Nadal’s path rocky from the get-go
Rafael Nadal will face a difficult opening test at the Australian Open against British lefty Jack Draper, while Novak Djokovic and Nick Kyrgios are in the same quarter of the draw, it was revealed Thursday afternoon at Melbourne Park.
Defending champion Nadal will need to be sharp from his first match against Draper, especially after he stormed past Karen Khachanov and into the Adelaide International semifinals on Thursday.
"It'll be amazing to play on court with him, he's a great champion," Draper said of his impending clash against Nadal. "[There are] a lot of emotions obviously when I think of playing him, but that's one thing, I've still got to go and play tomorrow and hopefully do well in this tournament first.
"Whatever happens, it'll be a special occasion for me, still very young in my career, so it's great to have these sort of experiences and exposure to playing someone like Rafa on a big court like that. But I want to play really well and I want to compete hard and do the best I can."
If 22-time major winner Nadal navigates past the British star, his path will not get easier, with one of two Americans -- Mackenzie McDonald or reigning Next Gen ATP Finals champion Brandon Nakashima --waiting in the second round.
Also in the Spaniard's quarter is seventh seed Daniil Medvedev, which means a rematch of the 2022 Australian Open final between Nadal and Medvedev could be played in the last eight. Sixteenth seed Frances Tiafoe, who upset Nadal at last year's US Open, is a potential fourth-round opponent.
Nick Kyrgios landed in the opposite quarter. The 19th-seed could play ninth seed Holger Rune in the third round and fifth seed Andrey Rublev in the fourth round before a quarterfinal clash against Djokovic, who begins his pursuit of a record-tying 22nd major title against Spaniard Roberto Carballes Baena.
In the women's side of the draw, world number one Iga Swiatek is the one to beat without retired great Serena Williams and last year's champion Ashleigh Barty.
With two-time Melbourne winner Naomi Osaka also missing, it is almost certain that there will be a new name on the Daphne Akhurst trophy.
The only former title-holders left in the draw are out-of-sorts Sofia Kenin, who won in 2020, and Victoria Azarenka, the Belarusian whose second Australian Open triumph was a decade ago.
Poland's Swiatek is clear favourite, having dominated women's tennis following the retirement in March last year of the Australian Barty.
Swiatek secured eight WTA titles in 2022 and became the first woman in six years to win two Grand Slams in the same season -- at Roland Garros and New York -- to cement her place at the top of the rankings.
Now she has her sights on a maiden title at Melbourne Park, which would leave the 21-year-old needing only a Wimbledon championship to complete a career slam.
"I'm going to try to kind of cut off everything that happened last year and just focus on the future because I feel like I can take a lot of experience from these tournaments last year," she said earlier this month.
Ons Jabeur, the world number two, also enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2022, reaching two Grand Slam finals, and her first major cannot be far away.
Should Swiatek falter, the Tunisian will be in the hunt, as will American teenager Coco Gauff. 18-year-old Gauff, who last year broke into the top 10 for the first time, kicked off her season by clinching the Auckland Classic title last week for a third WTA crown.
"This gives me a lot of confidence," Gauff, touted as the natural heir to Serena Williams, said. "I wanted a win but did not expect it in the first tournament of the year."