Australian Open set to begin

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='' class='caption'> Australian Open, the first grand slam of the year, gets underway on Monday.

Updated: March 22, 2007 06:37 IST
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Australian Open, the first grand slam of the year, gets underway on Monday. Roger Federer and Maria Sharapova start as the top-seeds and favourites in the men's and women's singles respectively. The final of the Kooyong Classic was an exhibition game, and it certainly provided an unusual spectacle. World Number one and defending Australian Open champion Roger Federer actually lost a match, this time to Andy Roddick. Â A-Rod is seeded sixth and could face Fedex again in the semis and this gives the Flinders Park faithful something other than a dream Federer-Nadal final to look forward to. Federer may have won 92 of his 96 matches last year, but he could only manage two wins out of six against the world number two and second seed Nadal. But the Swiss Maestro will still go in as the overwhelming favourite to win his third title, as he begins his campaign against the unseeded Bjorn Phau of Germany. Meanwhile, another man in the spotlight will be Australian number one and home favourite Lleyton Hewitt. The 19th seed has said he feared being forced out after parting with his coach and tearing a calf-muscle. Easy draw For Indian fans, though, Sania Mirza should remain in the spotlight for at least the first couple of rounds. The 20-year-old beat Swiss Miss Martina Hingis in the second round of the Korea Open last year. And the world number 65 could well face Hingis again, after being given an easy draw. She faces world 103rd-ranked Ukrainian Olga Shevchuk in the first round and either 76th-ranked Emma Laine of Finland or a qualifier in the second. Her best performance in the tournament so far has been a third-round appearance in her first Australian Open two years ago where she lost to Serena Williams. Williams is herself on a comeback trail of sorts. Meanwhile, Kim Clijsters won the Sydney International to maintain her unbeaten record in her last year on the tour. She had also beaten Australian Open top-seed Maria Sharapova in an exhibition tournament last week. The fourth-seed starts her campaign against unseeded Russian Vasilisa Bardina. Spotlight on Sharapova Sharapova beat Justine Henin-Hardenne in the final of the US Open last year. But there will be no rematch this time around. Henin-Hardenne has pulled out of the event this time due to personal reasons. Sharapova though is the top-seed and has an easy draw as well, she faces a seeded opponent as late as the fourth round, should she make it that far. Though once again, the journalists chose to ask the richest female sportsperson more about her attire than her game. "It's a pretty classy dress, it's like a lemon chiffon colour, the bottom of the dress is a little high waisted. I tend to pay a lot of attention to details," said Sharapova. "I mean it's so weird talking fashion with a guy sometimes in a tennis press conference. I wish a woman would ask me this question (laughs). No offence," she added jokingly. Interestingly, this will be the first grand slam event without a seeded American woman.

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