13/04/2024

Andy Murray celebrates his semi-final victory in Sydney. (Photo: Australian Open/Twitter)

Who are the must watch match-ups in the first round of the Australian Open men's singles draw? The Inner Sanctum has taken a look.

There’s been plenty of off-court drama regarding the men’s singles draw at this year’s Australian Open, but we’ve chosen five matches which will be sure to entertain on the court.

(21) Nikoloz Basilashvili (GEO) v Andy Murray (GBR)

Anyone who saw these two play in Sydney this week will know what an exciting prospect their first round match is at the Australian Open.

In a matchup of contrasting styles, the hard-hitting Georgian, Basilashvili, will be seeking revenge following his tight loss to Murray a few days ago.

Basilashvili is somewhat of an enigma with his high-risk, all-or-nothing play style. As a result, it’s hard to predict how he will perform or read too far into his recent results. Still, Basilashvili’s poor start to 2022 is striking, having gone 0-3 across the ATP Cup and Sydney event.

He’s reached the third round of the Australian Open twice but has overall underperformed at the Slams for a player pushing to break into the top 16.

Murray meanwhile is making yet another comeback from injury, although he has been buoyed by an excellent start to the year having reached the final in Sydney. There’s no doubting the Scot’s pedigree at Melbourne Park, having reached the final on five occasions.

Of course, the best of five set format creates additional challenges for any player, but especially someone with as many physical challenges as Murray.

The three-time Grand Slam champion will have to hit the ground running at the Australian Open if he is to overcome his dangerous opponent.

Andy Murray during his opening win in Sydney. (Photo: ATP Tour/Twitter)

Brandon Nakashima (USA) v (7) Matteo Berrettini (ITA)

Last year’s Wimbledon finalist Berrettini has only ever reached the fourth round at the Australian Open. The Italian will be eager to improve upon that record as he seeks to take his game to the next level in 2022.

Berrettini enjoyed a career-best year in 2021, finishing at a career-high rank of seven, winning two titles and only being stopped at three of the grand slams by a certain Novak Djokovic. After an indifferent ATP Cup in which he came away with a 1-2 record, the big-serving Italian should be fit and firing ahead of the Australian Open.

However, he has been dealt a relatively tricky hand in the shape of Brandon Nakashima as a first round opponent. The 20-year-old American also enjoyed the best season of his career in 2021, rising almost 100 spots in the rankings to finish the year ranked 68.

Nakashima lost in the first round of qualifying at the Australian Open last year, and spent significant time playing Challenger tour events.

His breakthrough came in July when he reached back-to-back ATP finals in Los Cabos and Atlanta, inspiring an excellent second half of the year with wins over the likes of Fabio Fognini, John Isner and Alex de Minaur.

Nakashima should provide a stern test for Berrettini, offering up a tasty first round clash.

Matteo Berrettini preparing for his tough first round clash in Melbourne. (Photo: Australian Open/Twitter)

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(24) Dan Evans (GBR) v David Goffin (BEL)

The kind of match which you’d expect to see in the third or fourth round, Evans vs Goffin should be a fascinating encounter.

The 31-year-old Brit has enjoyed an excellent start to 2022, securing three straight wins without dropping a set at the ATP Cup, followed by a run to the semi-finals in Sydney.

Evans’ 2021 was somewhat up and down, with a number of losing streaks balanced out with a semi-final run in Monte-Carlo (including a win over Goffin) and a title in one of the Australian Open warm up events to start the year. Evans clearly enjoys the conditions in Australia and his old-school game style is always a joy to watch.

His Belgian opponent is a former world number seven, but Goffin has endured a rough last few years largely due to injury. Now ranked 45, Goffin ended 2021 with six straight losses.

Still, he has shown promise to begin the new year by reaching the quarterfinals in Sydney before having to withdraw with injury.

Hopefully Goffin will be fully fit by the time of his match with Evans, with the Brit leading their head-to-head 2-0. 

(12) Cameron Norrie (GBR) v Sebastian Korda (USA)

Two of the tour’s most improved players in 2021, 12th seed Norrie would have hoped for a much kinder draw than the young American hotshot.

The son of 1998 Australian Open champion Pert Korda, Sebastian has risen steadily up the rankings over the last few years to now find himself inside the top 50. The 21-year-old secured his first ATP title last season and ended his year at the Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan, where he reached the final.

2022 will be his first main draw appearance at the Australian Open. Norrie was one of the more remarkable stories in 2021, finishing the year ranked 12 after multiple seasons floating around the 50-100 mark.

The 26-year-old’s grandest achievement was winning the Indian Wells title, by far the biggest of his career, and propelling him to an appearance at the ATP finals in Turin to finish the season.

Norrie’s unorthodox style may well prove troubling for his young opponent, although Korda won their one previous meeting at the start of last year, setting up a tantalising sequel.

Cameron Norrie following his title win at Indian Wells. (Photo: BNP Paribas Open/Twitter)

Emil Ruusuvuori (FIN) v (9) Felix Auger-Aliassime (CAN)

22-year-old Ruusuvuori has already made his mark in 2022, reaching the semi-finals in the Melbourne warm-up event, only to be defeated by Rafael Nadal.

The young Finn has been gradually establishing himself at ATP level, finishing the last two seasons ranked inside the top 100. A win over Alexander Zverev in Miami headlined what was a still an inconsistent 2021, however, Ruusuvuori was clearly on an upwards trajectory, securing the vast majority of his wins in the second half of the year.

Auger-Aliassime is clearly at a different stage of his career, having last week achieved a career high rank of nine following a successful ATP Cup campaign. Underlying just how good the Canadian is, he’s actually younger than Ruusuvuori at only 21 years of age.

He appears poised to translate his form onto the Grand Slam stage, as evidenced by his career-best Slam showing at the US Open last year where he reached the semi-finals.

Auger-Aliassime is comfortably the favourite heading into his matchup with Ruusuvuori, but plenty will be observing how the Canadian kicks off his Grand Slam season. Auger-Aliassime is one to watch in 2022, making his opening encounter against an ever-improving Ruusuvuori a fascinating prospect.

Felix Auger-Aliassime at the ATP Cup in Sydney. (Photo: ATP Cup/Twitter)

 

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