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Nadal’s out, so who benefits in the top half of the Australian Open draw?
Now that Rafael Nadal has been eliminated, there is a big opportunity present in the top half of the men’s draw. Who will take advantage?
Now that Rafael Nadal’s title defence is officially over, there is a wide open feel to the top half of the men’s draw in Melbourne. Sure, Novak Djokovic anchors the bottom half, so there isn’t an air of chaos pervading in Melbourne, but the crater left by Nadal’s second-round loss to Mackenzie McDonald certainly does create some intriguing possibilities.
First, a look at the top half of the draw (as it currently stands on Day 3)…
Read on as we explore some of them…
Mackenzie McDonald – the disruptor
It was McDonald who caused the seismic disturbance in the draw with his 6-4 6-4 7-5 triumph over Nadal on Day 3. Now, can the unseeded world No 65 take advantage of his situation and parlay his victory into a deep run? McDonald has reached the round of 16 before, in 2021, when he was ousted by Daniil Medvedev in straights sets.
Frances Tiafoe – red hot and rising
Tiafoe did the honours in New York last September, sending Nadal tumbling from the US Open draw in the round of 16. The American is coming into his own as a force on tour and was considered a threat to push into the quarter-finals even with Nadal in the draw. Now that Rafa is out nothing has changed – keep an eye on Tiafoe.
Yoshihito Nishioka – the opportunist
The 31st seed has never been beyond the third round at a major. Standing between himself and the round of 16 in Melbourne is world No 216 Dalibor Svrcina and 65th-ranked McDonald – it’s an opportunity, to say the least.
Daniil Medvedev – the obvious child
Medvedev was a set from winning the title last year, and that’s a good thing. But a bad thing is this: He’s never been the same since. Can the Russian shake free from the doldrums and return to his Grand Slam juggernaut form in Melbourne? If he does he’s the player who has it in him not just to emerge from the top half, but to potentially win it all.
Stefanos Tsitsipas – the Greek freak
Tsitsipas was slated as a semi-final opponent for Nadal, if the seeds held (they did not). One gets the feeling that he would enjoy a showdown with Medvedev for a spot in the finals, but before he gets to the business end of the tournament, he’ll have to keep his eyes on the prize and not get over excited about the fact that Nadal is no longer in the draw. For Tsitsipas, the No 3 seed, it needs to be business as usual.
Cam Norrie – the underrated
Norrie was – by far – the best player at United Cup, notching wins over Rafael Nadal, Taylor Fritz and Alex de Minaur. The British No 1 has set his sights on bigger things at the Slams this season and here is a great opportunity staring him in the face. He is not in Nadal’s quarter so not a lot changes for him; Norrie will certainly face big challenges, but he can make it to the second week without facing a seeded player – that’s a start.
Felix Auger-Aliassime – learning how to win
Felix Auger-Aliassime used 2022 as his personal proving ground. The Canadian, who had lost his previous eight ATP finals, won four titles across a brilliant season and also played well at the Slams. He very nearly took out Rafael Nadal at Roland-Garros, and that is, well… something.
The test for Auger-Aliassime will be to take that next step and use the fuel of his myriad victories in 2022 as the impetus for a fairy tale run in Melbourne. It could have already started – Auger-Aliassime battled back from two sets down to stay alive on Day 3.
Jannik Sinner, Hubert Hurkacz, Karen Khachanov – because it’s there for the taking
The talents of all three aforementioned players are no secret. Not many consider Khachanov a threat to reach a Grand Slam final but those who witnessed his US Open run last year know better than to count him out. As for Sinner and Hurkacz, their inconsistency can be problematic, but both can play champion’s calibre tennis – and if they do it repeatedly in Melbourne, a big reward could be waiting.