Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal were placed in opposite halves of the Australian Open draw Thursday, meaning the tournament's most successful player and its defending champions can only meet in the final.
Djokovic, with nine titles is the tournament's greatest male player, returns to Melbourne Park 12 months on from his infamous deportation for not being vaccinated against Covid-19. In the Serb's absence, Nadal won his second Australian Open title to take his Grand Slam tally to a record 21, adding a 22nd at Roland Garros five months later.
Fourth seed Djokovic will open his campaign against Spaniard Roberto Carballes Baena, while Nadal, seeded first in the absence of the injured world No 1 Carlos Alcaraz, faces a tricky first-round match against the fast-rising Briton Jack Draper, who has climbed into the top 40 and is into the Adelaide International semi-finals.
Arguably the tie of the first round in the men's draw sees five-time Australian Open finalist Andy Murray take on Italian 13th seed Matteo Berrettini.
Murray, a former world No 1 and three-time Grand Slam champion, has struggled to rediscover his best form since undergoing career-saving hip surgery four years ago and is currently ranked 49th. However, he defeated Australian Alex de Minaur 6-3, 6-3 in an exhibition match on Thursday and is pleased with his form.
“It is always difficult in exhibition matches to play like it is the first round of a Grand Slam but I wanted to try to leave everything out on the court to give my body the best preparation, to see how I was moving, to see how I was serving, and it went well,” Murray said.
Wimbledon finalist Nick Kyrgios is perhaps Australia's best chance of a men's champion and the 19th seed faces France's Roman Safiullin in the opening round.
“I am one of the best players in the world, so I am definitely going to go into the Australian Open and any Grand Slam with confidence,” said Kyrgios, who won the men's doubles title last year alongside Thanasi Kokkinakis.
Based on seeding, Nadal could face Russian seventh seed Daniil Medvedev in the quarter-finals in what would be a rematch of last year's final, which the Spaniard won after fighting back from two sets down. Third seeded Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas, who opens against France's Quentin Halys, could take on sixth seed Felix Auger-Aliassime, who faces fellow Canadian Vasek Pospisil in the first round.
In the bottom half of the draw, Djokovic is in line to face Andrey Rublev in the quarter-finals, and the Russian sixth seed faces an intriguing opener against former US Open champion Dominic Thiem, who has been given a wildcard as he makes his way back from a long-term wrist injury. Norwegian second seed Casper Ruud, who gets underway against Czech Republic's Tomas Machac, could face eighth seed Taylor Fritz in the last eight. The American takes on the dangerous Nikoloz Basilashvili in the first round.
In the women's draw, world No 1 Iga Swiatek begins her bid for a fourth major title against Wimbledon quarter-finalist Jule Niemeier of Germany.
Tunisian second seed Ons Jabeur, a finalist at both Wimbledon and the US Open last season, opens against Slovenian Tamara Zidansek, who reached the Roland Garros semi-finals in 2021.
Third seed Jessica Pegula, who was part of the US team which claimed the mixed teams United Cup in Sydney last week, faces Jacqueline Cristian from Romania in the first round, while French fourth seed Caroline Garcia opens against a qualifier.
The potential women’s quarter-finals could see Swiatek face American seventh seed Coco Gauff in what would be a rematch of last year’s French Open final, while Pegula could play Greek sixth seed Maria Sakkari in the top half of the bracket. In the bottom half, Jabeur and Belarusian fifth seed Aryna Sabalenka could face each other in the last eight, as could and Garcia and Russian eighth seed Daria Kasatkina.
Another big first-round match is two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka against Sofia Kenin, who won the title at Melbourne Park in 2020.