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Aussie draw puts Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova in same group

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Serena: Nothing to prove, nothing to lose (0:15)

Serena Williams looks ahead to the Australian Open, saying her career can only improve during this tournament. (0:15)

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Defending champion Serena Williams and No. 5-ranked Maria Sharapova were drawn into the same section for the Australian Open on Friday, setting up a potential quarterfinal match featuring the 2015 finalists.

Williams, a six-time Australian Open champion, has a tough draw starting in the opening round against Camila Giorgi of Italy, who finished 2015 at No. 34 and was the highest-ranked player who was not seeded for the season's first major which begins Monday.

Williams, who just missed a calendar year Grand Slam last year when she lost in the US Open semifinals, could also meet former No. 1-ranked Caroline Wozniacki in the fourth round at Melbourne Park.

Second-seeded Simona Halep will open against a qualifier. Victoria Azarenka, the No. 14 seed and a two-time champion who won last week's Brisbane International and appears free from injury for the first time in several years, will play Alison Van Uytvanck of Belgium.

Halep and Azarenka are in the same half of the draw, along with No. 8 Venus Williams, who has drawn Johanna Konta of Britain to open.

"She's got a bounce to her step," tournament director Craig Tiley said of Azarenka on Friday.

Novak Djokovic will open his title defense against Chung Hyeon of South Korea and, if results go with rankings, could meet No. 7 Kei Nishikori in the quarterfinals and No. 3 Roger Federer in the semis.

Federer, who has won four Australian titles among his 17 majors, opens against Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia, and possibly Alexandr Dolgopolov in the second and No. 27 Grigor Dimitrov in the third.

Federer won his last Australian title in 2010 and made four semifinals in a row before losing in the third round last year to Andreas Seppi.

No 2-ranked Andy Murray will open again Alexander Zverev of Germany. In the same half of the draw, Stan Wawrinka, the No. 4 seed and 2014 champion, takes on Dmitry Tursonov.

Fifth-seeded Rafael Nadal, who could meet Wawrinka in the quarterfinals, opens again fellow Spaniard and 2009 Australian Open semifinalist Fernando Verdasco.

The floater in that quarter of the draw is No. 13 Milos Raonic, who plays Lucas Pouille of France in the first round. Raonic beat Federer in the Brisbane International final last week.

Lleyton Hewitt, who will play his 20th and last Australian Open before retiring and has already been hired as the country's Davis Cup captain, will play fellow Australian James Duckworth in the first round.

The closest Hewitt came to capturing his national title was when he lost the 2005 final to Marat Safin.

"It's a dream first round for the event, that Hewitt and Duckworth matchup," Tiley said of the two players who needed wild cards to get into the main draw.

Another Australian, No. 16-seeded Bernard Tomic, will play Uzbekistan veteran Denis Istomin in the first round, and 29th-seeded Nick Kyrgios plays Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain.