Likely to meet Tomic … Roger Federer. Photo: Wayne Taylor
ROGER Federer looms as Bernard Tomic's opponent again in the middle rounds at Melbourne Park and former Australian star Pat Cash reckons last year's clash will benefit the Swiss superstar more than the youngster, who carries a country's hopes in the men's draw.
Tomic will play unseeded Argentinian Leonardo Mayer in the first round but is dangerously close to Federer and could meet the four-time champion in the third round late next week. It was Federer who brought Tomic's run last year to a halt in straight sets.
Tomic had his share of struggles last year but started 2013 well and Cash said the 20-year-old had improved from his match against Federer a year ago. But he expected that meeting to work in Federer's favour, as Tomic's game was no longer a surprise.
''I tend to think it would actually help Federer a little bit because [it was] the first time they've played and it takes a while to get used to seeing what the young guns have got,'' Cash said.
The draw threw up a tough first-round opponent for Lleyton Hewitt, who will meet eighth seed Janko Tipsarevic, but a good run for defending men's champion Novak Djokovic, who will not meet Federer or Andy Murray until the final. Rafael Nadal's absence means Djokovic, who is seeking to become the first man to win a hat-trick of Australian titles in the Open era, would likely meet fifth seed Tomas Berdych in a semi-final.
On form Murray might be the best placed to deny Djokovic but might need to beat Juan Martin del Potro, the sixth seed and 2009 US Open champion, and Federer just to get a shot at the world No.1.
In the women's draw, Samantha Stosur was given a relatively safe start in Taiwanese world No.86 Kai-Chen Chang but would need to overcome a recent nemesis to proceed from there, as she could play Jie Zheng of China, who beat Stosur in Sydney this week. Li Na, China's 2011 finalist in Melbourne, could play Stosur in the fourth round.
Reigning champion and world No.1 Victoria Azarenka found herself on the same side of the draw as third seed Serena Williams, who is chasing a sixth title at Melbourne Park. Second seed Maria Sharapova could also come up against a Williams but early, as a likely meeting with Venus Williams, seeded 25, looms in the third round.
Cash said Hewitt had drawn a tough opponent in Tipsarevic, although the Serb has never reached the fourth round in eight attempts at Melbourne. Beating Tipsarevic would at least keep Hewitt in the safest part of the men's draw, with fourth seed David Ferrer likely to reach the semi-finals.
''That's the benefit of beating a seed - if you can beat them you take their position - and this is exactly what Hewitt wants,'' Cash said.