All Eyes Are on Rafael Nadal, With the Australian Open Set to Begin


The defending champion, Nadal has misplaced six of his final seven tour singles matches and is struggling along with his timing, confidence and composure. However don’t rely him out.

The primary collective gasp of this yr’s Australian Open got here Thursday afternoon, 4 days earlier than the event formally begins.

The hubbub got here at first of the lads’s singles draw when Jack Draper’s title appeared within the second slot within the 128-man subject. That meant Draper’s first-round opponent was assured to be Rafael Nadal, the reigning Australian Open champion and the No. 1 seed within the absence of the injured Carlos Alcaraz.

The thrill within the room was an indication of the left-handed Draper’s gathering power — a 21-year-old Briton, he’s in type and as much as No. 40 on this planet — but in addition a mirrored image of Nadal’s disarray.

One of many biggest champions in any sport, Nadal has misplaced six of his final seven tour singles matches, struggling along with his timing, confidence and even his composure as he has been defeated by, so as, Frances Tiafoe, within the fourth spherical of the U.S. Open; Tommy Paul, within the first spherical of the Paris Masters; Taylor Fritz and Felix Auger-Aliassime, in round-robin matches on the ATP Finals; and Cameron Norrie and Alex de Minaur, within the lately accomplished United Cup group occasion.

None of these six males has reached a Grand Slam singles remaining and neither has Hubert Hurkacz, who dealt Nadal his newest defeat — even when it was solely in a follow match — in Rod Laver Area on Thursday night in entrance of some thousand spectators (and a chair umpire).

Hurkacz, a flashy shotmaker with an unflashy persona, is not any pushover. He’s seeded No. 10 in Melbourne and can perpetually be the final man to face — and defeat — Nadal’s pleasant rival Roger Federer in singles.

Hurkacz defeated Federer in straight units within the quarterfinals of Wimbledon in 2021, and he regarded significantly looser and extra relaxed on Thursday night than Nadal, who stored casting involved glances at his most important coach, Carlos Moyá, after lacking groundstrokes and first serves.

“Rafa is actually susceptible,” stated Todd Woodbridge, the Australian former star who’s now an analyst for Australian tv. “He had that faraway look on a changeover in opposition to Tiafoe on the U.S. Open and it regarded like he had it once more within the match in opposition to de Minaur final week.”

However as Woodbridge and everybody else in tennis have discovered repeatedly over the previous 19 years, you can not rely out a participant of Nadal’s expertise and inside drive. He has repeatedly risen from the depths, most lately on the 2022 French Open, which he entered injured and slumping however then managed to win his 14th males’s singles title at Roland Garros.

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One other title run right here in Melbourne appears far much less probably, nonetheless. The opening hurdle is excessive with the 6-foot-4 Draper, who superior to a semifinals match on Friday within the lead-in occasion in Adelaide.

The son of Roger Draper, a former chief government of Britain’s Garden Tennis Affiliation, Jack Draper was as soon as thought-about unsure to interrupt by means of to the very best degree due to his motion. However he has improved his quickness and court docket protection considerably in latest seasons.

“It is going to be superb to play on a giant court docket in opposition to him; he is a good champion,” Draper stated in Adelaide about his first probability to play Nadal. “No matter occurs will probably be a special day for me. I’m nonetheless very younger in my profession, so it’s nice to have these form of experiences and publicity to taking part in Rafa on a giant enviornment.”

Get previous Draper, and Nadal might face the rising American Brandon Nakashima within the second spherical, Tiafoe within the fourth spherical and the previous No. 1 Daniil Medvedev within the quarterfinals in what could be a rematch of their topsy-turvy, five-set Australian Open remaining final yr.

Nadal’s expertise, grit and talent to downside remedy in best-of-five-set matches shouldn’t be dismissed, and he has been centered on shortening factors and coming to the online in his pretournament classes this week. He pushed ahead typically in opposition to Hurkacz on Thursday.

“I must win matches, for positive, however the preparation goes fairly properly, practising rather a lot and I’m in fine condition,” Nadal stated. “Then you have to exhibit that within the matches within the official tournaments, however I’m assured that if I’m capable of have the final week of constructive practices, why not?”

Draper will not be the one British participant with a high-profile match in Melbourne. Andy Murray, Nadal’s up to date and a former No. 1, will face the previous Wimbledon finalist Matteo Berrettini within the opening spherical. Emma Raducanu, the big-surprise U.S. Open girls’s champion in 2021, might face seventh-seeded Coco Gauff within the second spherical if each win their openers (and if Raducanu’s injured ankle continues to enhance and permits her to participate within the event).

Gauff, 18, struggled along with her forehand and confidence on the finish of the 2022 season, however had a productive low season and on Sunday received the singles title in Auckland, New Zealand. The occasion was performed indoors and outside due to frequent rain and lacked most of the different main Australian Open contenders.

The favourite within the girls’s draw stays No. 1 Iga Swiatek regardless of her lopsided and emotional defeat to Jessica Pegula of america within the United Cup. However Swiatek, who faces the German all-court participant Jule Niemeier within the opening spherical, is in a thorny part of the draw. Her eighth contains the Grand Slam singles champions Bianca Andreescu and Elena Rybakina in addition to Danielle Collins, who misplaced within the remaining final yr in Melbourne to Ashleigh Barty, who retired final March.

There will likely be newcomers as properly, together with the 15-year-old qualifier Brenda Fruhvirtova, the youngest lady within the event and a part of the Czech Republic’s massive wave of younger expertise that features her sister Linda Fruhvirtova, 17, who can also be making her Australian Open singles debut.

Thursday’s draw delivered one other rarity: a first-round match between two former Australian Open singles champions: Victoria Azarenka, the Belarusian veteran who received in 2012 and 2013, and Sofia Kenin, the American who received in 2020 however has since dropped outdoors the highest 100. That matchup was all of the extra extraordinary contemplating that Azarenka and Kenin are the one Australian Open girls’s singles champions within the draw. The seven-time Australian Open champion Serena Williams is now retired (or no less than developed). The 2-time champion Naomi Osaka and the 2016 champion Angelique Kerber are pregnant, and so is Barty, though that occurred after her shock retirement at age 25.

A lot can change in a rush in tennis, as Nadal is aware of properly, and this yr’s event is already a sea change from final yr’s as a result of Novak Djokovic is within the draw after being deported by the Australian authorities on the eve of the 2022 occasion as a result of he was unvaccinated for the coronavirus.

Now, after a change in authorities coverage and after successful the warm-up occasion in Adelaide, Djokovic, nonetheless unvaccinated, can chase his tenth Australian Open singles title. He’ll face the unseeded Spaniard Roberto Carballés Baena within the opening spherical on the other aspect of the draw from his longtime rival Nadal.

Primarily based on present type, Djokovic successful his twenty second main singles title sounds much more believable than Nadal successful his twenty third.


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