Djokovic, Swiatek favorites at Australian Open amid Chinese hopefuls

(Xinhua) 14:56, January 13, 2023

SYDNEY, Jan. 12 (Xinhua) -- Superstars Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal have been drawn on opposite sides of the men's singles bracket, while No. 1 seed Iga Swiatek starts as hot favorite in the women's singles with an emerging Chinese contingent hoping to make a mark at the Australian Open.

There is much anticipation over the first Grand Slam tennis event of the year, which runs from January 16 to 29 in Melbourne.

In the men's draw, Nadal received the No. 1 seed after compatriot and current U.S. Open champion Carlos Alcaraz withdrew last week due to a leg injury.

Nadal last year memorably broke Roger Federer's record number of Grand Slam titles with a remarkable five-set comeback victory over Russian Daniil Medvedev.

The Spaniard then claimed his 14th French Open title, but struggled in the back end of the year with foot and abdominal injuries.

Ahead of the Australian Open, the 36-year-old lost to Cameron Norrie and Alex De Minaur at the United Cup to underline his form slump.

"It's true that the last couple of tournaments I wasn't able to play my standards," Nadal said. "Honestly, I am not unhappy with the preparation. I think I'm in good shape."

Nadal starts his title defense against British 21-year-old Jack Draper and faces a potential quarterfinal with No. 7 seed Medvedev, who also lost the Australian Open final in 2021 against Djokovic.

No. 3 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, a three-time semifinalist in Melbourne, has also been drawn in Nadal's half of the draw.

No. 4 seed Djokovic starts as a favorite in his return to a tournament he has overwhelmingly dominated with a record haul of titles.

The 35-year-old controversially was unable to compete last year after being deported from Australia because he was not vaccinated against COVID-19.

Djokovic arrived with far less fanfare this time around with vaccinations no longer a requirement for entry into Australia and he stepped up his preparations with victory at the Adelaide International.

But there are injury concerns for Djokovic, who is dealing with a hamstring niggle which forced him to curtail a practice session with Medvedev on Wednesday.

"It's the hamstring that I had problems with in Adelaide last week," Djokovic said. "I just felt it pulling and I didn't want to risk anything worse."

Djokovic's chances of equalling Nadal's record of 22 Grand Slam titles received a boost when Alcaraz's withdrawal elevated him to the No. 4 seed.

That meant he could not meet his rival Nadal until at least the semifinal, but they've been drawn on opposite sides of the men's draw.

Djokovic has seemingly found himself on the easier side of the draw and starts his campaign against Roberto Carballes Baena of Spain.

No. 2 seed Casper Ruud of Norway and Russian Andrey Rublev, the No.6 seed, are also in Djokovic's potential path.

Also in this bracket is Wimbledon finalist Nick Kyrgios, who is the highest-seeded Australian at 19.

In the women's, reigning French and U.S. Open champion Swiatek opens against Germany's Jule Niemeier and other big names in the top of the half include No. 3 seed Jessica Pegula, last year's finalist Danielle Collins and Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina.

The bottom half of the draw appears weaker with world No. 2 Ons Jabeur, the Wimbledon and U.S. Open finalist, the standout and the Tunisian starts with a first-round match against Slovenia's Tamara Zidansek.

The women's field is missing several marquee players after the retirements of 23-time Grand Slam winner Serena Williams and defending champion Ashleigh Barty.

Two-time Australian Open winner Naomi Osaka withdrew last week and has since announced that she is pregnant with her first child.

Seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams was also forced to withdraw after the 42-year-old suffered an injury in Auckland ahead of the Australian Open, where she had received a wildcard.

The diminished fields, however, might provide openings for 10 Chinese men's and women's players at the Australian Open.

There is a lot of interest in Zhang Zhizhen, the first male player from the Chinese mainland to crack the top 100 in the ATP rankings.

The strong-serving Zhang, who in 2021 became the first Chinese mainland player to qualify for the Wimbledon men's singles since Open Era, will play American Ben Shelton in the first round.

World No. 97 Zhang is ranked five spots below Shelton on the ATP rankings and victory could set up a clash with Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia.

After receiving a wildcard, Wu Yibing has been drawn to play France's Corentin Moutet who has a world ranking of 51. Wu, who is ranked No. 116, made history at last year's U.S. Open when he became the first male player from the Chinese mainland to ever reach the men's singles third round.

If the 23-year-old gets past Moutet then he is likely to face 28th seed Francisco Cerundolo in the second round.

There is a strong group of Chinese women players led by No. 23 seed Zhang Shuai. She will be a strong favorite against Patricia Tig of Romania, who is ranked 790.

Zhang is on a collision course to face No. 9 seed Veronika Kudermetova of Russia in the third round.

Zheng Qinwen, the 29th seed, starts her campaign against Dalma Galfi of Hungary in the first round. She could meet No. 7 seed Coco Gauff of the United States in the third round.

Wang Xinyu opens against Australian wildcard Storm Hunter with the winner likely to face No. 10 seed Madison Keys in the second round.

Zhu Lin meets Canada's Rebecca Marino in the first round, while 24-year-old Yuan Yue has a tough test against No. 6 seed Maria Sakkari of Greece.

Wang Xiyu, ranked No. 49 in the world, plays the Czech Republic's Karolina Pliskova, a former world No. 1 who once made finals at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, while Zheng Saisai has a tough task first up against No. 27 seed Irina-Camelia Begu of Romania.

(Web editor: Zhang Kaiwei, Liang Jun)


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