Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal on opposite sides of Australian Open draw

MELBOURNE, Australia — Rivals Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal were placed in opposite halves of the Australian Open in Thursday’s draw, meaning the owners of a combined 43 Grand Slam singles titles couldn’t stand each other. meet only in the final at Melbourne Park.

Nine-time Australian champion Djokovic returns to the hard-court tournament after missing it last year when his visa was revoked and he was kicked out of the country for not being vaccinated against COVID-19. He was also unable to participate in the US Open 2022.

Djokovic, seeded fourth, will open his bid for a 10th Australian Open title against Spaniard Roberto Carballes Baena in the tournament which begins on Monday.

Iga Swiatek, the No. 1 ranked women’s player, takes on Germany’s Jule Niemeier, ranked No. 68, in the first round. The Polish player was a semi-finalist at Melbourne Park in 2022, the year she won the French Open and US Open titles.

But the main focus of the first round will be on Nadal, who faces a potentially tough match against British player Jack Draper. Draper, who is 21, was a semi-finalist at the Next Gen Championships in November and will also compete in a semi-final at the Adelaide International on Friday.

Another highlight of the first round is five-time Australian Open runner-up Andy Murray against Italy’s former Wimbledon runner-up and No. 13 seed Matteo Berrettini.

Murray beat Australian Alex De Minaur 6-3, 6-3 in an exhibition game on Thursday and is happy with his form.

“It’s always difficult in exhibition matches to play like it’s the first round of a Grand Slam but I wanted to try to leave everything on the pitch to give my body the best preparation, to see how I was moving, to see how I was serving and it went well,” Murray said.

The potential men’s quarter-finals by ranking are: Nadal against No. 7 Daniil Medvedev in what would be a rematch of last year’s final at Melbourne Park, won by Nadal after losing the first two sets, and the #3 Stefanos Tsitsipas against #3. 6 Félix Auger-Aliassime in the first half; and Djokovic against No. 5 Andrey Rublev, and No. 2 Casper Ruud against No. 8 Taylor Fritz in the bottom half.

Nadal has 22 Grand Slam singles titles, one more than Djokovic.

Wimbledon runner-up Nick Kyrgios, who will face Roman Safiullin in the first round, will face Djokovic in an exhibition match on Friday in Melbourne.

“I’m one of the best players in the world, so I will definitely go to the Australian Open and any Grand Slam with confidence,” Kyrgios said.

Ons Jabeur, who reached the Wimbledon and US Open finals in 2022, is the second seed and takes on Tamara Zidansek in the women’s draw.

Number 3 Jessica Pegula, who led the USA team that won the United Mixed Teams Cup in Sydney last week, will face Romania’s Jaqueline Cristian in the first round.

Australian Billie Jean King Cup captain Alicia Molik, who attended the draw at Melbourne Park, said Pegula was a contender.

“I feel like she has the mental toughness and I really feel like she can be here late in the Australian Open stage,” Molik said.

Seventh-seeded Coco Gauff, who won a tournament in Auckland last week, faces a tough first-round test against Katerina Siniakova, who beat her in the Billie Jean King Cup final in November.

Former British US Open champion Emma Raducanu, who withdrew from her ASB Classic Round of 16 match due to injury last week, will face Germany’s world No. 74 Tamara Korpatsch.

The potential women’s quarter-finals are: Swiatek against Gauff in what would be a rematch of last year’s French Open final, won by Swiatek, and Pegula against No. 6 Maria Sakkari in the top half of the table; and Jabeur against No. 5 Aryna Sabalenka, and No. 4 Caroline Garcia against No. 8 Daria Kasatkina in the bottom half.

Another big first-round match is two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka against Sofia Kenin, who won the title at Melbourne Park in 2020.

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