Three to See, Australian Open Day 1: Nadal vs. Draper; Swiatek vs. Niemeier; Azarenka vs. KeninBy Jan 13, 2023
Australian Open director: Novak Djokovic's hamstring had a three-centimeter tearBy Feb 01, 2023
How exactly did Aryna Sabalenka figure out her serve?By Jan 30, 2023
Novak Djokovic wins his 22nd major in Melbourne—and sets up another showdown with Rafael Nadal in ParisBy Jan 29, 2023
With each major win—and qualities beyond the numbers—Novak Djokovic continues to redefine tennis greatnessBy Jan 29, 2023
Novak Djokovic claims 10th Australian Open title, record-equalling 22nd Grand SlamBy Jan 29, 2023
Australian Open: Djokovic wins 10th title, 22nd major after victory over TsitsipasBy Jan 29, 2023
Novak Djokovic wins 10th Australian Open, ties Rafael Nadal with 22 Grand Slam titles—and will rightfully return to No. 1By Jan 29, 2023
Czech duo Katerina Siniakova, Barbora Krejcikova win Australian Open for seventh major titleBy Jan 29, 2023
By reminding herself she was built for big occasions, Aryna Sabalenka soars to Australian Open gloryBy Jan 28, 2023
Three to See, Australian Open Day 1: Nadal vs. Draper; Swiatek vs. Niemeier; Azarenka vs. Kenin
Before each day's play Down Under, we'll preview and predict three must-see matches.
Published Jan 13, 2023
WATCH: Monica Puig and Jimmy Arias pick the Australian Open women's champion
Rafael Nadal  vs. Jack Draper
Draper is among the last people Nadal would have wanted to see across the net to begin his Australian Open title defense. The 21-year-old Brit is ranked 40th, which means he’s among the best non-seeded players in the draw. He’s left-handed, which means that Nadal’s crosscourt forehand will go into Draper’s strength, rather than his weakness—the way it does against most right-handers. He’s 6’4”, which means that Rafa’s high-kicking topspin ground strokes will end up in his strike zone a fair amount of the time. Plus, Draper is coming off a semifinal run in Adelaide this week, and he has a win over a Top 10 player at a major: Felix Auger-Aliassime, at last year’s US Open.
As for Rafa’s own game, the news on that front isn’t great, either. He finished 2022 by losing four of his last five matches, and he started 2023 by losing to Cam Norrie and Alex de Minaur at the United Cup. Some observers think he’s not yet over the abdominal tear that plagued him for the second half of last year.
All of which makes this late day-session match in Rod Laver Arena a must-see, both for the result and, if Nadal wins, what it tells us about the top seed’s current state. I’m guessing that Draper will start well, back Rafa into the ropes, and then, at a crucial stage late in the second or third set, Rafa will find a way off them. Winner: Nadal
Iga Swiatek  vs. Jule Niemeier
“I had a hard time pushing her back,” Swiatek said after her fourth-round win over Niemeier at last year’s US Open. “I used my experience to keep my level the whole match.”
Swiatek needed all of her experience, and all of the belief she had built up over the course of 2022, to escape the German’s clutches at Flushing Meadows. Niemeier won the first set 6-2, and when she broke Swiatek early in the second, it looked the upset was on. It’s easy to forget now, but Swiatek was in something of a mini-slump when she came to the Open, having lost early at tune-up events in Toronto and Cincinnati. Niemeier, meanwhile, was coming off a surprise trip to the Wimbledon quarterfinals.
But just when the WTA universe looked poised to be turned upside down, Swiatek wrestled it right-side up again with a love hold and a quick break. She survived the second set, 6-4, tore through the third, 6-0, and won the title a few days later.
Can the 68th-ranked Niemeier make things as interesting again? She’s 0-2 so far in 2023, but she clearly saves her best for the Slams, and she’ll have the biggest stage in Melbourne Park for this night-session opener. As Swiatek’s comment in New York indicates, Niemeier is a strong hitter who can bring the attack to anyone. But the WTA’s No. 1 should be ready for it from the opening bell this time. Winner: Swiatek
Victoria Azarenka  vs. Sofia Kenin
Seeing Azarenka on the other side of the net might give Kenin the willies. The last time they met, in Rome in 2020, the American failed to win a single game, though she did bounce back quickly enough to make the final at Roland Garros.
Two-and-a-half years later, Kenin is ranked outside the Top 200, and Azarenka is seeded 24th—yet they find themselves with a prime court assignment, third up in the day session in Margaret Court Arena. That’s because both are former Australian Open champions, even if it does seem like another lifetime for each of them. Azarenka last won a decade ago, and Kenin’s victory in 2020 feels even more extraordinary than it did then, considering her current ranking.
Aside from the double bagel in Rome, these two have met one other time, on a hard court in Acapulco in 2019, and Kenin came away a winner, 7-5 in the third. Even if neither is a threat to win it all this year, both have shown tentative signs of turning back the clock. Azarenka made the fourth round at the US Open, and the semis at the Masters 1000 in Guadalajara, while Kenin managed three victories this week in Hobart. If both of them can get back into their old Melbourne groove again, it could be a good one. Winner: Azarenka