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Ricky’s preview and pick for Nadal vs. Thiem in the Brisbane first round

Rafael Nadal seemed to have a favorable draw for his first event since the 2023 Australian Open when the field of 32 at the Brisbane International was revealed this past weekend. After all, Nadal was drawn against a qualifier in the opening round.

What could possibly go wrong?!?!

Well, that qualifier became none other than Dominic Thiem when the full bracket was completed on Sunday.

The 2020 U.S. Open champion and former world No. 3 landed right beside Nadal and they will square off for the 16th time in their careers on Tuesday evening in Brisbane. Nadal leads the head-to-head series 9-6, but this contest obviously has a much different feel from when they were facing each other at the top of the sport. Nadal missed the entirety of last year following the Aussie Open because of a hip injury, while Thiem’s comeback from wrist surgery rarely gained any traction in 2023.

That Thiem managed to set up this showdown is a minor miracle. Although the Austrian was a considerable favorite in his first qualifying match, he was all but out of the tournament when he trailed James McCabe 2-5, 3-5, 0-40. From three match points down in the second, Thiem came back for a 2-6, 7-6(4), 6-4 victory. He proceeded to beat Giulio Zeppieri 3-6, 6-4, 6-4 on Sunday.

Needless to say, it is hard to know what to expect in this one–especially from Nadal’s side. By all accounts the Spaniard is healthy and playing well in practice; he also warmed up with a doubles match on Sunday partnering compatriot Marc Lopez (lost to Max Purcell and Jordan Thompson 6-4, 6-4). Thiem isn’t rusty, but his three-set scares against both McCabe and Zeppieri are not very encouraging.

Based mainly on Thiem’s struggles not only in qualifying but also dating back to 2023, there should be optimism that Nadal can begin his comeback to tennis with a big win.

Pick: Nadal in 3

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