Nick Kyrgios receives enticing Australian Open draw

Nick Kyrgios will meet world No.99 Roman Safiullin in the Australian Open first round.

Nick Kyrgios will meet world No.99 Roman Safiullin in the Australian Open first round. Photo: AAP

Nick Kyrgios looks to be on a quarter-final collision course with nine-time champion Novak Djokovic after being presented with an enticing Australian Open draw.

Kyrgios will play Russian world No.99 Roman Safiullin in the first round, while fellow home seed Alex de Minaur will start against a qualifier and could also run into Djokovic.

If he wins his opener, Kyrgios is certain to face a Frenchman next – either veteran Richard Gasquet or Ugo Humbert in a reprise of his epic third-round win over the talented youngster at Melbourne Park two years ago.

Which dangerman Kyrgios could strike in the third round was the most compelling question to be answered at Thursday’s draw.

Seeded 19th, Kyrgios is guaranteed to avoid a top-eight rival until at least the second week – if he makes it that far.

But potentially standing between Australia’s chief title hope and a place in the last 16 were a batch of exciting youngsters and some of the heaviest hitters in tennis.

He landed in the same section as 19-year-old Holger Rune, the Scandinavian sensation who has just gatecrashed the world’s top 10 after a breakout 2022 highlighted by a run to the French Open quarter-finals.

If it’s not Rune, Kyrgios could face a testing third-round encounter with crafty American serve-volleyer Maxime Cressy.

It could have been much worse.

The deadly bracket of possible third-round opponents Kyrgios could have struck included Alexander Zverev, Matteo Berrettini, Jannik Sinner, Pablo Carreno Busta, Hubert Hurkacz, Cameron Norrie and Frances Tiafoe.

But a year after arriving at Melbourne Park ranked 115th in the world and wondering where his future in the sport lay, Kyrgios will fancy his chances of at least making it through to the last 16 for a fourth time.

“Well, I am one of the best players in the world,” the re-energised title force said on Thursday.

“So I’m definitely gonna go into the Australian Open, any tournament, with confidence.”

Kyrgios is slated for a potential meeting with fifth seed Andrey Rublev in the round of 16.

If the Australian equals his career-best Open run to the quarter-finals from 2015, eight long years ago, Djokovic is likely to be lying in wait.

Norwegian second seed Casper Ruud is the highest-ranked player in Kyrgios’s bottom half of the draw.

Defending champion Rafael Nadal heads up the top half of the draw and looms as a potentially dream final opponent for Kyrgios and Open officials.

After toppling Nadal at the United Cup, as well as 2022 Australian Open finalist Daniil Medvedev in Paris in November, de Minaur harbours his own Open title dream.

Should he survive his starter as expected, de Minaur will play either power-serving American veteran John Isner or awkward French southpaw Adrian Mannarino.

The 22nd seed could meet Carreno Busta in round three and Djokovic in the last 16.

It’s a potentially pot-holed road to the second week for de Minaur, but not half as treacherous as the one Aussie women’s No.1 Ajla Tomljanovic may encounter.

After missing the seeded protection by two lousy rankings spots, Tomljanovic’s path to a third consecutive grand slam quarter-final – following deep forays at Wimbledon and the US Open last year – is riddled with dangers.

After starting against world No.192 Nadia Podoroska, Tomljanovic could play 2020 Open champion Sofia Kenin or dual winner Victoria Azarenka in round two, then last year’s semi-finalist and 10th seed Madison Keys or world No.6 Maria Sakkari in the last 16.

Aussies’ first-round draw

Men’s singles

19-Nick Kyrgios v Roman Safiullin (RUS)

22-Alex de Minaur v Qualifier

Chris O’Connell v Jenson Brooksby (US)

Jordan Thompson v JJ Wolf (US)

Thanasi Kokkinakis v Fabio Fognini (ITA)

Jason Kubler v Sebastian Baez (ARG)

John Millman v Marc-Andrea Huesler (SUI)

Alexei Popyrin v Chun-Hsin Tseng (TPE)

Rinky Hijikata v Qualifier

Women’s singles

Ajla Tomljanovic v Nadia Podoroska (ARG)

Jaimee Fourlis v Linda Fruhvirtova (CZE)

Storm Hunter v Wang Xinyu (CHN)

Talia Gibson v Qualifier

Olivia Gadecki v Qualifier

Kimberly Birrell v 31-Kaia Kanepi (EST)


Topics: Nick Kyrgios
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