Australian Open draw: Rafael Nadal starts title defense with tough first-round test
Defending champion Rafael Nadal will face England youngster Jack Draper in the first round of the Australian Open in a bid to retain his 2022 crown and extend his Grand Slam record.
World number one Carlos Alcaraz could miss the tournament through injury, but with Novak Djokovic back in the competition, Nadal will struggle to defend his title.
Thursday’s draw was not kind to the 22-time major winner: If he beats world No. 40 Draper, he will potentially face current Next Gen ATP Finals champion Brandon Nakashima.
Potentially waiting for the Spaniard later would be a quarter-final against Daniil Medvedev, who was Nadal’s opponent in last year’s epic five-set final. Medvedev will be looking to make it a third straight final appearance after losing to Djokovic in 2021 and Nadal in 2022.
A rematch of the 2021 final is on the cards, with Djokovic in the opposite half of Nadal and Medvedev. The nine-time Australian Open champion takes on another Spaniard, Roberto Carballes Baena, in the first round and is on course to take on home favorite Nick Kyrgios in the last eight.
The tournament comes 12 months after Djokovic was kicked out of Australia on the eve of the 2022 edition after former immigration minister Alex Hawke discovered the tennis star posed a health and life risk. public order because, as a famous sportsman who had previously expressed his opposition to people being forced to get vaccinated against Covid-19, he could be considered an “icon” for anti-vaxxers.
The minister’s decision to expel the former world number 1 meant he was initially banned from re-entry for three years.
19th seeded Kyrgios is part of an exciting section of the draw which includes Holger Rune, Dan Evans and Andrey Rublev.
Russian Rublev enters the Australian Open as the fifth seed, but Wednesday suffered a shock loss to world No. 110 Thanasi Kokkinakis in Adelaide 2. Rublev faces an opener at success against former world No. 3 and 2020 Australian Open runner-up Dominic Thiem.
Andy Murray features in the other pick of the round as he takes on 13th seed Matteo Berrettini. The Italian beat the three-time Grand Slam winner in four sets at the 2022 US Open and beat the Scot in three of their four ATP encounters.
After reigning champion Ashleigh Barty retired from tennis last year, Iga Światek dominated the sport and enters the tournament as the top seed. The Pole opens against Germany’s Jule Niemeier but faces a tasty potential quarter-final clash with American prospect Coco Gauff.
The 18-year-old superstar enters the tournament in fine form, having won the ASB Classic without dropping a set and is looking to build on her stellar 2022 which saw her reach the Roland Garros final where she was beaten by Światek.
Before any quarter-final clash with the favorite, Gauff faces a second-round match against 2021 US Open champion Emma Raducanu who is in a race against time to recover from an ankle injury.
In the other half of the draw, second seed Ons Jabeur begins his 2023 season trying to do better than last year and win a Grand Slam. The Tunisian made the Wimbledon and US Open finals but fell at the last hurdle in her quest to become the first Arab and North African woman to win a Grand Slam.
After missing the 2022 Open, Jabeur opens her 2023 account against Tamara Zidanšek and could face Aryna Sabalenka who just won in Adelaide 1, her 11th career title and the first in 19 months.
Elsewhere, American Jessica Pegula was drawn in the same part of the draw as Maria Sakkari. Pegula recently led Team USA to victory in the inaugural United Cup, which ended in a brilliant straight-set victory over Światek. Having reached back-to-back quarter-finals in Melbourne and at the top of her game, she will be looking to stage an exciting semi-final with her United Cup opponents.