Djokovic and Nadal can only meet in the Australian Open final

MELBOURNE – Opponents Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal were placed on opposite halves of the Australian Open draw on Thursday, meaning the holders of 43 Grand Slam singles titles could only meet in the final at Melbourne Park.

Djokovic, a nine-time Australian champion, is returning to the hard court tournament after missing it last year when his visa was revoked and he was deported from the country because he was not vaccinated against COVID-19.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 failed to compete in the 2022 US Open.

Fourth-placed Djokovic will open his bid for the 10th Australian Open title against Spaniard Roberto Carballes Baena in the tournament starting on Monday.

Iga Swiatek, who won the first place among women, will play in the first round with Germany’s Julia Niemeyer, who took 68th place. The Polish tennis player reached the Melbourne Park semi-finals in 2022 when she won the French and US Open titles.

But the focus of the first round will be on Nadal, who faces a potentially tough matchup against British player Jack Draper. Draper, 21, was a semi-finalist at the Next Gen Championships in November and will also play in the semi-finals of the Adelaide International on Friday.

Another highlight of the first round is five-time Australian Open finalist Andy Murray against Italy’s Matteo Berrettini, a former Wimbledon finalist who is 13th.

Potential men’s quarter-finals by seed: Nadal vs. No. 7 Daniil Medvedev in a rematch of last year’s final at Melbourne Park, which Nadal won after losing in the first two sets, and No. 3 Stefanos Tsitsipas vs. No. 3. 6 Felix Auger-Aliassime in the upper half; and Djokovic vs. No. 5 Andrei Rublev and No. 2 Kasper Ruud vs. No. 8 Taylor Fritz in the bottom half.

Nadal has won 22 Grand Slams in singles, one more than Djokovic.

Ons Jaber, who reached the finals of Wimbledon and the US Open in 2022, is in second place and will play Tarama Zidansek in the women’s draw.

No. 3 Jessica Pegula, who led Team USA to last week’s United Cup Mixed Cup title in Sydney, will face Romania’s Jacqueline Christian in the first round.

Seventh-placed Koko Gauff, who won last week’s Oakland tournament, faces a tough first-round test against Katerina Sinyakova, who defeated her in the Billie Jean King Cup final in November.

Potential Women’s Quarterfinals: Swiatek vs. Gauff in a rematch of last year’s French Open final, which was won by Swiatek, and Pegula vs. No. 6 Maria Sakkari in the top half of the bracket; and Jaber vs. No. 5 Arina Sobolenko and No. 4 Caroline Garcia vs. No. 8 Daria Kasatkina in the bottom half.

Another big first round matchup is two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka against Sophia Kenin, who won the title at Melbourne Park in 2020.


AP tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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