Sunday, January 16, 2022

Djokovic learns fate of Australian Open draw after late ceremony

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Djokovic appears to have been treated to a relatively easy draw in the first Grand Slam of the year, while rival Daniil Medvedev may have to overcome early banana peels in week one

The draw was anything but easy. Originally scheduled for 3pm Melbourne time, it was rescheduled just two minutes earlier, sparking rumors that Tennis Australia had been briefed by the Immigration Secretary of a possible Novak Djokovic decision.

To a certain extent, the talking is over. It’s not natural, there’s a weekend of media scrums and immigration reflections ahead. But at least we have a draw, which gives us something else to talk about.

However, the ceremony was only postponed by 75 minutes and took place with world No. 1 at the top of the men’s class, otherwise as planned.

One of the luxuries of being #1 is knowing that you probably won’t be up against an opponent in the first round who has a strong chance of beating you. The average rank of Djokovic’s first-round opponent at Slams over the past decade is 88 – which actually means Miomir Kecmanovic is a more talented opponent than the defending champion expected.

However, as a fellow Serbian, Kecmanovic could be the ideal opponent. Rod Laver Arena could be a feverish place if Djokovic walks out unvaccinated, perhaps under a restraining order and defiant. There has been speculation that Australian fans in the world’s most lockdown city could boo Djokovic, but if both players are Serbs it seems more likely he’ll have even more fans than normal in the crowd to drown out the noise.

His first seeded opponent could come in the third round in the form of Lorenzo Sonego, who smashed Djokovic in Vienna two years ago for losing just three games, a result that remains one of the most unusual in recent memory – but the Italian has it also dropped off on the Rome sands last season, suggesting he’s reasonably in control of the 20-time Slam champion’s game.

Djokovic could also take on France’s Gael Monfils, who won the title in Adelaide last week and is arguably playing his best tennis in two years, although his neck-and-neck race with world No. 1 isn’t good: he’s got them all 17 matches lost.

Wherever Nick Kyrgios ended up in the draw would cause some excitement as he is perhaps Australia’s most exciting, if enigmatic, tennis/basketball/vaccine advocate.

The dream of drama would have been for the wildcard to be dropped in Djokovic’s part of the draw, but being a potential opponent for No. 2 Daniil Medvedev is almost as good. The pair have previously played twice and the Australian has won both times, although those games took place back in 2019, before Medvedev really announced himself as a hard-court monster on the global stage.

Should he face Kyrgios and beat him, he could have his first win against another player in Ugo Humbert. The Frenchman beat him just this month, winning a three-set fight in the ATP Cup in Sydney to add a second win over Medvedev in his two-game history.

His final stages are looking easier – he would expect to beat fellow Russian Andrey Rublev and Stefanos Tsitsipas may not be fit enough to make it into the last four – but he needs to tumble some records to get there.

It’s rare that Ashleigh Barty looks anything but comfortable, whether it’s at cover, the third tee or the baseline. A brilliant multi-sportswoman with a single digit handicap and professional cricket accolades, she is a deserved and interesting frontrunner.

Their draw looks straightforward at first – until you notice Naomi Osaka in the fourth round. The Japanese player withdrew from her semi-final in Melbourne this week citing a stomach complaint but in all likelihood saved herself for the Grand Slam, which represents a significant uptick in physical work after spending more off the pitch in 2021.

Barty and Osaka haven’t played in Beijing since 2019, where Osaka equalized the head-to-head record to 2-2 in a tight three-way, and if the defending champions make it to the second week in Melbourne, it will be a serious one Be a challenger again.

What happens after that is unclear and the chances of a planned tie surviving the notoriously difficult first week of a WTA Slam seem slim – but one of Barty and Osaka fails to make the quarterfinals, that’s for sure.

With Naomi Osaka playing so little last year due to some mental issues, it has probably always been a tough road to defending the title. However, the presence of up to four top 10 players and the Olympic champion was probably more than she expected.

Reaching these levels will not be easy either. Camila Osorio has climbed from world No. 186 to the fringes of the top 50 this time last year, recording her first top 10 win when she defeated Elina Svitolina from behind in Tenerife in October. The Colombian is a dangerous banana peel and Osaka can’t afford to start cold.

Madison Brengle may look less menacing; It’s been around five years since she made the top 50, although she’s not far off, having won two titles in late 2021, albeit at second-tier events in the US.

After that, however, it will likely only be a top-notch duel for Osaka, who has all the skills needed to win it.

Follow i sport on Facebook for more tennis news, interviews and features, or listen Love Tennis Podcast presented by I‘s James Gray on iTunes, Spotify or just search “Love Tennis” wherever you find your podcasts

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