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Australian Open draw: Rafael Nadal begins title defense with tough test in opening round



Defending champion Rafael Nadal will face English youngster Jack Draper in the opening round of the Australian Open in a bid to retain his 2022 crown and extend his grand slam tally.

World No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz may be missing the tournament through injury, but with the return of Novak Djokovic to the competition, Nadal will be hard pushed to defend his title.

Thursday’s draw was not kind to the 22-time major winner: if he defeats the world No. 40 Draper, he potentially faces current Next Gen ATP Finals champion Brandon Nakashima.

Potentially awaiting the Spaniard later would be a quarterfinal 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 consecutive finals appearance after losing to Djokovic in 2021 and to Nadal in 2022.

A rematch of the 2021 final is on the cards, with Djokovic in the opposite half from Nadal and Medvedev. The nine-time Australian Open champion faces another Spaniard, Roberto Carballes Baena, in the opening round and is on track to face home favorite Nick Kyrgios in the last eight.

The tournament comes 12 months after Djokovic was deported from Australia on the eve of the 2022 edition after former immigration minister Alex Hawke found the tennis star posed a risk to public health and order because, as a celebrity sportsman who had previously expressed opposition to people being compelled to get the Covid-19 vaccine, he could be seen as an “icon” for anti-vaxxers.

The minister’s decision to deport the former world No. 1 meant he was initially banned from reentry for three years.

Nineteenth-seeded Kyrgios is part of a thrilling section of the draw which includes Holger Rune, Dan Evans and Andrey Rublev.

Russian Rublev comes into the Australian Open as the fifth seed, but on Wednesday suffered a shock defeat to world No. 110 Thanasi Kokkinakis in the Adelaide 2. Rublev faces a blockbuster opening round match against former world No. 3 and 2020 Australian Open finalist Dominic Thiem.

Andy Murray features in the other pick of the round as he faces 13th-seeded Matteo Berrettini. The Italian beat the three-time grand slam winner in four sets at the 2022 US Open and has beaten the Scotsman three out of their four ATP meetings.

Following reigning champion Ashleigh Barty’s retirement from tennis last year, Iga Światek has dominated the sport and comes into the tournament as the top seed. The Pole opens against German Jule Niemeier but faces a tasty potential quarterfinal clash with American hot prospect Coco Gauff.

The 18-year-old superstar comes into the tournament in fine form, having won the ASB Classic without dropping a set and is looking to build on her excellent 2022 which saw her reach the Roland Garros final where she was beaten by Światek.

Ahead of any quarterfinal clash with the favorite though, 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 starts her 2023 trying to go one better than last year and win a grand slam. The Tunisian made both the Wimbledon and US Open finals but fell at the final hurdle in her pursuit 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 is coming off the back of winning at Adelaide 1, her 11th career title and first in 19 months.

Elsewhere, American Jessica Pegula has been drawn in the same part of the draw as Maria Sakkari. Pegula recently led Team USA to victory in the inaugural United Cup, which featured a brilliant straight-set win over Światek. Having reached back-to-back quarterfinals in Melbourne and at the top of her game, she will be looking to set up a thrilling semifinal with her United Cup opponent.

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