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Ricky’s picks for Day 1 of the Australian Open, including Nadal vs. Draper

Rafael Nadal headlines the Day 1 schedule at the Australian Open, where a tough opening test comes in the form of Jack Draper. Another marquee matchup pits Borna Coric against up-and-coming Czech Jiri Lehecka.

Here are my previews and picks for the two matches.

(1) Rafael Nadal vs. Jack Draper

There is plenty of both good news and bad news for Nadal heading into the first Grand Slam of 2023. On one hand, the 36-year-old Spaniard is the defending champion of this tournament and he should be well-rested following the offseason. On other hand, Nadal has struggled physically since winning the first two majors of 2022. The world No. 2 is 0-2 so far this year, with United Cup losses to Cameron Norrie and Alex de Minaur–both in tight three-setters.

Up first for Nadal on Monday is Draper, a 21-year-old Brit who has climbed to 40th in the rankings. Draper fared decently at the two Adelaide warmup events, losing to Karen Khachanov in the second round and then reaching the semifinals before falling to eventual champion Soonwoo Kwon. This is a dangerous opening matchup for Nadal, but in a best-of-five situation he should have both a mental and physical edge over an inexperienced opponent.

Pick: Nadal in 4

Jiri Lehecka vs. (21) Borna Coric

Coric and Lehecka will also be going head-to-head for the first time in their careers on Monday. Lehecka started to make a name for himself in 2022, engineering a run to the NextGen ATP Finals title match and finishing well inside the top 100. The 21-year-old Czech is off to a strong start in 2023, with a win over Alexander Zverev at the ATP Cup followed by successful qualification and a second-round effort in Auckland (lost to eventual runner-up Norrie in three sets).

This is a good opportunity for Lehecka, as Coric has cooled off a bit since capturing the Cincinnati title in very unexpected fashion last summer. The 23rd-ranked Croat also suited up at the United Cup earlier this month, when he posted wins over Francisco Cerundolo and Arthur Rinderknech to go along with a loss at the hands of Stefanos Tsitsipas. Coric is almost always a question mark from a physical standpoint and often has problems in best-of-five matches; in fact, in seven trips to the Aussie Open he has lost in the opening round five times. An upset for Lehecka would not come as much of a surprise.

Pick: Lehecka in 5

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