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By Richard Pagliaro | Sunday, January 16, 2022


Naomi Osaka has won two of the last three AO titles and 22 of her last 23 matches in Melbourne, but suffered an ab injury in her tune-up tournament.

Photo credit: Getty

Novak Djokovic is out and the Australian Open is on.

Nine-time AO champion Djokovic, who has captured the last three Melbourne titles, suffered his biggest loss in Australia’s Federal Court on Sunday.

More: Djokovic Loses Appeal, Deported from Australia

A trio of judges voted unanimously to uphold the decision of Immigration Minister Alex Hawke and cancel the 34-year-old Serbian’s visa for a second time.

Djokovic, who was given a medical exemption to play the AO on December 30th after testing positive for Coronavirus on December 16th, was escorted by Australia’s Border Force to a private plane where he flew out of the nation to Dubai.

It is a major defeat for the world No. 1 who now faces the prospect of a three-year ban from Australia and uncertain competitive future if he opts to remain unvaxxed.

“I respect the Court’s ruling and I will cooperate with the relevant authorities in relation to my departure from the country,” Djokovic said in a statement. “I am uncomfortable that the focus of the past weeks has been on me and I hope that we can all now focus on the game and tournament I love.”

Twenty-time Grand Slam champion Djokovic has lost the opportunity to play for a record 21st- men’s major championship in Melbourne.

Meanwhile, rival Rafael Nadal, who is vaccinated and on the comeback after pulling the plug on his 2021 season last August, now won’t have to face Djokovic in the top half of the draw as he launches his quest for a men’s record 21st Grand Slam crown.

Clearly, there are many unanswered questions, including how does Djokovic sustain a playing career as one of only three unvaccinated men in the ATP Top 100?

Will Djokovic’s controversial departure, which has divided some in the tennis world, cast a shadow over this 110th edition of the Australian Open?

The good news is opening day of the AO offers several compelling clashes and the Grand Slam return of defending women’s champion Naomi Osaka.

ESPN’s exclusive AO coverage begins at 7 p.m. Eastern time tonight on ESPN.

Here’s what we’ll be watching.

See the Full AO Day 1 Order of Play Here

Osaka Back “As Good As I Can Be in This Moment”

(13) Naomi Osaka (JPN) vs. No. 50 Camila Osorio (COL)
Head-to-head: First meeting

Naomi Osaka has won two of the last three Australian Open crowns and has won 22 of her last 23 matches in Melbourne.

How will the four-time Grand Slam champion respond coming off a strained abdominal muscle in the Melbourne Summer Set tune-up?

“I heal quite fast. I'm as good as I can be in this current moment,” Osaka told the media in Melbourne. “But I also think, like, athletes, we have niggles all the time. It's kind of impossible to play a slam without feeling something. Yeah, I'm just aware of that and I'm aware that, like, you can't be perfect all the time.”

This is Osaka’s first major match since 18-year-old Leylah Fernandez dethroned defending US Open champion Osaka 5-7, 7-6(2), 6-4 in a stunning upset in the Flushing Meadows third round. If the court is playing as fast as players say and Osaka is healthy look for her to try to put the hammer down in this return.

Rafa Time

(6) Rafael Nadal (ESP) vs. No. 66 Marcos Giron (USA)
Head-to-head: First Meeting

The King of Clay launches his quest to become Grand Slam king.

Rafael Nadal stands seven match wins away from a men’s record 21st Grand Slam title, but he hasn’t played a major match since bowing to Djokovic in the Roland Garros semifinals last June.

Furthermore, the 35-year-old Spaniard, who warmed up for the AO winning his 89th career championship at the Melbourne Summer Set, has played only three matches in the last six months. How will his cranky foot respond to the rigors of best-of-five match play?

“That's the main thing for me, accept that you are moving sometimes a little bit slower, sometimes you are going to miss, sometimes things are not coming that quick and that automatic,” Nadal said. “You need to think more about how to play, about shots, about technical stuff. But is about time. I know that.”

Giron is a tough, hard-working aggressive baseliner, but Nadal has never lost an AO match to an opponent ranked as low as the 66th-ranked American.

The 2009 AO champion has won his AO opener in 15 of his prior 16 appearances with his lone first-round loss coming to Fernando Verdasco back in 2016. Nadal’s only other major opening-round loss was a 2013 Wimbledon setback to Steve Darcis.

We know Rafa is a creature of habit so he will require reps to get sharp. The good news for Nadal fans is the two-time Olympic gold-medal champion has spent his entire preparation playing on these Melbourne Park courts and already has a title under his belt before his first AO match.

The serve will be key of course for the Spaniard to set up first-strike forehands. Nadal says he’s approaching this potentially historic AO with humility.

“You need to forgive yourself the mistakes and be humble enough to accept the process, accept that sometimes things not going to go that way, and to accept there is, of course, bigger chances to lose,” Nadal said. “Accepting that, then is the moment to move forward, to play with the best attitude possible, better than ever, then just try to play as good as possible to give yourself chances.”

All American Showdown

(11) Sofia Kenin (USA) vs. No. 51 Madison Keys (USA)
Head-to-head: Keys leads 2-1

The 2020 AO champion Kenin tries to regain the confidence and pinpoint aggression that propelled her to two major finals and WTA player of the year honors just two years ago.

Keys owns the firepower to hit any woman on the planet off the court and showed it knocking of Elina Svitolina, Coco Gauff and Alison Riske en route to winning the Adelaide title—her first WTA crown in more than two years.

Suspect shot selection can cause Keys to hit herself into oblivion, but she played with more discipline and showed more joy on court in her title triumph and knows she can beat Kenin because she’s done it twice.

Tactically, how will Kenin, one of the sharpest returners, handle Keys' crackling flat serve and confounding kick serve?

One of four former AO champions in the field, Kenin is playing just her third tournament since last July and will be short on match play and confidence.

A pressure match anytime you face a compatriot in a Grand Slam compounded by the fact both of these women have the skills to win Slams but both face severe pressure in this tough opening rounder.

Indian Wells Champ vs. Rising Star

(12) Cameron Norrie (GBR) vs. No. 43 Sebastian Korda (USA)
Head-to-head: Korda leads 1-0

After falling to talented teenager Carlos Alcaraz in his US Open opener, Cameron Norrie unleashed some of the best tennis of his life becoming the first British man in history to win Indian Wells.

The left-handed Briton is highly disciplined, a fierce competitor and can unsettle opponents mixing his loopy lefty topspin forehand with a flat firecracker two-handed backhand.

The 21-year-old Korda, who exudes easy power off both wings and can crack the backhand down the line with the best of them, beat Norrie 6-3, 7-5 in their lone prior meeting on the Delray Beach hard courts last year.

Since then, the 6’5” Korda, son of 1998 AO champion and lefty shotmaker Petr Korda, has added some sting to his serve and is trying to be more assertive on that shot. Korda followed in his dad’s footsteps winning the 2018 AO boys’ crown.

Korda announced he tested positive for Coronavirus in Adelaide on January 5th and was quarantining in his hotel when he found playing wall ball can be a painful game. Oopsie.


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