AO Men's draw: Novak's rocky road, Nadal avoids danger

  • Matt Trollope

Novak Djokovic begins his Australian Open title defence against Frenchman Jeremy Chardy and has landed in arguably the toughest section of the men’s draw following Friday’s ceremony. 

The world No.1, an eight-time champion at Melbourne Park, finds himself in a quarter with a host of current and former top-10 players – Alexander Zverev, Gael Monfils, Milos Raonic and Stan Wawrinka – and could meet Dominic Thiem in the semifinals in a rematch of last year’s final. 

MORE: AO 2021 men's singles draw

t_MRaonic_20200128_07
Canadian Milos Raonic returns to Melbourne

The major storylines 

- Two-time defending champion Djokovic starts favourite for ninth AO title 

- No.2 seed Rafael Nadal is aiming for men’s record 21st Grand Slam singles title 

- US Open champ Thiem is going for second-straight major title on hard court 

- Fourth seed Daniil Medvedev is currently on 12-match winning streak 

- Medvedev, plus fellow rising stars Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev and Andrey Rublev, are seeking their first major singles titles. 

Stefanos Tsitsipas will be looking to repeat his semifinal run of AO 2019

Projected quarterfinals 

[1] Novak Djokovic v [6] Alexander Zverev 
The pair met on Friday in the ATP Cup, with Djokovic surviving the German’s challenge at Rod Laver Arena 6-7(3) 6-2 7-5. Djokovic leads the head-to-head 5-2. 

[3] Dominic Thiem v [8] Diego Schwartzman 
Schwartzman got the better of Thiem in a draining five-hour French Open quarterfinal a few months ago, just his third victory in nine career meetings against the reigning US Open champion. 

[4] Daniil Medvedev v [7] Andrey Rublev 
The in-form Russians clashed in the US Open quarterfinals last year, with Medvedev winning in straight sets. Medvedev has yet to lose a set against his compatriot in four career meetings, and closed 2020 by winning the Paris Masters and ATP Finals. 

[2] Rafael Nadal v [5] Stefanos Tsitsipas 
Nadal crushed Tsitsipas when they met in the 2019 AO semifinals; Tsitsipas beat the Spaniard on Madrid’s clay in 2019 and stretched him to three sets in their past two meetings, yet still trails the head-to-head 6-1. 

f_050221_nadal_practice_01.jpg
Rafael Nadal will open his Australian Open campaign against Serbian Laslo Djere

When the seeds meet 

The third round is where the seeds, should they come through their first two rounds, will begin to lock horns. 

Second seed Nadal, who opens against Serb Laslo Djere, could meet 30th seed Dan Evans in the last 32, assuming the Brit gets by compatriot Cameron Norrie in his opener and either Ilya Ivashka or Roman Safiullin in round two. 

No.9 seed Matteo Berrettini could face 19th seed Karen Khachanov – a former world No.8 – at the same stage, as could Stefanos Tsitsipas and fellow rising star Hubert Hurkacz, the No.26 seed. 

In addition to the potential Wawrinka-Raonic third-round clash, another great potential match-up in the last 32 is that between Canadians Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime, seeded 11th and 20th respectively. 

f_020221_berrettini_atpcup_01.jpg
Italian Mario Berrettini has yet to get past the second round in Melbourne

Must-see first-round matches 

Shapovalov faces a substantial first-round test just to get his Australian Open up and running. 

He meets Jannik Sinner in a battle of brilliant shotmakers, with Shapovalov’s left-handed flair pitted against the clean-hitting power of 19-year-old Sinner, a recent Roland Garros quarterfinalist. 

SPOTLIGHT: Jannik Sinner 

There are several more first-round clashes which fans will be following intently: 

Grigor Dimitrov v Marin Cilic 
A battle between former world No.3s when 18th seed Dimitrov goes up against 2014 US Open champion Cilic. 

Matteo Berrettini v Kevin Anderson 
Berrettini’s form has been impressive at the ATP Cup, but Anderson is a two-time major finalist and former world No.5. 

Alex de Minaur v Tennys Sandgren 
The Australian No.1 and 21st seed, playing the event for the first time in two years, comes up against the strength and stamina of the two-time AO quarterfinalist. 

Stefanos Tsitsipas v Gilles Simon 
The fifth seed could be given an early test against the wily French veteran, a former world No.6 

Daniil Medvedev v Vasek Pospisil 
Rough opening assignment for the in-form Medvedev, with Pospisil’s attacking brand of tennis recently taking him to the US Open fourth round on similarly quick courts. 

David Goffin v Alexei Popyrin 
Goffin may be the No.13 seed, but tall, powerful Popyrin has reached the AO third round the past two years and enjoys the big stage of his home Open. 

Pablo Carreno Busta v Kei Nishikori 
The Spaniard, a two-time US Open semifinalist, comes up against a former world No.4 with a history of strong results at Melbourne Park. 

Four-time AO quarterfinalist Kei Nishikori is back for 2021

Unseeded threats 

Lurking throughout the draw are several players capable of wreaking havoc when they hit their highest level: 

Nick Kyrgios 
The former world No.13, a 2015 AO quarterfinalist, who also reached the fourth round in 2018 and 2020, opens against Frederico Ferreira Silva with the prospect of a third-round clash with Thiem. 

Frances Tiafoe 
The American was a quarterfinalist at Melbourne Park in 2019 and could meet Djokovic in the second round. He begins his campaign against Italy’s Stefano Travaglia

Carlos Alcaraz 
The 17-year-old Spanish talent, a qualifier at AO 2021, beat world No.14 David Goffin during this week’s Melbourne Summer Series and opens against fellow qualifier Botic Van De Zandschulp

Jan-Lennard Struff 
The powerful world No.37, not far off being seeded himself, won both his singles matches during this week’s ATP Cup. He begins against wildcard Chris O’Connell before a potential second-round meeting with Roberto Bautista Agut

A sore Nick Kyrgios remains a threat in any tennis tournament