Australian Open 2023: Popcorn matches from the men’s draw
The 111th edition of the Australian Open is nearly upon us, and the men’s draw has thrown up some eye-catching ‘popcorn’ matches for fans to enjoy across Monday and Tuesday.
Here are four of the matches we, at Tennishead, are most looking forward to:
Rafael Nadal (1) vs Jack Draper
Defending champion Rafael Nadal will not have the luxury of playing his way into the tournament, with the exciting Jack Draper awaiting him in the opening round, in a first-time meeting between the pair.
Nadal is still seeking his first win of 2023 after two United Cup defeats, and has lost six out of his last seven matches. Draper already has a top 20 win this year after he beat Karen Khachanov to advance to the semi-finals at the Adelaide International 2, and has beaten two top 10 players already in his young career.
“It’ll be amazing to play on court with him, he’s a great champion,” Draper said, “(There are) a lot of emotions obviously when I think of playing him, but that’s one thing. I’ve still got to go and play tomorrow (in Adelaide) and hopefully do well in this tournament first.”
Draper lost his semi-final match to lucky loser Soonwoo Kwon, giving the Brit more time to rest before competing against the 22-time Grand Slam champion on Monday, on the Rod Laver Arena.
“Whatever happens, it’ll be a special occasion for me, (I am) still very young in my career, so it’s great to have these sort of experiences and exposure to playing someone like Rafa on a big court like that. But I want to play really well and I want to compete hard and do the best I can.”
Matteo Berrettini (13) vs Andy Murray
Andy Murray’s hope for more generous draws has not come to fruition, and he will be up against it when he plays the 13th seed Matteo Berrettini on Tuesday.
Murray, who is a a five-time Australian Open finalist, has a chance for instant Grand Slam revenge after a closely contested four-set loss to Berrettini at the 2022 US Open. Berrettini also defeated Murray in the Stuttgart final last season, and has a 3-1 head-to-head record against the Brit with Murray’s lone win coming in Beiijing, in 2019.
Berrettini’s best run down under came last year when he reached the semi-finals, including an epic five-set win against Carlos Alcaraz, losing out to eventual winner Nadal. The Italian had a very stop-start 2022, with injuries and Covid preventing him from playing Roland Garros and Wimbledon, respectively.
Berrettini has had a mixed start to 2023, producing a 3-2 singles record at the United Cup, earning top 10 wins against Casper Ruud and Hubert Hurkacz before tight losses to Stefanos Tsitsipas and Taylor Fritz. Murray has lost his only match on the tour to Sebastian Korda, in Adelaide, before picking up a couple of wins in the Kooyong Classic exhibition tournament.
Andrey Rublev (5) vs Dominic Thiem
Two of the game’s biggest baseline hitters will trade blows in a matchup that would have been reserved for the later rounds in previous years. Dominic Thiem continues to work his way back to the form that got him to the 2020 Australian Open final, following a wrist injury, and did see an upturn in results at the end of last year.
However, his opponent Andrey Rublev has the better of their head-to-head a 5-3 win-loss record, and it was the Russian who came out on top in their last meeting in the 2022 Gijon semi-finals.
Both men are without a win so far in 2023, so on Tuesday one of them will see a change in fortune.
Grigor Dimitrov (27) vs Aslan Karatsev
Perhaps in past years this match may have had more hype surrounding it, but after a relatively poor 2022 from Aslan Karatsev, has fallen under the radar.
They have an even head-to-head, with one win a-piece, and share history at the Australian Open. The two played in the quarter-final in 2021, when Karatsev had his breakthrough run to the semi-finals as a qualifier.
Karatsev finished last year in dismal form, winning only four of 18 matches, but has made a better start to 2023 reaching the Pune semi-finals. He will look to continue this trajectory when he plays Grigor Dimitrov on Tuesday.
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