10sBalls.com • TennisBalls.com

Tough tests for Nadal, Djokovic in good shape as Australian Open draw is revealed

If Rafael Nadal wants to defend his Australian Open title and extend his lead in the overall Grand Slam count, he’ll have to do it the hard way.

Nadal was dealt a brutal hand when the draw ceremony was held on Thursday afternoon at Melbourne Park. The top-seeded Spaniard has to open against rising British star Jack Draper, who currently finds himself in the Adelaide semifinals. It doesn’t get any easier after that, as Brandon Nakashima is a potential second-round opponent and a rematch with Frances Tiafoe is possible in the last 16. Nadal and Tiafoe went head-to-head in the 2022 U.S. Open fourth round, with the American pulling off an upset on his way to the semis. Daniil Medvedev is also in the top quarter of the bracket along with Hubert Hurkacz, Denis Shapovalov, and recent Adelaide runner-up Sebastian Korda.

As if that isn’t enough, the top half of the draw also includes Stefanos Tsitsipas, Felix Auger-Aliassime, and Jannik Sinner. Tsitsipas and Sinner are on a collision course for the fourth round, while Auger-Aliassime faces fellow Canadian Vasek Pospisil right off the bat and could meet Stan Wawrinka in the round of 64 and Cameron Norrie in the round of 16.

On the other side of the bracket, Djokovic moved into top-four seeding because of world No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz’s withdrawal and he is already reaping the benefits. Djokovic is in a quarter with Andrey Rublev, Holger Rune, and Nick Kyrgios, but the 35-year-old Serb can only face one of those opponents in the quarterfinals. Rublev has to kick off his fortnight against Dominic Thiem before possibly meeting Rune or Kyrgios in the fourth round. Djokovic’s only potential roadblock prior to the last eight is Aussie speed demon Alex de Minaur, although nothing about de Minaur’s past history suggests he can score a monumental upset on a Grand Slam stage.

Possible semifinal opponents for Djokovic are Casper Ruud and Taylor Fritz. This a dream draw for Fritz, as everyone wants to be in Ruud’s section and none of the other seeds nearby–not just Ruud–are scary. Alexander Zverev is rusty, Matteo Berrettini has struggled with physical issues of his own, Diego Schwartzman may not even be able to play, and Roberto Bautista Agut has plunged to 26th in the rankings.

In addition to Nadal vs. Draper and Rublev vs. Thiem, first-round matchups to watch are Berrettini vs. Andy Murray, Grigor Dimitrov vs. Aslan Karatsev, Thanasi Kokkinakis vs. Fabio Fognini, Alexander Bublik vs. Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, Borna Coric vs. Jiri Lehecka, and Botic van de Zandschulp vs. Ilya Ivashka.

Ricky contributes to 10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on Twitter at @Dimonator.