Nadal Learns Australian Open Draw Fate, Chases Record 21st Major Title
Shapovalov plays Sinner among number of popcorn openers
Rafael Nadal will begin his quest to win a record 21st Grand Slam championship title against Laslo Djere of Serbia at the Australian Open, which begins on Monday. Nadal, who picked up the 2009 trophy in Melbourne, has been drawn in the same half as Daniil Medvedev, Andrey Rublev and Stefanos Tsitsipas.
World No. 1 Novak Djokovic will need to come through a minefield if he is to capture his ninth Australian Open crown, potentially needing to beat 2014 champion Stan Wawrinka, Alexander Zverev and last year’s finalist Dominic Thiem en route to a 28th major championship title match.
Nadal, who equalled Roger Federer’s haul of 20 majors with a 13th Roland Garros crown in October last year, could face Italian Fabio Fognini in the fourth round. Fognini memorably beat Nadal in five sets in the 2015 US Open third round. Tsitsipas, who lost to Nadal in the 2019 semi-finals, or Matteo Berrettini are potential quarter-final opponents.
Nadal won his first hard-court major at the 2009 Australian Open, but despite adding four US Open titles since then, he has failed to add to his trophy haul at Melbourne Park. The 34-year-old has finished as runner-up on four occasions - in 2012 (l. to Djokovic), 2014 (l. to Wawrinka), 2017 (l. to Federer) and 2019 (l. to Djokovic). Should Nadal win this year’s tournament, he will join Rod Laver and Roy Emerson as the only players to have won all four majors at least twice. Nadal has a 65-14 record at the Melbourne major.
Top seed Djokovic opens his campaign against France's Jeremy Chardy, but may need to beat big-serving Canadian Milos Raonic or Wawrinka, who defeated Djokovic in the 2015 Roland Garros final and the 2016 US Open title match, in the Last 16. Wawrinka has won their past two matches, including at the 2019 US Open, when Djokovic retired when he was down two sets. The Serbian, who won the first of his eight Australian Open titles as a 20-year-old in 2008 and has a 75-8 match record at the tournament, could potentially reunite with Zverev in the quarter-finals, so soon after their epic singles and doubles group stage clashes at the 2021 ATP Cup on Friday.
Third seed Thiem, who beat three Top 10 players including Gael Monfils, Nadal and Zverev, en route to his third Grand Slam championship final last year, will attempt to get his title bid off to a strong start when he plays Mikhail Kukushkin in the first round. Last year’s US Open titlist has been drawn in the same quarter as eighth-seeded Argentinean Diego Schwartzman, No. 11 seed Denis Shapovalov of Canada and No. 18 seed Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria.
Fourth seed Medvedev starts with a tricky test against Canada's Vasek Pospisil, and if the Russian is to improve upon two consecutive fourth round showings (2019-2020), he may need to overcome No. 13 seed David Goffin in the fourth round. His compatriot and seventh seed Andrey Rublev, who captured five ATP Tour titles and recorded 41 match wins in a standout 2020 season, could stand in his way in the quarter-finals. Rublev takes on Germany's Yannick Hanfmann in the first round, with No. 12 seed Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain a potential fourth-round opponent.
There will be some outstanding first-round clashes, including Shapovalov challenging 2019 Next Gen ATP Finals champion Jannik Sinner for the first time. Ninth-seeded Italian Berrettini meets former World No. 4 Kevin Anderson, Dimitrov tackles 2018 finalist Marin Cilic of Croatia and Spain's Pablo Carreno Busta takes on Japan's Kei Nishikori in other eye-catching opening matches.
In 2019, the Australian Open began to feature deciding set tie-breaks at 6-6, with the first player to score 10 points – and leading by two points – winning the match. The men's draw will also continue to implement its heat policy, with the potential for a 10-minute break for the heat after the third set. Main draw play will get underway on 8 February.