Australian Open 2022 preview: Rafael Nadal goes for second title

Novak Djokovic has been replaced replaced by lucky loser Salvatore Caruso in the Australian Open draw

Rafael Nadal
Rafael Nadal (Photo: Jay Town/Tennis Australia)

The air over Melbourne has been hot with debate, as the see-sawing fortunes, legal challenges, claims and counter-claims have swirled around the shoulders of the player who would, even without such news-dominating events, have been the focus of attention ahead of this year’s Australian Open.

Update: Top seed Novak Djokovic has been replaced by lucky loser Salvatore Caruso after the world number one lost a last-ditch court bid to stay in Australia.

Novak Djokovic, after all, is the most successful man ever to play in this tournament—nine titles and counting—and is now within touching distance of claiming one last record over his biggest rivals, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. All three currently own 20 Majors apiece. Djokovic could top the table with a 10th victory in Melbourne.

But his unvaccinated status has landed him in troubled waters since the confirmation came of his intention to travel to Australia, where border entry is closely guarded against Covid dangers, and despite the Victoria authorities giving him a visa exemption following a positive infection in mid-December, that in itself did not satisfy national regulations.

Thus followed the detention of one of sport’s most recognised stars, followed by legal proceedings that found in his favour—due process was not followed when he was detained—and an ongoing flurry of debate around when and where he was infected, his interim stay for training in Spain, and red-herrings aplenty: Would he stay, would he withdraw, would he be deported?

In the event, despite a delay to the proceedings, Djokovic was drawn into the top line amid ongoing murmurings about debates behind the scenes, and promises that if his visa is again revoked, his legal team would again appeal.

Meanwhile, he continues to prepare for this most significant of title defences, and as any close followers of Djokovic will have learned a long time ago, he is unlikely to be bowed by the adversities of the last week, nor by any negative reception in the coming fortnight. Expect, instead, that his resolve will be hardened, his focus even sharper—a dangerous prospect for his fellow players.

Rafael Nadal

Rafael Nadal (Photo: Scott Barbour/Tennis Australia)

And the draw has fallen relatively favourably through to the quarters, where the Matteo Berrettini quarter is rather harder to predict, with the likes of Pablo Carreno Busta, Olympic bronze medallist over Djokovic in Tokyo, the teenage star Carlos Alcaraz, ranked 146 this time last year and now 33, and another big riser in 2021, Cameron Norrie.

In Nadal’s quarter, progress to the semis promises to be tricky, topped as it is by No3 Alexander Zverev, winner of Olympic gold and the ATP Finals among six 2021 titles. The German could also meet a buoyant Denis Shapovalov, fresh from ATP Cup victory, in the fourth round, while Nadal may face No10 Hubert Hurkacz at the same stage.

Meanwhile No4 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas must wonder who he has upset, finding himself in a quarter with Andy Murray, Frances Tiafoe, and Benoit Paire even before taking account of seeded players that include Grigor Dimitrov, Roberto Bautista Agut, Jannik Sinner, and Casper Ruud.

Prize money

Singles champions A$ 4.4million

Runners up A$2.2million

R1 A$90K

R3 qualifying A$50.5K

Doubles champions [team] A$800K

R1 A$25K

Former champions in draw: Djokovic (nine—all-time record), Nadal (one)

Withdrawals by potential seeds: Dominic Thiem [wrist], Federer [knee]

Other withdrawals: Jenson Brooksby, Kei Nishikori, Guido Pella, Milos Raonic, Tennys Sandgren, Stan Wawrinka, Borna Coric

Wild cards: Murray, Alex Bolt, Thanasi Kokkinakis, Stefan Kozlov, Christopher O’Connell, Lucas Pouille, Tseng Chun-hsin, Aleksander Vukic

Champions in 2022

ATP Cup: Canada [Felix Auger-Aliassime and Shapovalov] beat Spain [Bautista Agut and Carreno Busta]

Adelaide 1 250: Gael Monfils beat Karen Khachanov

Melbourne 250: Nadal beat Maxime Cressy

Sydney 250: [SFs] Aslan Karatsev, Dan Evans, Reilly Opelka, Murray

Adelaide 2 250: [SFs] Corentin Moutet, Arthur Rinderknech, Marin Cilic, Thanasi Kokkinakis

Projected quarter-finals: top half

[1] Novak Djokovic vs [7] Matteo Berrettini: A rematch of the 2021 Wimbledon final, at which Djokovic won his 20th Major title.

Opponents for Djokovic if seedings hold: R1 Miomir Kecmanovic, R2 Tommy Paul, R3 Lorenzo Sonego [25], R4 Cristian Garin [16] or Gael Monfils [17]

Alternatives to Berrettini are Cameron Norrie [12], Carreno Busta [19], and Alcaraz [31]

[3] Alexander Zverev vs [6] Rafael Nadal: Former champion Nadal, currently ranked No6 after months off the tour with a foot injury, faces the Olympic and ATP Finals champion, who won three of their last four matches—though Nadal beat the German on Rome’s clay last year.

Opponents for Zverev if seedings hold: R1 Daniel Altmaier, R2 John Millman, R3 Lloyd Harris [30], R4 Shapovalov [14] or Opelka [23].

Alternatives to Nadal are Karen Khachanov [28], Karatsev [18], and Hubert Hurkacz [10]. Kokkinakis also a wild card here.

Projected quarter-finals: bottom half

[4] Stefanos Tsitsipas vs [8] Casper Ruud: Tsitsipas has twice reached the Australian Open semis and is 1-1 against Ruud, both matches played in 2021; Ruud won five titles last season.

Opponents for Tsitsipas if seedings hold: R1 Mikael Ymer, R2 Albert Ramos-Vinolas, R3 Dimitrov [26], R4 Bautista Agut or Taylor Fritz [20].

Alternatives to Ruud are Alex de Minaur [32], Nikoloz Basilashvili [21] and Sinner [11]. However, Andy Murray is also a wild card here.

[2] Daniil Medvedev vs [5] Andrey Rublev: A repeat of last year’s quarter-final, won by Medvedev on his way to the final. The second seed leads his friend/compatriot 4-1, but Rublev won their last match in Cincinnati.

Opponents for Medvedev if seedings hold: R1 Henri Laaksonen, R2 Nick Kyrgios, R3 Ugo Humbert [29], R4 John Isner [22] or Diego Schwartzman [13].

Alternatives to Rublev are Cilic [27], Evans [24] and Auger-Aliassime [9]

Round 1 matches to catch

Norrie vs Sebastian Korda
De Minaur vs Lorenzo Musetti
Murray vs Basilashvili
Tallon Griekspoor vs Fabio Fognini
Cressy vs Isner

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