World No 1 Murray finds himself on the same side of the draw as the returning Swiss, but says tough-looking draws dont always work out that way
Roger Federer, as eager as a yearling after six months off the tour recovering from knee surgery, will be the hunter rather than the hunted at the Australian Open, and could play world No 1 Andy Murray as early as the quarter-final of a tournament the 35-year-old Swiss has won four times in 17 visits.
Murray, five times a losing finalist in Melbourne, will play world No 93 Ilya Marchenko first up having won their only encounter, here six years ago in the second round. Federer has one of eight qualifiers packed into that quarter of the draw, but thereafter will have to get past Tomas Berdych and Kei Nishikori to reach the first weekend.
World No 2 Novak Djokovic, who beat Murray in a long, enthralling final in Doha last week, starts against Fernando Verdasco at the other end of the draw.
Federer, who lost to German teenager Alexander Zverev in Perth last week, will probably be happy to get out of the first week, but he was always going to be the wild card in the draw after his ranking had slipped outside the top 16 during his enforced absence.
Rafael Nadal, who has also struggled with injury since withdrawing from the French Open in the first week, is seeded nine and plays the tricky Florian Mayer in the first round. Zverev, who beat the Spaniard last year, lurks early on his dance card.
Murray said, Ive had tough draws in the past at grand slams. This one potentially could be really hard but they dont always work out that way. Draws can open up. The year I won Wimbledon was a perfect example. I had Roger and Rafa potentially in the quarter-finals and when they both lost I was told, This is his only chance to win Wimbledon, this is his best chance. I went from having no chance at the beginning of the week to having my best chance ever.
If you get to the fourth round, you are pretty much into a rhythm and well into the tournament anyway, so it doesnt make much difference if you play someone in the fourth round or the quarter-finals.
Dan Evans, who beat the youngest top-tenner in the game, Dominic Thiem, to reach the Sydney Open semi-finals, due to take place later on Friday, will play Fecundo Bagnis, who is only 12 places ahead of him in the rankings at 55. Kyle Edmund, whose form has been solid, plays world No 90 Santiago Giraldo.
Johanna Konta, meanwhile, has her best chance of winning the womens title. The world No 10 has powered into the final of the warm-up tournament in Sydney on Friday night against Agnieszka Radwanska and has drawn the Belgian Kirsten Flipkens in the first round in Melbourne.
Four years ago it was an altogether bleaker scenario for one of the games most affable and dedicated players. When Konta stepped on to the court in the second round of qualifying against Chinas Zhou Yimiao, she had only recently acquired a British passport and had every expectation of making the main draw. Within three sets, she was gone.
You could almost hear her nerves jangle, even against an opponent of such modest talent as Zhou, who nine months later quit the game at just 21. British hopes that year still resided with the vibrant Laura Robson, whose power and confidence had lifted her into the top 50 for the first time and who announced her arrival in Melbourne, where she was born, by beating the former Wimbledon champion, Petra Kvitova, to reach the third round in 2013.
How things have changed. On Thursday, Konta destroyed Eugenie Bouchard in the semi-finals of the Sydney Open, only a few hours after Robson had lost in two dreadful sets in the second round of qualifying in Melbourne to Frances Amandine Hesse, who is ranked 16 places above her at 205.
The defending champion and world No 1, Angelique Kerber, coming off disappointing losses to world No 14 Elina Svitolina in Brisbane and Russian teenager Daria Kasatkina in Sydney, plays the Ukrainian Lesia Tsurenko in the first round. Serena Williams, who looked bewildered losing to her young compatriot Madison Brengle in Auckland last week, will hope for a better start here against Belinda Bencic. It is a brutal section of the draw.