Rafael Nadal begins quest for Australian Open title

rafael nadal, Tennis

Rafael Nadal defeated Jack Draper in four sets to begin his attempt at repeating as Australian Open champion and extending his men’s tennis record of 22 Grand Slam titles.

Last season, Nadal beat Daniil Medvedev in the Australian Open final after roaring back from a two-set deficit to win in five sets. If the two meet this season, it will be in the quarterfinals. 

It’s no sure thing that Nadal will get to that point. His side of the bracket sets up several potential roadblocks.

Nadal is expected to find success in his second-round match against Mackenzie McDonald. The two only have one prior meeting, at Roland Garros in the round of 64 in 2020. Nadal won in straight sets.

After that, he will likely face two players coming off their best seasons and who play their best on hard surfaces, such as the one at the Australian Open.

Yoshihito Nishioka is ranked 33rd by the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) and is a strong contender to face Nadal in the round of 32. Nadal and Nishioka have two prior meetings and Nadal won both times, but they have never met at a grand slam.

Nishioka is coming off a run to the semifinals at Adelaide 2023, the first ATP tournament of the year. He suffered a hip injury that forced him to retire from his semifinal match but was healthy enough to win his first-round match at the Australian Open in straight sets.

If Nadal gets past Nishioka, a rematch with WTA No. 17 Frances Tiafoe likely awaits in the round of 16. The two met in the same round at last year’s U.S. Open, a four-set win for Tiafoe: 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3. 

They have one career meeting at the Australian Open, a 2019 Nadal win in straight sets.

Nadal will only get a chance to possibly face WTA No. 8 Medvedev with wins in those three rounds. 

Per Oddschecker, Novak Djokovic (-110) is the favorite to win the 2023 tournament. Medvedev (+500) has the second-best odds while Nadal (+1400) sits in third. 

A Djokovic-Nadal meeting wouldn’t happen until the finals if both players make it that far. A pair of WTA-ranked top 10 players — No. 4 Stefanos Tsitsipas and No. 7 Felix Auger-Aliassime — pose the likeliest competition for Nadal in the semifinals.

Nadal lost in the quarterfinals to Tsitsipas at the 2021 Australian Open in five sets and lost his last meeting with Auger-Aliassime at the ATP World Tour Finals on Nov. 15, 2022.

Nadal is ranked second by the WTA and could possibly face No. 5 Djokovic in the finals. Djokovic would tie Nadal for most career grand slam titles at 22 with a win at this year’s Australian Open. Nadal could extend his record to an incredible 23 grand slam titles with a repeat title in Melbourne.

The journey to grand slam trophy No. 23 for Nadal began on Monday. He showed he has plenty left in the tank against Draper, notably on this 25-shot rally in the third set.

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