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Fall in rankings has Federer seeded 17th at Aussie Open

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MELBOURNE, Australia — A long injury layoff and a fall in the rankings have created a tough draw for 17-time Grand Slam winner Roger Federer at the Australian Open.

Federer slipped to No. 17 in the rankings this week after Grigor Dimitrov won the Brisbane International and moved up to No. 15.

The Australian Open tends to stick with the rankings when its seeds 32 players in each of the men’s and women’s 128-player singles draws, meaning the 35-year-old Federer gets less protection than usual and could potentially face a top 10 player as soon as the third round.

The seedings were confirmed by Australian Open organizers on Thursday, on the eve of the draw for the season-opening major which begins Monday in Melbourne.

Federer has won the Australian Open four times, his first in 2004, and also reached the final in 2009, but he hasn’t won the title here since 2010.

He spent six months out of action last year following surgery on his left knee and finished 2016 at No. 16, ending a year in which his record run of 65 Grand Slam appearances ended when he couldn’t contest the French Open. He also missed the U.S. Open.

He returned to action at the international mixed teams exhibition at the Hopman Cup in Perth last week.

As expected, No. 1-ranked Andy Murray is the top seed ahead of six-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic in the men’s draw and Angelique Kerber, the reigning Australian and U.S. Open champion, is the top seed in the women’s draw ahead of six-time champion Serena Williams, who is seeded No. 2.

Wimbledon finalist Milos Raonic is No. 3 in the men’s seedings, and U.S. Open champion Stan Wawrinka, Kei Nishikori, Gael Monfils, Marin Cilic, Dominic Thiem, 14-time major winner Rafael Nadal and Tomas Berdych round out the top 10.

Nishikori, who lost the Brisbane final in three sets to Dimitrov last Sunday, said having Federer sitting lower in the list of seeds was bad for his rivals but good for the event.

“It’s not the best news for us, for sure. It’s a bit tough,” he said Thursday. “Rafa is also No. 9. We might have to play Rafa and Roger really soon in the draw.

“It’s not the best if you play, but it’s great for the fans.”

Following Kerber and Williams in the list of top 10 women’s seeds are Agnieszka Radwanska, Simona Halep, Karolina Pliskova, Dominika Cibulkova, Garbine Muguruza, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Johanna Konta and Carla Suarez Navarro.

Two-time champ Azarenka gets Australian Open wild card

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Two-time former champion Victoria Azarenka has been awarded a wild card for the Australian Open.

Azarenka, who won the Australian Open in 2012 and 2013, has been involved in a custody dispute involving her son Leo, who was born last Dec. 19.

She hasn’t competed anywhere since Wimbledon, where she lost to Simona Halep in the fourth round on July 10. The dispute with her former partner started shortly after Wimbledon ended.

Azarenka has played only six matches this year and is ranked 208th.

Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley said on Wednesday that every assistance would be provided to the former No. 1, adding “Vika’s current situation is obviously very difficult for her and we have reached out to offer any support we can.”

The Australian Open starts on Jan. 15.

Nadal, Muguruza win ITF player of the year awards

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LONDON — Rafael Nadal and Garbine Muguruza have won the International Tennis Federation’s player of the year awards.

At 31, Nadal becomes the oldest ITF men’s world champion after a season in which he won a 10th French Open and a third U.S. Open.

The Spaniard also became the oldest player to finish the year at No. 1 since the ATP rankings began in 1973.

Muguruza dropped only one set en route to her first Wimbledon title and finished the year at No. 2 behind Simona Halep.

“Becoming ITF world champion in such a competitive year is amazing for me,” said Muguruza, who is also Spanish. “(Nadal) is a great role model for all of us, so it is a great moment for tennis in Spain.”