Aussie Open draw takeaways: Djokovic, Serena could be in trouble

ESPNAPI_IMG_NO_ALTEXT_Value

The most outstanding feature of the Australian Open men's and women's singles draws this year might be that no contender appears to have a path loaded with land mines -- and nobody appears to have a street paved with gold. The qualifying isn't over yet, so there may be a few intriguing matchups to be determined. But here are 10 takeaways from the draws as they stand:

1. No. 2 seed Novak Djokovic could get bent out of shape

The matchup sticks out like a sore thumb in this anodyne draw: Novak Djokovic vs. Fernando Verdasco. The 8-4 edge to Djokovic is deceptive. Verdasco, who is 33 years old, hasn't beaten Djokovic since 2010. But Verdasco has played some terrific matches at the Australian Open. (His 2009 semifinal loss to fellow Spaniard Rafael Nadal is on many "greatest matches" lists.) Djokovic had to fend off six match points to beat Verdasco on a court similar to the one in Rod Laver Arena just a few weeks ago in Doha. This is the consensus "must-see" first-rounder.

2. Angelique Kerber will get a chance to acclimate

The top seed and defending champ, Kerber opens against No. 61 Lesia Tsurenko, whom Kerber beat in their only previous match. After that, it's either a qualifier or Carina Witthoeft, who will probably be too star struck by her fellow German to swing the racket with any conviction. Kerber is 2-0 against Witthoeft, one of them a 6-0, 6-0 drubbing in the first round of Wimbledon in 2015. The looming obstacle for Kerber: a fourth-round matchup with Daria Kasatkina, who beat Kerber in Sydney this past week.

3. No. 1 Andy Murray will get to show off that great serve return

Illya Marchenko, whom Murray crushed in a 2011 Australian Open blowout (their only previous meeting), is a first-round gift. But then Murray could face bombardiers in Sam Querrey and John Isner before the quarterfinals. The major threat for Murray: No. 5 seed Kei Nishikori, whom Murray could meet in the quarterfinals if Federer can't make it that far.

4. No. 2 seed Serena Williams' opener could be tricky

Williams gets former Swiss wunderkind Belinda Bencic in the first round, but it is unclear if Bencic will play. Once as high as No. 7, but now down to No. 48, Bencic has been plagued by a foot injury and may yet pull out of the tournament. Williams could meet Lucie Safarova in the second round. Williams beat Safarova in the final of the 2015 French Open, but subsequently, Safarova was off the tour for a long spell with a viral illness and her ranking -- and confidence -- has plummeted. Williams' biggest threat in her quarter could be hard-charging No. 9 seed Johanna Konta.

5. Roger Federer is well, um, qualified for his Grand Slam return

The all-time men's Grand Slam singles champion could theoretically meet qualifiers all the way to the semifinals. There are eight in there with No. 17 seed Federer in the top quarter (and none in the second quarter). All right, it surely won't play out like that, but this is for certain: If Federer beats his qualifier opponent in the first round, he will meet another qualifier in Round 2. Then the real work begins, probably with a fourth round clash against No. 10 Tomas Berdych.

6. American women besides Serena Williams could make a statement

Sixteen women from the U.S., not counting qualifiers, are in the main draw. Many have winnable matches. Shelby Rogers, the surprise French Open quarterfinalist of 2016, has the toughest assignment -- but also the greatest opportunity. She's playing No. 4 seed Simona Halep.

Halep sometimes struggles in major events, and it's always better to get her early rather than late. If Rogers can rekindle that free-swinging spirit she showed on the red clay of Paris, she could rattle Halep. Otherwise, No. 13 seed Venus Williams ought to get by Kateryna Kozlova. It's a pity that recent Shenzhen finalist Alison Riske has to face a fellow American who upset Serena Williams a few weeks ago in in Auckland, Madison Brengle.

7. Tommy Haas might not be done yet

If you think Federer's combination of age and durability are remarkable, get a load of Tommy Haas. He's 38 years old and a veteran of nine surgeries (shoulders, elbows, hips, feet and ankles), and he's ready to lace 'em for the first time since October 2015. He's playing volatile Frenchman Benoit Paire, who is certain to feel like some kind of guinea pig. Just days ago in Sydney, Paire played the youngest guy in the Australian Open draw, a 17-year-old Aussie wild card ranked No. 333, Alex de Minaur. Paire lost. Now he'll play the oldest. Head games.

8. Jack Sock is the American man best positioned to make a run

Although there are no qualifiers in the second quarter, there is no Murray, Federer or Nishikori, either. True, Stan Wawrinka is a worthy No. 4 seed, but No. 7 Marin Cilic is the next highest. The other conspicuously dangerous players in the quarter are No. 12 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and No. 14 Nick Kyrgios. Sock could face Tsonga in the third round. It could be worse.

9. Look to the second quarter for a surprise semifinalist

Is there another deep run left in Venus Williams? If so, this would be the right time to tap into it. Halep is the highest seed in her quarter at No. 4, and No. 8 Svetlana Kuznetsova is the player in best form. There are eight wild cards and qualifiers in the section. Jelena Jankovic, another former No. 1 (she isn't even seeded this year), also has a chance to make a late-career surge. The most unsurprising surprise semifinalist to pop out of the quarter would be either slumping Olympic gold medalist Monica Puig or No. 11 Elina Svitolina.

10. Grigor Dimitrov has a chance to prove his resurgence is for real

The 25-year-old Bulgarian, once hailed as "Baby Federer," was all but written off through most of last year. But he came on strong to win Brisbane to open 2017, knocking off three top-10 players along the way. Once again pundits are wondering, is all that promise coming to fruition? Dimitrov opens against a local wild card, Christopher O'Connell, and could face No. 18 seed Richard Gasquet in the third round as a tune-up for a fourth-round meeting against Djokovic.