 months and returned to action in April 2017.

The former world number one has slipped down the rankings during her absence. The world number 61, who beat Ana Ivanovic to take the 2008 title, will play her first-round match against Tatjana Maria from Germany.