Tennis: Djokovic and Halep top seeds at Australian Open, hot favourite Serena is No. 16 and has tough draw

Novak Djokovic (left) and Simona Halep were named top seeds on Jan 10, 2019, for next week's Australian Open.
Novak Djokovic (left) and Simona Halep were named top seeds on Jan 10, 2019, for next week's Australian Open.PHOTOS: AFP

MELBOURNE (AFP) - Tennis' world No. 1s Novak Djokovic and Simona Halep were named top seeds on Thursday (Jan 10) for next week's Australian Open, with 23-time Grand Slam singles winner Serena Williams lurking at No. 16 on the women's side.

The Serb heads long-time rival Rafael Nadal and defending champion Roger Federer, with young-gun Alexander Zverev seeded fourth as he targets a maiden Grand Slam title.

Hot favourite Williams has been handed a challenging draw in her quest for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title starting with Germany's 71st-ranked Tatjana Maria.

The American is gunning to match Margaret Court's record of singles majors and claim an eighth crown in Melbourne. But she is in a tough half of the draw and could meet Halep in the fourth round four, and if she gets through that Karolina Pliskova in the last eight.

Djokovic, who thrashed the recovering Andy Murray in a Melbourne practice match ahead of the season's first Grand Slam on Thursday, is aiming to make history by claiming a record seventh Australian Open crown when the tournament starts at Melbourne Park on Monday, as is Swiss legend Federer.

Djokovic begins his bid against a yet-to-be-decided qualifier and could meet France's Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the second round. Federer starts his title defence against world No. 99 Denis Istomin and could meet Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals.

The pair face a stern challenge from Zverev, the torch-bearer for the next generation who has so far failed to get beyond the quarter-finals at any major.

With world No. 5 Juan Martin del Potro missing through injury, South Africa's Kevin Anderson is elevated to fifth seed with last year's beaten finalist Marin Cilic at No. 6.

Nadal begins against Australian James Duckworth, Zverev faces Slovenian Aljaz Bedene while Cilic has a tricky encounter with Australian Bernard Tomic.

A highlight first-round clash will see Australia's unseeded Nick Kyrgios up against Canada's big-serving 16th seed Milos Raonic, with the winner facing either Stan Wawrinka or Ernests Gulbis.

Three-time Grand Slam winner Murray has a tough clash with 22nd-seeded Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut as he returns from a hip injury.

Halep, the reigning French Open champion, takes the top seeding among the women courtesy of her leading ranking, but she enters the tournament with only one match in four months under her belt after an injury layoff.

The Romanian, the beaten finalist last year, is returning from a herniated disc and was bundled out of the Sydney International on Wednesday at the first hurdle by rising home-grown star Ashleigh Barty .

Denmark's defending champion Caroline Wozniacki, who is battling health problems and poor form, is seeded third, one behind Germany's Angelique Kerber, who won here three years ago.

US Open champion Naomi Osaka is at No. 4 while Sloane Stephens, the 2017 US Open champion who also slumped out of Sydney early, is seeded fifth.

Overshadowing them all is the mighty Williams, who last played the tournament in 2017 when she won for the seventh time while eight weeks pregnant.

The 37-year-old enters the tournament seeded 16th, but has proved in the past that such numbers mean little to her.

Selected seedings: Men's singles - 7 Dominic Thiem (Aut). 8 Kei Nishikori (Jpn). 9 John Isner (USA). 10 Karen Khachanov (Rus). 14 Stefanos Tsitsipas (Gre). 16 Milos Raonic (Can). 24 Chung Hyeon (Kor). 27 Alex de Minaur (Aus). 30 Gael Monfils (Fra).

Women's singles - 6 Elina Svitolina (Ukr). 7 Karolina Pliskova (Cze). 8 Petra Kvitova (Cze). 9 Kiki Bertens (Ned). 10 Daria Kasatkina (Rus). 11 Aryna Sabalenka (Blr). 15 Ashleigh Barty (Aus). 17 Madison Keys (USA). 18 Garbine Muguruza (Esp). 19 Caroline Garcia (Fra). 21 Wang Qiang (Chn). 22 Jelena Ostapenko (Lat). 26 Dominika Cibulkova (Svk). 28 Hsieh Su-wei (Tpe). 30 Maria Sharapova (Rus).