Australian Open 2019: Magnificent seven beckons for Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic

Denmark's Caroline Wozniacki lifts her maiden Grand Slam at Melbourne Park a year ago

Denmark's Caroline Wozniacki lifts her maiden Grand Slam at Melbourne Park a year ago

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Second seed and 2016 champion Angelique Kerber, bidding for a fourth Grand Slam title, will open against Slovenian Polona Hercog, with a possible quarter-final against 2017 U.S. Open victor Sloane Stephens in the second week.

Murray's first tournament since September ended last week with a second-round defeat by Russian world number 16 Daniil Medvedev at the Brisbane International. Federer, however, continues to defy the odds at 37 and prepared for his title defence with some convincing performances in the Hopman Cup in Perth last week. Now he returns at his supreme athletic best looking for yet another triumph at his favourite Rod Laver Arena where he has won six of his 14 Grand Slams.

Two of the older generation who have shown they do have that ability - Britain's Andy Murray and Switzerland's Stan Wawrinka - could be unsafe floaters in the draw.

Three-time Grand Slam champion Murray missed most of last season after hip surgery and has tumbled down the rankings to 230th.

Wawrinka, the 2014 champion, is also coming back from knee surgery and a back injury in the second half of 2018, but typically flies under the radar through Grand Slams.

Williams trails only Margaret Court in that category, and she came painfully close to tying her record a year ago in at Wimbledon and the US Open, losing in the final of both events to Angelique Kerber and Naomi Osaka, respectively.

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Serena Williams is back in Melbourne as hot favourite to repeat her 2017 Australian Open win and claim a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam with rivals, including defending champion Caroline Wozniacki, battling health issues and poor form.

However, up-and-comer Naomi Osaka will be out to show that she's here to stay in Grand Slam play after winning her first major at the US Open previous year. Combined with the pressure of becoming the first Japanese player to win a major, and the fanatical support that brings, there were fears she could wilt under the spotlight.

Top-seeded Halep is without a coach after long-time Australian mentor Darren Cahill stepped down for family reasons, and described 2018 as "very emotional" but insisted it had made her mentally stronger.

Defending champion Wozniacki, who broke through for her maiden Grand Slam title with victory over Halep in last year's final, is in line to face former victor Maria Sharapova in a mouth-watering third round showdown.

Tennis won't be the only game to headline this year's Australian Open.

Kerber beat Wiliams in the Wimbledon final to become the first German woman to win the grass court title since Steffi Graf in 1996. Regarding the controversial final against Osaka at Flushing Meadows - when she raged against umpire Carlos Ramos who imposed three code violations, the final one resulting in the loss of a game - Williams said she had put it put behind her and meant to "move on to bigger and better things".

The Dane finally broke her Grand Slam hoodoo in Melbourne 12 months ago after 12 years of trying, and is determined to prove she remains a force at the top level after dropping the bombshell that she is suffering from rheumatoid arthritis.

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