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Nick Kyrgios ready to sacrifice doubles defence in pursuit of Australian Open title

Australian Open draw puts Nick Kyrgios on collision course with Novak Djokovic

  • Home hope drawn against Roman Safiullin in first round
  • Ajla Tomljanovic dealt tough hand in women’s draw

Nick Kyrgios looks on a quarter-final collision course with Novak Djokovic after being presented with an enticing Australian Open draw in Melbourne. 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 talented youngster Ugo Humbert. 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 men’s tennis.

He landed in the same section as 19-year-old Holger Rune, the Scandinavian prodigy 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 opponents Kyrgios could have struck in the third round 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, Kyrgios will fancy his chances of making it through to the last 16 for a fourth time.

“Well, I am one of the best players in the world,” Kyrgios said. “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, nine-times champion 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.

Kyrgios indicated earlier on Thursday he was prepared to let his doubles title defence with Thanasi Kokkinakis fall by the wayside in pursuit of singles glory.

“Definitely I think from both parties. If he’s going deep as well, which he’s more than capable of doing I think that we’re going to have to,” Kyrgios said. “We’re singles players at heart and the doubles grand slam last year was just a flash in the pan, how we were able to do that.

“We haven’t had one conversation about doubles yet, about like how we’re going to approach it or anything. We’re just going to go in it, have some fun. If we play, we play. If we don’t, we don’t.”

In the women’s draw, Ajla Tomljanovic – Australia’s top hope in the absence of retired reigning champion Ash Barty – should ease through her opening match against Argentina’s world No 192 Nadia Podoroska.

But then it gets treacherous for the world No 35, who could face 2020 champion Sofia Kenin or two-time Open winner Victoria Azarenka in round two. It will not get any easier if the 2022 Wimbledon and US Open quarter-finalist makes it to the last 32, with in-form 10th seed Madison Keys – a semi-final loser to Barty last year – potentially waiting in round three.

Tomljanovic could also play sixth seed Maria Sakkari in the last 16 and world No 3 Jessica Pegula in the quarter-finals. The 29-year-old had been in line for a precious first-time grand slam seeding at her home major until having to withdraw from the season-opening United Cup with a knee injury. As a result, Tomljanovic dropped two places in the rankings on Monday, the day the seedings were announced.

A star of Australia’s charge to last year’s Billie Jean King Cup final, Tomjlanovic enjoyed her finest season in 2022. In addition to famously ending Serena Williams’ decorated career in New York, she became the first Australian woman since former world No 1 Evonne Goolagong Cawley in 1979 to reach the quarter-finals at both Wimbledon and the US Open in a calendar year.

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