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Nadal starts title defense in Australia against tough opponent

Spaniard Rafa Nadal, reigning Australian Open champion, begins this Monday the defense of the title against British Jack Draper, a young man on the rise who wants to prolong the poor run of results of the 22-time Grand Slam winner.

At 36 years of age and after a few months in which his recurrent physical problems reappeared, Nadal comes with an unusual streak of six defeats in the last seven matches played.

And, despite being the top seed given the absence of his compatriot Carlos Alcaraz (world number 1), he will have to start his journey with a tough nut to crack, “young, powerful, growing very fast in the ranking,” in the words of Nadal.

The Spaniard, who last year also won Roland Garros, acknowledged himself “vulnerable” by these bad results and needed to regain confidence with victories, but “prepared” for the challenge.

“If I am able to win the first match, I will have my chances,” said the world No. 2, who will play his first match at the Rod Laver Arena, where a year ago he epically beat Russian Daniil Medvedev in the final.

The Russian tennis player, who in 2021 had lost the final to Serbian Novak Djokovic, will also debut this Monday in Melbourne against American Marcos Giron with the aim of making good the saying “third time’s the charm”.

Swiatek wants the fourth

With the withdrawal of the defending champion, the Australian Ashleigh Barty, her heir at number 1 in the world, the Polish Iga Swiatek, begins as a favorite on her way to a fourth Grand Slam after two Roland Garros and a U.S. Open.

In the first round she will face Germany’s Jule Niemeier, world number 69, who put her in trouble in the round of 16 of the last Grand Slam in New York, winning the first set and forcing the 21-year-old Pole to come from behind.

Other title contenders will also enter the fray, such as the American Jessica Pegula (3rd), who recently defeated Swiatek in the United Cup, her young compatriot Coco Gauff (7th) or the Greek Maria Sakkari (6th).

Curiosities of the draw, the only two winners of the tournament present in Australia, the Belarusian Victoria Azarenka and the American Sofia Kenin, will face each other in a first round of former champions in low hours.

New generation

In the men’s draw, world No. 4 and three-time Australian semifinalist Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece will face France’s Quentin Halys, Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz (11th) will face Spain’s Pedro Martinez and American Frances Tiafoe (17th) will face Germany’s Daniel Altmaier.

In the first tournament with legend Roger Federer officially retired and with Nadal and Djokovic already closer to 40 than 30, a new generation of tennis players, led by the absent Alcaraz, wants to put an end to the era of the “Big Three”.

One of them, 22-year-old Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime, is facing his compatriot Vasik Pospisil, and 21-year-old Italian Jannik Sinner is battling against Briton Kyle Edmund.

The best Chilean racket, Cristian Garín, will play against the American Sebastian Korda.

Much of the large Argentine delegation comes into play on this first day, with a fratricidal duel between top seed Francisco Cerúndolo and Guido Pella and the return to Australia of Nadia Podoroska, a Roland Garros semifinalist in 2020 who is trying to put a long injured season behind her.

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