Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal on opposite sides of a tie at the Australian Open

MELBOURNE, Australia — Challengers Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal were drawn into opposite halves of the Australian Open in Thursday’s draw, meaning the 43-time Grand Slam singles champions could only meet in the final at Melbourne Park.

Nine-time Australian champion Djokovic is back in the grueling tournament after missing it last year when his visa was revoked and he was deported from the country because he was not vaccinated against COVID-19. He also could not compete in the 2022 US Open.

Fourth seed Djokovic will open his bid to win the Australian Open title for the 10th time against Spaniard Roberto Karballes Baena in the tournament that begins on Monday.

Women’s No. 1 Ija Swiatek faces Germany’s No. 68 Julie Niemeyer in the opening round. The Polish player reached the semi-finals at Melbourne Park in 2022, the year she won the French and US Open titles.

But the main focus in the first round will be on Nadal, who faces a potentially tough showdown against Britain’s Jack Draper. Draper, 21, was a semi-finalist at the Next Generation Championships in November and will also play a semi-finalist at the Adelaide International on Friday.

Another highlight in the opening round was Andy Murray, a five-time Australian Open finalist, against Italy’s Matteo Berrettini, a previous Wimbledon finalist who is seeded No. 13.

Murray beat Australian Alex de Minaur 6-3 6-3 in an exhibition match on Thursday and is pleased with his form.

“It’s always difficult to play in exhibition matches like it’s the first round of a grand slam, but I wanted to let it all out on the court to give my body the best preparation, see how I was moving, see how I was serving, and it worked out well,” Murray said. .

Possible men’s quarter-finals by seed are: Nadal vs. 7 seed Daniil Medvedev in what will be a rematch of last year’s final at Melbourne Park, won by Nadal after losing the first two sets, and Stefanos Tsitsipas, seed 3 vs. no. 6 Felix Auger-Aliassime in the top half. and Djokovic versus No. 5 Andrey Rublev, and No. 2 Casper Rudd versus No. 8 Taylor Fritz in the bottom half.

Nadal has a career-leading 22 Grand Slam titles, more than Djokovic.

Wimbledon finalist Nick Kyrgios, who will face Roman Sviolin in the opening round, will play Djokovic in an exhibition match on Friday in Melbourne.

“I am one of the best players in the world, so I will definitely go into the Australian Open and any major tournaments with confidence,” said Kyrgios.

Anas Jaber, who reached the finals of Wimbledon and the US Open in 2022, is ranked second and plays Tamara Zidancic in the women’s draw.

Third seed Jessica Pegula, who captained the US team that won the United Mixed Teams Cup in Sydney last week, faces Romania’s Jacqueline Christian in the first round.

Attending the draw at Melbourne Park, Australia’s King Billie Jean Cup captain Alicia Molik, Pegula, said Pegula was the contender.

“I feel like she has mental stability and I really feel she could be here in the later stage of the Australian Open,” Molik said.

Seventh seed Coco Gauff, who won a tournament in Auckland last week, faces a tough first-round test against Katerina Siniakova, whom she defeated in the finals of the Billie Jean Cup in November.

Former British Open champion Emma Raducano, who withdrew from her round-of-16 match at the ASB Classic due to injury last week, will meet German world number 74 Tamara Korbach.

The potential women’s quarterfinal matches are: Swiatek against Gauff in what will be a rematch of last year’s French Open final, won by Swiatek, Pegula against 6th seed Maria Sakkari in the top half of the bracket; And Jaber vs. No. 5 Arina Sabalenka, and No. 4 Caroline Garcia vs. No. 8 Daria Kasatkina in the lower 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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