Barty to play qualifier in Open opener
World No.1 Ash Barty could face defending champion Naomi Osaka in a fourth-round Australian Open blockbuster.
Barty will play a yet-to-be-known qualifier in the first round when the season's first grand slam finally gets underway on Monday after a tumultuous build-up overshadowed by the Novak Djokovic saga.
Australia's top seed was pitted against the qualifier at Thursday's much-anticipated draw, which was delayed by more than an hour.
Unbeaten in 2022 after sweeping to the singles and doubles titles in Adelaide last week, Barty is a hot favourite to break the host country's 44-year Open singles title drought.
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.
Should the Wimbledon champion reach the second week for the fourth-straight year, Barty could run into Osaka in the round of 16.
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.
The four-time grand slam champion took a mental health break and also opted to also skip the WTA Finals in Mexico.
But the most accomplished hardcourt player in women's tennis nevertheless is still viewed as Barty's biggest threat at the Open, in a field devoid of seven-times champion Serena Williams and 2021 Wimbledon runner-up Karolina Pliskova.
Barty has reached the quarter-finals or better in her past three Open appearances and the Queenslander's projected last-eight opponent this campaign is Greek fifth seed Maria Sakkari.
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.
The draw was to have taken place at 3 pm local time at Melbourne Park before an announcement was made that it had been "postponed until further notice".
Officials later said it would be held at 4.15 pm.
No reason was given for the delay but growing uncertainty over Djokovic's participation in the event was one potential reason.
But the world No.1 was subsequently included atop the men's draw as the Serb continues to await the Australian government's decision over whether or not it would cancel his visa.
Despite winning a court case against the Australian Border Force in the Federal Circuit Court on Monday, Djokovic still faces the prospect of deportation.
Immigration Minister Alex Hawke has the jurisdiction to overrule the court ruling and revoke the nine-time champion's visa over an allegedly illegal entry to Australia.
Djokovic drew fellow Serb Miomir Kecmanovic, the world No.78, in the first round.
WHO THE AUSSIES PLAY IN THE FIRST ROUND OF THE AUSTRALIAN OPEN:
1-Ash Barty v qualifier
Ajla Tomljanovic v 8-Paula Badosa (ESP)
Astra Sharma v Clara Tauson (DEN)
2-Storm Sanders v Aryna Sabalenka (BLR)
Maddison Inglis v Leyla 23-Fernandez (CAN)
Priscilla Hon v 31-Marketa Vondrousova (CZE)
Samantha Stosur v Robin Anderson (USA)
Daria Saville v Rebecca Peterson (SWE)
32-Alex de Minaur v Lorenzo Musetti (ITA)
James Duckworth v Adrian Mannarino (FRA)
Alexei Popyrin v Arthur Rinderknech (FRA)
Jordan Thompson v Steve Johnson (USA)
John Millman v Feliciano Lopez (ESP)
Nick Kyrgios v qualifier
Alex Bolt v Alejandro Davidovich Fokina (ESP)
Thanasi Kokkinakis v qualifier
Aleksandar Vukic v 30-Lloyd Harris (RSA)
Chris O'Connell v Hugo Gaston (FRA)