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Djokovic, Williams remain Open favourites

AAP logoAAP 12/01/2017 Darren Walton

The tennis landscape may have changed but serial winners Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams remain favoured to rewrite history once again at the 105th Australian Open starting on Monday.

Djokovic and Williams have been relegated to respective second seeds in the men's and women's draws, but bookmakers refuse to believe there's been a shift in the balance of power despite spectacular coups by Andy Murray and Angelique Kerber in 2016.

Five-time runner-up Murray arrives as Melbourne Park's top seed for the first time following a blazing run that yielded second Wimbledon and Olympic titles as well as trophies in Beijing, Shanghai, Vienna and Paris before the Scot secured the No.1 ranking with some rare success over Djokovic in the ATP Tour Finals.

Murray's 6-3 6-4 victory in London was just his third in 16 meetings with Djokovic since he defeated the Serb in the 2013 Wimbledon final.

It also prompted swift and familiar backlash.

Djokovic responded with an ominous win over Murray in a thrilling season-opening final in Doha before declaring his intentions to land an unprecedented seventh men's Australian Open crown.

"I wouldn't be here if I didn't have an intention to win," Djokovic told AAP ahead of Friday's draw in Melbourne.

Murray, though, has every reason to believe this will be his year to atone for demoralising finals losses to Djokovic in 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2016, after also falling to Roger Federer in the 2010 championship decider.

Born a week before Djokovic, the newly knighted 29-year-old overhauled a record 8000-point rankings deficit during an incredible late-season surge while his Serbian nemesis battled injuries, an uncharacteristic form slump and "private issues".

An air of intrigue also surrounded Djokovic's delayed arrival to Melbourne this week that handed his rivals priceless extra time to acclimatise and prepare for the season's first grand slam.

Djokovic played down the significance of having only five days down under before opening his bid not only to eclipse Roy Emerson's six triumphs in Australia but also surpass the Queenslander's 12 majors to climb to outright fourth on the all-time men's grand slam title leaderboard behind Federer (17), Rafael Nadal (14) and Pete Sampras (14).

With 35-year-old Federer returning to major tennis after a six-month layoff at No.17 in the world and the ninth-ranked Nadal also a fading force, Murray is easily Djokovic's greatest threat among the one-time Big Four.

Such is the dominance of Murray and Djokovic that no other player in the 128-man draw is considered a single-figure hope by bookmakers.

But should the unthinkable happen and Murray and Djokovic depart early, as the Serb did at Wimbledon before the Brit exited in the US Open quarter-finals, triple grand slam winner and reigning Flushing Meadows champion Stan Wawrinka looms as the most likely beneficiary.

Mid-20s grand slam hopefuls Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori are also seeded to finally break through, with local hope Nick Kyrgios, after a breakout three-title year and rise to world No.14, Austrian discovery Dominic Thiem and explosive German Alexander Zverev heading the ATP's generation next.

A knee injury has undermined Kyrgios's build-up but the 21-year - tipped by many as a potential winner - remains confident of going deep.

Like Djokovic, Williams has arrived in Australia hungry to retain her crown with yet more records in the offing.

The 22-time major champion can move past Steffi Graf as the most prolific grand slam singles winner in professional tennis history and close to within one of Margaret Court's all-time benchmark tally.

But Angelique Kerber, who toppled the American in last year's final before becoming the first woman in a decade apart from Williams to make three grand slam finals, has plans of her own.

The German's unexpected takeover also included runs to the Wimbledon and US Open deciders, where Kerber rebounded from an Olympic final defeat to cement her position as year-end No.1.

Kerber's rise isn't the only shake-up at the top.

Maria Sharapova's doping ban, the dramatic stabbing of Petra Kvitova, motherhood for two-time Open champion Victoria Azarenka and the retirement of fellow former world No.1 Ana Ivanovic has removed a host of the usual challengers from title contention.

The door is ajar for grand slam bridesmaids Agnieszka Radwanska, Simon Halep and Karolina Pliskova - the world's No.3, No.4 and No.5 - to burst through for breakthrough wins.

Opportunity also knocks for rising stars Belinda Bencic, Elina Svitolina and Australia's former world junior No.1 Daria Gavrilova, a round-of-16 gatecrasher last year and seeded for the first time at her home-town slam.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN CONTENDERS AND THEIR BEST RUNS AT MELBOURNE PARK:

MEN

Andy Murray - runner-up 2010, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016

Novak Djokovic - champion 2008, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016

Milos Raonic - semi-finalist 2016

Stan Wawrinka - champion 2014, semi-finalist 2015 Roger Federer - champion 2004, 2006, 2007, 2010

Rafael Nadal - champion 2009, runner-up 2012, 2014

Kei Nishikori - quarter-finalist 2012, 2015, 2016

Nick Kyrgios - quarter-finalist 2015

WOMEN

Angelique Kerber - champion 2016

Serena Williams - champion 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2015, runner-up 2016 Agnieszka Radwanska - semi-finalist 2014, 2016

Simona Halep - quarter-finalist 2014, 2015

Karolina Pliskova - third round 2015, 2016

Dominika Cibulkova - runner-up 2014

Garbina Muguruza - fourth round 2014, 2015

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