Djokovic and Nadal can only meet in Australian Open final

MELBOURNE, Australia—Rivals Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal were placed in opposite halves of the Australian Open bracket in Thursday’s draw.

Djokovic, a nine-time Australian champion, missed a hard-court tournament last year after his visa was revoked and he was deported for not being vaccinated against COVID-19. He also failed to qualify for the 2022 US Open.

The fourth-seeded Djokovic will begin bidding for his 10th Australian Open title against Spain’s Roberto Carvalles-Baena in a tournament that starts Monday.

Iga Spheretek, ranked No. 1 in the women’s world, will face Germany’s Jules Niemeyer, ranked No. 68 in the world, in the opening round. The Polish player reached the semi-finals at Melbourne Park in 2022 and won the French Open and US Open titles that year.

But the main focus of the first round will be on Nadal, who will face a potentially challenging match against British player Jack Draper, who will reach the semi-finals at the Next Generation Championship in November. They will also qualify for the semi-finals of the Adelaide International on Friday.

Another highlight of the season opener will be five-time Australian Open finalist Andy Murray pitting 13th seed and former Wimbledon finalist Italian Matteo Berrettini.

Murray was pleased with his form after beating Australia’s Alex De Minaur 6-3, 6-3 in Thursday’s exhibition match.

“It’s always difficult to play like the first round of a Grand Slam in an exhibition match, but I want my body to be in the best possible preparation and to see how I’m moving and how I’m moving. I wanted to keep everything on the court in order to do it.I was serving and it worked,” Murray said.

Potential seeded men’s quarterfinals: Nadal vs. No. 7 Daniil Medvedev, a rematch of last year’s final at Melbourne Park, where Nadal wins after dropping the first two sets, No. 3 Stefanos Tsitsipas vs. Felix Auger-Aliassime with 6 players in the top half. Djokovic vs No. 5 Andrey Rublev, No. 2 Casper Ruud vs No. 8 Taylor Fritz.

Nadal has won 22 Grand Slam singles titles, one more than Djokovic.

Spain's Rafael Nadal congratulates
Rafael Nadal of Spain celebrates after defeating Taylor Fritz of the United States in the men’s singles quarterfinals on Day 10 of the Wimbledon Tennis Championships in London on July 6, 2022. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP Photo)

Wimbledon finalist Nick Kyrgios, who faces Roman Safiuline in the opener, will face Djokovic in an exhibition match in Melbourne on Friday.

“I’m one of the best players in the world, so I’m definitely going into the Australian Open and Grand Slams with confidence,” Kyrgios said.

Once-Jabbar, who reached both the Wimbledon and US Open finals in 2022, is seeded No. 2 and will face Tamara Zidansek in the women’s draw.

World No. 3 Jessica Pegula, who led the United States team that won the mixed-team United Cup in Sydney last week, will face Romania’s Jacqueline Cristian in the first round.

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

“I feel like she has the mental fortitude. I really feel like she could be here in the second half of the Australian Open,” Molik said.

Seventh-seeded Coco Gauff, who won the tournament in Auckland last week, faces a tough first-round test against Katerina Siniakova, who defeated her in the Billie Jean King Cup final in November.

A potential women’s quarterfinal was Swiatek vs. Gauff, a rematch of last year’s French Open final, with Swiatek winning and Pegula vs. No. 6 Maria Sakkari winning in the top half of the bracket.Jabbar vs. No. 5 Alina Sabalenka, No. 4 Caroline Garcia vs. No. 8 Daria Casatkina

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.

Courtney Walsh

Associated Press