Rafael Nadal hopes Alexander Zverev's withdrawal from the Mexico Open will "serve as a lesson" for him and other players when it comes to controlling their emotions on the court.

The world number three was pulled out of this month's tournament in Acapulco following an outburst where he hit the umpire's chair with his racquet in a tirade following a doubles defeat.

The ATP subsequently barred him from competition for a second-round singles clash, with several leading players, including Novak Djokovic, condemning the German's actions.

Speaking ahead of his own quarter-final this week, Nadal - who won a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam in at the Australian Open last month - stated he hoped the 24-year-old and other young players would learn that such behaviour is not acceptable.

"It's unfortunate, without a doubt," the Spaniard said. "I feel sorry for him as I have a good relationship with Alexander.

"In the end, he deserves the sanction because you can't act in this way.

"I think Sascha is aware of that and I hope this will serve as a lesson for him and for other young players who sometimes lose control on the court.

"I am not going to enter into what is or is not fair in terms of sanction," Nadal said. "But in the end you have to stop that type of attitude from becoming fashionable."

Zverev had been due to face Peter Gojowczyk in a singles encounter before he exploded at the end of his match with partner Marcelo Melo against Lloyd Glasspool and Harri Heliovaara.

Following an over-ruled decision from the umpire that handed the latter pair match point in a super tie-break, the duo decided the game with an ace the very next serve.

That led to Zverev smashing his racquet against the umpire's chair on multiple occasions in quick succession, punctured by a foul-mouthed tirade.

The Tokyo 2020 champion subsequently apologised for his behaviour. The Mexico Open continues until February 26.

Novak Djokovic condemned the actions of Alexander Zverev, but expressed his support for the world number three after he was "withdrawn" from the Mexico Open for hitting the umpire's chair with his racquet.

Zverev was enraged during a doubles clash with partner Marcelo Melo against Lloyd Glasspool and Harri Heliovaara, after the umpire over-ruled a decision from the line judge.

That subsequently handed Glasspool and Heliovaara match point in the super tie-break, which was decided by an ace on the next serve.

Zverev quickly walked off and smashed his racquet against the umpire's chair three times, before shouting at the umpire that he had "destroyed the whole f****** match" and striking the chair again.

The German was then withdrawn by the ATP due to "unsportsmanlike conduct" ahead of a second-round singles meeting with Peter Gojowczyk.

The Olympic champion has apologised for his actions, explaining his regret at letting his fans, the tournament, and the sport that he loves down, and Djokovic believes Zverev will learn from his mistake.

"I saw the video, I saw Sascha's [Zverev] statement," Djokovic told reporters at a news conference after cruising into the quarter-finals of the Dubai Tennis Championships.

"I think he said it all in that statement. He realises that it was a mistake. I understand the frustration. Sometimes on the court, you feel in the heat of the battle lots of different emotions, different things happening in your head.

"I've made mistakes in the past where I've had tantrums on the court, so I understand what the player is going through. Of course, I do not justify his actions, but that statement has handled it in the right way. 

"He said he made a mistake and his actions were not appropriate. I think that the disqualification decision was not too harsh, I think it was correct under the circumstances. 

"Of course, it can be harsh for a player to get disqualified from a tournament. I know a year-and-a-half ago, I had something - I can't say similar - but I was disqualified from a grand slam after unintentionally hitting the line umpire.

"I realised that it was a mistake and I had to take it. Hopefully, he can reflect on that and not let something like that happen again in his life. I'm sure that he's going to approach it maturely."

Djokovic enjoyed a much calmer outing in Dubai, where he overcame Karen Khachanov in just 98 minutes 6-3 7-6 (7-2) to tee up a quarter-final tie against qualifier Jiri Vesely.

He was then keen to stress that Zverev is not the first player to produce a raging response when on the court, and insisted that the 24-year-old will recover from the outburst.

"I'm sure that the ATP management and officials will look at the video, will probably interview the chair umpire, will take some time to decide what they want to do," he added.

"I'm never going to encourage the ATP disqualifying or fining a player because I'm not in a position to do that, why would I do that? 

"Everyone is a human being, everyone is flawed and can make mistakes, but I wouldn't say that he was the only one that ever has done something like that. 

"There were many examples of players hitting their racquet in the umpire's chair. It happens. Bottles, bags were thrown, a lot of things, a lot of bad words. It's not the only case."

Alexander Zverev has apologised for his outburst at the Mexico Open that saw him "withdrawn" from the singles competition for attacking an umpire's chair. 

Zverev and Brazil's Marcelo Melo were in a super tie-break against Lloyd Glasspool and Harri Heliovaara when they were angered by a call made by the umpire, who overruled a decision from the line judge.

Glasspool and Heliovaara subsequently profited by delivering an ace on match point, which was followed by Zverev quickly walking off and smashing his racquet against the umpire's chair three times.

The world number three then shouted at the umpire that he had "destroyed the whole f****** match" before striking the chair again.

Zverev was due to be in second-round singles action against Peter Gojowczyk, but the ATP Tour confirmed the Olympic champion had been removed from the draw due to "unsportsmanlike conduct".

Former world number one Andy Murray condemned the 24-year-old's "reckless" outburst after his loss to Jannik Sinner, and Zverev has now apologised unreservedly for his raging response.

"It is difficult to put into words how much I regret my behaviour during and after the doubles match yesterday," Zverev wrote on Instagram on Wednesday. 

"I have privately apologised to the chair umpire because my outburst towards him was wrong and unacceptable, and I am only disappointed in myself. 

"It just should not have happened and there is no excuse. I would also like to apologise to my fans, the tournament, and the sport that I love.

"As you know, I leave everything on the court. Yesterday, I left too much. I am going to take the coming days to reflect – on my actions and how I can ensure that it will not happen again. I am sorry for letting you down."

Alexander Zverev has been "withdrawn" from the singles competition at the Mexican Open in Acapulco after attacking the umpire's chair at the end of his defeat in the doubles.

Zverev and Brazil's Marcelo Melo were in a super tie-break against Lloyd Glasspool and Harri Heliovaara when they were angered by a call made by the umpire.

A return on Melo's serve seemed to be called out by a line judge, but the umpire overruled the decision to put Glasspool and Heliovaara 9-6 up and give them match point, a subsequent ace ending the match in their favour.

As the pairs shook hands at the net afterwards, Zverev quickly walked off and smashed his racquet against the umpire's chair three times.

He then shouted at the umpire that he had "destroyed the whole f****** match" before striking the chair once more.

Zverev was due to face Peter Gojowczyk in the second round of the singles, but the ATP Tour confirmed the Olympic champion has been removed from the draw.

A brief statement read: "Due to unsportsmanlike conduct at the conclusion of his doubles match on Tuesday night, Alexander Zverev has been withdrawn from the tournament in Acapulco."

Alexander Zverev saved two match points and battled back to salvage a dramatic victory over Jenson Brooksby at the Mexican Open in what was the latest finish in tennis history.

Second seed Zverev – the defending champion in Acapulco - wrapped up a dramatic win at 04:55 local time after his own lengthy contest had followed two other epic three-setters earlier on the schedule.

Zverev at one stage looked like he was on the way out but ultimately triumphed 3-6 7-6 (12-10) 6-2 to book a second-round tie against Peter Gojowczyk.

The German had beaten Brooksby in a match that also went to a decider when they clashed at Indian Wells in October and he was pushed to the limit again in a battle lasting 200 minutes.

Having dropped the first set, Zverev had to fend off three break points at 3-3 in the second and saved match points at 6-5 and 10-9 down as part of an epic tie-break that went in his favour. 

Zverev was then more comfortable as he broke twice in the decider to seal victory, his American opponent paying the price for converting just one of his seven break-point opportunities in a match that made history for its late finish.

The previous latest ATP finish time was Lleyton Hewitt's 2008 Australian Open clash with Marcos Baghdatis, which ended at 04:34 local time.

Elsewhere, Stefan Kozlov overcame cramps in the second set to outlast Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov 7-6 (10-8) 5-7 6-3, with that match lasting three hours and 21 minutes.

John Isner sent down 29 aces and saved a match point as he trailed 5-2 in the third set, ultimately winning 7-5 6-7 (4-7) 7-6 (7-3) over veteran Fernando Verdasco in another epic topping the three-hour mark that helped to push back the start time for Zverev and Brooksby.

Seventh seed Taylor Fritz got past Frenchman Adrian Mannarino 6-3 6-3, while Dusan Lajovic knocked off Sebastian Korda 6-4 4-6 7-5 and eighth seed Pablo Carreno Busta beat Oscar Otte in straight sets.

At the Chile Open in Santiago, eighth seed Facundo Bagnis won 6-3 6-0 over Bernabe Zapata Miralles in the round of 32.

Brazilian Thiago Monteiro got past local Nicolas Jarry 7-6 (11-9) 6-4, while qualifier Juan Ignacio Londero and wildcard Thiago Seyboth Wild also progressed.

Alexander Zverev saved a match point and battled back to salvage a dramatic victory over Jenson Brooksby at the Mexican Open in what was the latest finish in tennis history.

Second seed Zverev – the defending champion in Acapulco - wrapped up a dramatic win at 04:55 local time after his own lengthy contest had followed two other epic three-setters earlier on the schedule.

Zverev at one stage looked like he was on the way out but ultimately triumphed 3-6 7-6 (12-10) 6-2 to book a second-round tie against Peter Gojowczyk.

The German had beaten Brooksby in a match that also went to a decider when they clashed at Indian Wells in October and he was pushed to the limit again in a battle lasting 200 minutes.

Having dropped the first set, Zverev had to fend off three break points at 3-3 in the second and saved a match point at 6-5 as part of an epic tie-break that went in his favour. 

Zverev was then more comfortable as he broke twice in the decider to seal victory, his American opponent paying the price for converting just one of his seven break-point opportunities in a match that made history for its late finish.

Elsewhere, Stefan Kozlov overcame cramps in the second set to outlast Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov 7-6 (10-8) 5-7 6-3, with that match lasting three hours and 21 minutes.

John Isner sent down 29 aces and saved a match point as he trailed 5-2 in the third set, ultimately winning 7-5 6-7 (4-7) 7-6 (7-3) over veteran Fernando Verdasco in another epic topping the three-hour mark that helped to push back the start time for Zverev and Brooksby.

Seventh seed Taylor Fritz got past Frenchman Adrian Mannarino 6-3 6-3, while Dusan Lajovic knocked off Sebastian Korda 6-4 4-6 7-5 and eighth seed Pablo Carreno Busta beat Oscar Otte in straight sets.

At the Chile Open in Santiago, eighth seed Facundo Bagnis won 6-3 6-0 over Bernabe Zapata Miralles in the round of 32.

Brazilian Thiago Monteiro got past local Nicolas Jarry 7-6 (11-9) 6-4, while qualifier Juan Ignacio Londero and wildcard Thiago Seyboth Wild also progressed.

Alexander Bublik claimed his first ATP Tour title with a stunning straight-sets victory over Alexander Zverev in the Open Sud de France final.

The 24-year-old went into Sunday's match without a career win over a top-five opponent and having lost two finals in a career-best season in 2021.

He was not to be denied this time, however, powering his way to a 6-4 6-3 win over the world number three in Montpellier in just one hour and 10 minutes.

The Kazakhstani lost just four points behind his first serve throughout the match, the only blip coming when he handed Zverev a break back to love after moving 3-2 ahead in the first set.

After regaining the advantage, Bublik survived two more break points before closing out the opener and the pressure only increased on the Zverev serve in the second set.

Bublik broke to love to lead 3-2 and again in the final game as Zverev's resistance wilted.

He can now look forward to rising to a career-high place in the rankings when the updated list is published on Monday.

Alexander Zverev will face Alexander Bublik in the Open Sud de France final after easing to victory over Mikael Ymer on Saturday.

The top seed is seeking a 20th tour-level title and has yet to drop a set in his three matches in Montpellier after beating Bublik 6-1 6-3.

Ymer eliminated Gael Monfils and Richard Gasquet en route to the semi-finals, but the world number 83 struggled against Zverev in his third straight loss to the German. 

Zverev was triumphant in his last appearance in this tournament five years ago and is the strong favourite heading into Sunday's final with Bublik.

"I am in the final and I am happy about that," Zverev said in his on-court interview. "I played a pretty good match. I think I played one bad game in the whole match. 

"Overall I am happy to be in another final, playing against Alex who I have known since I was 12 years old, so hopefully it will be a fun match."

Bublik also claimed a routine win in his semi-final against Filip Krajinovic, the sixth seed prevailing 6-4 6-2 in a little over an hour.

The 24-year-old is through to his fifth ATP Tour final, having most recently gone all the way at the Singapore Open last February, where he lost to Alexei Popyrin.

At the Tata Open Maharashtra, Mikael's older brother Elias Ymer squandered three match points to lose 5-7 7-6 (7-4) 7-5 to Joao Sousa in Pune.

The Swedish qualifier had defied the odds to make it to the semi-finals and took the opening set against Sousa, before recovering from 4-1 down to level up the second set 4-4.

But Sousa edged the tie-break and survived three match points in the 10th game of the deciding set, which he would go on to win.

Sousa will face Emil Ruusuvuori in Sunday's final after the world number 87 overcame Kamil Majchrzak 6-3 7-6 (7-0) earlier in the day.

It marks the first tour final that Ruusuvuori has reached, while Sousa is in the hunt for a fourth title at this level.

Alexander Zverev breezed into the semi-finals of the Open Sud de France by beating home favourite Adrian Mannarino for the loss of just one game.

The world number three needed just 50 minutes to swat aside Mannarino 6-1 6-0 to set up a last-four match with Mikael Ymer.

Champion at this event in 2017, Zverev's record in Montpellier moved to 9-1 and he has now won seven matches in a row against Mannarino.

Ymer, the world number 83, squandered one match point in his contest with Richard Gasquet but eventually came through 7-5 6-7 (6-8) 6-1.

The best entertainment came in the earlier match between Alexander Bublik and Roberto Bautista Agut, sixth seed Bublik eventually coming through 6-4 2-6 7-6 (7-4) after just over two hours on court.

He will face Filip Krajinovic for a place in the final, the Serbian having beaten Damir Dzumhur in straight sets.

At the Tata Open Maharashtra, rising Italian star Lorenzo Musetti was surprised by world number 95 Kamil Majchrzak.

The Pole, who defeated Musetti's compatriot Andreas Seppi at the Australian Open in straight sets, won 6-2 6-7 (5-7) 6-4 to set up a semi-final against Emil Ruusuvuori.

The other semi-final sees Joao Sousa, into the last four at Tour level for the first time since St Petersburg in 2019, face Elias Ymer.

 "I think I played a great match," said Sousa after beating Daniel Altmaier in straight sets. "I was very solid. I knew it was going to be a tough match, so I was prepared to run a lot."

Top seed Alexander Zverev returned to winning ways after a surprise fourth-round Australian Open exit when he won his first match at the Open Sud de France on Thursday.

The German world number three was bounced out at Melbourne Park by Denis Shapovalov in straight sets, but he navigated his way safely past Mackenzie McDonald to reach the quarter-finals in Montpellier.

A largely dominant Zverev won 6-2 7-6 (7-5) to set up a clash with Adrian Mannarino in the last eight, and the 24-year-old highlighted how important he felt it was to quickly get back in the swing of things after disappointment in Melbourne.

"I'm going to give myself the best chance to do well in this tournament. But obviously, I'm happy to be back here," he said of the tournament he won in 2017.

"This is a place I really enjoy coming back [to]. After the Australian Open that I had, I wanted to play tournaments before my scheduled tournaments in Acapulco, Indian Wells and Miami. I said Montpellier is the perfect fit for that, and I'm happy to be here."

The same cannot be said for Gael Monfils, who suffered a crushing 6-1 6-2 defeat to Mikael Ymer on home soil.

The Swede was practically flawless throughout, winning a whopping 83 per cent of points on first serve and 89 per cent on second, with Monfils never even sniffing out a single opportunity to break back.

Richard Gasquet is a force to be reckoned with in Montpellier and reached another quarter-final, seeing off South Korean's Kwon Soon-woo 7-5 6-4.

Frenchman Gasquet reached six consecutive finals in Montpellier while in his prime years, being crowned champion in 2013, 2015 and 2016, and finishing runner-up in 2014, 2017 and 2018. Now 35, his last quarter-final appearance in an ATP main tour event came in August at Winston-Salem.

Gasquet's fellow Frenchman Mannarino sank the hopes of defending champion David Goffin, scoring a sparkling 6-4 6-2 victory.

Fourth seed Nikoloz Basilashvili, who lost twice to Andy Murray in Australia last month, this time fell to world number 152 Damir Dzumhur of Bosnia-Herzegovina, sliding to a 6-1 5-7 6-2 defeat. Basilashvili, the world number 21, now has a record of played five, lost five, for the 2022 season.

At the Tata Open Maharashtra in Pune, there was a surprise defeat for Russian top seed Aslan Karatsev. Karatsev won a title in Sydney last month before losing to Mannarino in the third round of the Australian Open, and in his first match since that disappointment he slumped 6-2 7-6 (7-3) to Swedish qualifier Elias Ymer.

Three seeds joined Ymer in the quarter-finals, with Jiri Vesely, Emil Ruusuvuori and Stefano Travaglia all making smooth progress without dropping a set. Vesely faces Ruusuvuori on Friday, while Travaglia awaits Ymer.

Denis Shapovalov said it is a privilege to be facing Rafael Nadal in the Australian Open quarter-finals after his win over Alexander Zverev, who conceded "everything" went wrong.

Zverev had been looking sharp in Melbourne over the last week, with the world number three not dropping a single set en route to the last 16.

Yet the Olympic gold medallist was on the end of a straight-sets loss on Sunday as he went down 6-3 7-6 (7-5) 6-3 to Shapovalov.

Zverev made 32 unforced errors, five fewer than Shapovalov, and managed to convert only two of five break points, with the German winning 46/67 first-serve points.

Asked what went wrong, Zverev bluntly told reporters: "Everything.

"It's no one else's fault. It's not the coach's fault, it's not my team's fault, it's no one else's fault. It's purely me.

"As world number three, I have to take responsibility for the things I do and don't do.

"I give credit to Denis. It's incredible that he's in the quarters, I think he deserves it. He's done a lot of work, improved his game.

"But I've got to look at myself. Today was just, in my opinion, awful from my side."

Shapovalov had lost to Zverev in the ATP Cup earlier this month, but after Sunday's win the duo's head-to-head record stands at 4-3 in the latter's favour.

The 22-year-old Canadian will now face Nadal, with the 20-time grand slam winner having progressed to his 14th Australian Open final by defeating Adrian Mannarino.

Nadal holds a 3-1 head-to-head record against Shapovalov, though this will be the first time the pair have met in a major.

"It's always an honour to go up against a guy like Rafa," said Shapovalov after reaching his first Australian Open quarter-final.

"It's always going to be a battle against him. It's going to be a tough one and I'm definitely going to enjoy it."

Reflecting on just his second career win over a player in the top five, Shapovalov said: "I think off the ground I was playing really well, really feeling my shots off both wings.

"I played pretty smart, it felt like things were going my way early on. I lost a little bit of momentum midway in the second set but fought well to come back and just kind of rolled with it after."

It was also the first time in the tournament that Shapovalov had not had to go to at least four sets.

"It's probably the one I least expected to finish in three. I'm very happy with my performance, definitely happy with where my game is at," he added.

An Olympic gold medal would be most athletes' prized possession, but Alexander Zverev's ownership has perhaps been a little more carefree – or it was until he found himself wondering if his brother had sold it on eBay.

Zverev claimed arguably the biggest title of his career last year when claiming gold in Tokyo, adding that to his 2018 ATP Finals success – he went on to repeat that triumph at the year-end tournament in Turin.

The German beat Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals at the Olympics before going on to defeat Karen Khachanov in straight sets to win the tournament.

That made him the first German man to win a gold in the singles and first to win any medal since Tommy Haas got silver 21 years earlier.

While some might tend to their gold medal on a daily basis, polishing it generously as it takes pride of place on the mantelpiece, it turns out Zverev has not actually seen his for a while.

His older brother Mischa has had it for a few months, leaving the younger sibling not even sure if it is still in the family's possession.

After beating Australian's John Millman to reach the third round of the Australian Open, Zverev was asked where he keeps his gold medal, to which he replied: "That's actually a good question because my brother took it for a media appearance.

"He didn't give it back to me yet. I don't know where it is for the past five months. Hopefully he hasn't sold it on eBay or something."

 

Zverev will presumably be a little more attentive to any silverware he claims in Melbourne this year, with the 24-year-old still chasing his first major.

Seeded third this month, Zverev is certainly considered one of the favourites after an excellent 2021 in which he won six titles, more than anyone else on the ATP Tour.

Zverev was initially on course to meet Djokovic in the semis, but the Serbian's absence means many will consider him the favourite to reach the showpiece from his side of the draw and he has made a solid start.

After dispatching fellow German Daniel Altmaier, Zverev saw off the tricky Millman, a big-serving Australian who understandably had the crowd's backing on Rod Laver Arena, coming through both games in straight sets.

"My tactic today was to hit the ball as slow as possible," he said. "That was my mindset going into the match, but hopefully I can hit it even harder next match and harder the next match after that.

"I could really feel that you guys have been locked down for two years. I'm prepared that everybody will hate me after the match. It's quite accurate and that's my mindset.

"I'll get a lot of boos and hopefully everybody will cheer against me. I'm kidding."

The tennis season has begun with Rafael Nadal, Ash Barty, Paula Badosa and Thanasi Kokkinakis among the champions at small-scale events in Australia.

Yet there has been one dominant story in the sport and little else has had a look-in in the lead-up to the Australian Open.

Now that Novak Djokovic knows his fate, there is the welcome prospect of eyes turning to matters on the tennis court, rather than the Federal Court.

With the action getting under way in Melbourne on Monday, Stats Perform looks at the main protagonists and what the numbers tell us about another high-stakes grand slam.

Djokovic absence blows open men's draw

As defending champion Djokovic heads for home, it is worth a reminder of how he has dominated this tournament.

Nine of his grand slam titles have come in Melbourne, and he has taken the trophy in each of the last three years, helping him cosy up alongside Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal on 20 majors, an all-time record they share. Of the 'Big Three', only Nadal is in the draw this year, with Federer currently on the injured list.

Djokovic has the highest win percentage in the Open Era (since 1969) at the Australian Open, among players with 20 or more wins (91.1 per cent – W82 L8). He was hoping to join Nadal (13 French Opens) and Margaret Court (11 Australian Opens) in the exclusive club of players to reach double figures for singles titles at one slam.

The Serb was also aspiring to become the first man in the Open Era to win four consecutive Australian Opens. It happened once before the tour turned professional, with Roy Emerson winning five in a row from 1963 to 1967. Djokovic has left Melbourne with the title every time that he has made it through to the semi-finals.

 

So who takes the title now?

Only Bjorn Borg (89.2 per cent) has a higher winning percentage in grand slam matches than Nadal (87.7 per cent) and Djokovic (87.5 per cent) in the Open Era, among players with 100 or more wins. So why not Nadal?

The 35-year-old and Djokovic have carved up 12 of the last 14 grand slam titles, Nadal winning four of those (three French Opens, one US Open). He is battling back from a foot injury lay-off and coronavirus, and might need to get the early rounds out of the way without undue stress to stand a chance at the business end.

The two exceptions in the Nadal-Djokovic sequence of slam dominance have come at the US Open, with Dominic Thiem winning in New York in 2020 and Daniil Medvedev triumphing at Djokovic's expense in last year's Flushing Meadows final. Thiem is not in Australia, but world number two Medvedev is, looking to become the third Russian man to win two slams, after Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Marat Safin.

The last man other than Federer, Nadal and Djokovic to secure back-to-back slam singles title was Andre Agassi (US Open 1999 and Australian Open 2000), but that is Medvedev's objective now, and he has the game to pull it off.

Nadal has reached at least the quarter-final stage in 15 of his last 16 grand slam appearances, winning six of those majors (four French Opens and two US Opens), so he may well be a factor.

Who else is in the frame? Alexander Zverev probably, having reached the quarter-finals in Australia in the last two seasons (SF in 2020 and QF in 2021). He won the Olympic Games and ATP Finals titles last year, so a grand slam is an obvious next step. He might want to keep double faults in check though, having served a tour-high 113 in slams last season.

Stefanos Tsitsipas reached the Australian semi-finals in 2019 and 2021, so throw him into the mix too, and Matteo Berrettini might be a threat. The Italian, a runner-up to Djokovic at Wimbledon in July, served more aces than any other player in grand slams last year (311 aces, 16.4 on average per match).

 

Others have more modest ambitions

Andy Murray is back at the Australian Open for the first time since 2019, when he lost in the first round against Roberto Bautista Agut in five sets and was more or less given his last rites as a tennis pro after the match, having indicated he was close to retirement.

The five-time Australian Open runner-up last won a match in this tournament in 2017, when he reached round four. A tough opener against Nikoloz Basilashvili awaits.

Spanish 40-year-old Feliciano Lopez will make his 80th appearance in a grand slam and become the second man in the Open Era with 80 or more appearances at the four majors, after Federer (81).

Do not expect an Australian to be men's champion, by the way. The last time an Australian reached the men's singles final was 2005, when Lleyton Hewitt lost against Safin, and the last home champion was Mark Edmondson in 1976.

Barty backed in stacked women's draw

For the first time since 1997, neither Serena nor Venus Williams will take part in the Australian Open. Yet the women's tour is in rude health, even without those great bastions.

Ash Barty is world number one and a standout pick for many, only enhancing her claims after winning an Adelaide International title in the run-up to this fortnight.

But there is staggering depth on the women's side at present, and Barty will face stiff competition.

Incredibly, the last five grand slam finals have featured 10 different women, and teenager Emma Raducanu's against-all-odds US Open triumph in September shows best of all that new stars are emerging.

Yet since 2000, only three non-seeded players have reached the women's singles final at the Australian Open: Serena Williams in 2007, Justine Henin in 2010 and Garbine Muguruza in 2020. 

Barty could become the first Australian to be women's champion since Chris O'Neil in 1978, and the first to reach the final since Wendy Turnbull lost to Hana Mandlikova in 1980.

The Queenslander is the top seed, and the last time the number one failed to reach at least the fourth round at Melbourne Park was in 1979, when Virginia Ruzici lost her opening match. Barty ended a long wait for an Australian winner of the women's title at Wimbledon last year, so why not closer to home as well?

 

Naomi Osaka is back, so what should we expect?

Truth be told, that's hard to know. Osaka took time out from tennis after the US Open to focus on her mental health and enjoyed hanging out with friends, before deciding she missed tennis enough to go back on tour.

She had three wins at the Melbourne Summer Set tournament recently before withdrawing from a fourth match, saying her body had "got a shock" from the intensity. As defending champion in the season's first major, she has a target on her back and will need to find a way to handle that.

Over the past six seasons, only Osaka has managed to win back-to-back grand slam singles titles among the women, and she has done so twice (US Open 2018 and Australian Open 2019, plus US Open 2020 and Australian Open 2021).

The last player to win back-to-back women's Australian Open singles titles was Victoria Azarenka (2012 and 2013), so it does not happen regularly.

Osaka has an 85 per cent win rate at this tournament: since 2000, only Jennifer Capriati (90 per cent) and Serena Williams (89 per cent) have had a higher win percentage in the main draw.

 

You want challengers to the big two? Try sticking a pin in the draw

The Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup, which goes to the champion, is a trophy that upwards of a dozen women will seriously believe they can win.

Aryna Sabalenka has reached the semi-finals of the last two slams but is mired in some kind of hellish serving groove, having made 74 double faults in her last four matches and lost the last three in a row.

Anett Kontaveit won a tour-high 39 matches on hard courts last year but has only been to one grand slam quarter-final – last year in Australia, losing to Simona Halep.

What about Ons Jabeur, who matched Kontaveit for a tour-high 48 wins across all surfaces last year? The Tunisian is queen of the drop shot, making 147 successful such plays on tour last year, more than any other player, and recently reached the top 10 in the WTA rankings for the first time.

Maria Sakkari reached two slam semi-finals last year, the first of her career, and the form of Barbora Krejcikova and Badosa in the past week in Melbourne marks them out as contenders. Both are recent fast-risers, Krejcikova already with a French Open title to show.

WTA Finals champion Muguruza could be the second Spaniard to twice reach the Melbourne title match, after Arantxa Sanchez Vicario (1994 v Steffi Graf and 1995 v Mary Pierce). Spain has never had an Australian Open women's singles winner: former French Open and Wimbledon champ Muguruza is an authentic contender.

Halep was runner-up to Caroline Wozniacki in 2018, a semi-finalist in 2020 and quarter-finalist last year, and a Melbourne Summer Set title was a handy warm-up for the Romanian. Consider her, too.

Monica Seles, in 1991, was the last player to triumph on her debut in the main draw, but she was already a grand slam winner (1990 French Open). Given the strength of the line-up, the prospect of a bolter coming through this field is unlikely, even if the example of Raducanu tells us anything is possible.

Novak Djokovic has won the last three Australian Open titles and lifted the trophy nine times in all, which means he arrived in Melbourne as a hot favourite to triumph again.

Yet even before the chaos of the last 10 days, this looked a tough Australian Open for Djokovic, given the likes of Daniil Medvedev and Alexander Zverev have recently taken his scalp in major hard-court matches.

There was no doubt he was a worthy favourite, but Djokovic's dominance of the first half of last season was followed by a series of painful defeats, weakening his standing at the top of the game.

When the men's singles draw was made on Thursday, only two former champions featured: Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, the 2009 winner.

Here, Stats Perform assesses the contenders to follow Djokovic onto the Melbourne Park throne.

NEXT NUMBER ONE? DANIIL MEDVEDEV

Last year's runner-up, given a sound pasting by Djokovic in a final that came nowhere close to matching expectations, has come a long way since that crushing blow. Russian Medvedev was the only man to beat Djokovic in a grand slam last year, doing so at the final hurdle of the final major, without dropping a set in the US Open title match. That denied Djokovic a calendar year sweep of the majors, which would have been the first time the feat had been achieved by a man since Rod Laver's 1969 complete set.

He also took the first set off Djokovic in the Paris Masters final in November, only to lose the match. What is clear is that Medvedev is amassing experiences against Djokovic: some good and some bad, but all surely massively helpful. He lost in their first three encounters but has won four of the seven since.

Progress like this is what repeat champions are made of. Medvedev has a 9-9 win-loss record when dropping the first set of matches over the past year, which shows he is not easily beaten. Only Djokovic (14-6) has a better record in that respect.

Medvedev has a 54-9 record on hardcourts over the past 12 months, has gone mightily close to hitting number one in the rankings, and might see a lot of that top step in the months and years to come. On the 52-week rolling list, he holds a 16-8 win-loss record against top-10 opponents, which is second only to Djokovic (22-5).

Should Medvedev pull off a second consecutive grand slam win, it would make him just the third Russian man to win two or more grand slam singles titles, after Yevgeny Kafelnikov (French Open 1996 and Australian Open 1999) and Marat Safin (US Open 2000 and Australian Open 2005).

The last player other than Federer, Nadal and Djokovic to secure back-to-back majors was Andre Agassi (US Open 1999 and Australian Open 2000).

 

OVERDUE SLAM INCOMING? ALEXANDER ZVEREV

The Olympic champion and ATP Finals winner is just lacking a grand slam title to confirm to the wider sporting world his status as one of the rising generation's preeminent performers. Zverev beat Djokovic in semi-finals en route to both of those big 2021 titles, and although he also lost three times to the 20-time major winner over the season, he took four sets off the man from Belgrade in those defeats.

Zverev is improving season on season, and if he avoids injuries or other tribulations in 2022 then he surely stands a strong chance of picking up that first slam before the year is out. He won six titles in all in 2021, more than any other singles player on the ATP Tour, and holds a 43-10 win-loss record on hardcourts on the 52-week rolling list.

When the draw was made, he and Djokovic were set on another semi-final collision course, and that prospect looked tantalising. Until recently so far apart, the gap has closed considerably, Zverev tallying victories that will have surely troubled the world number one.

NOT READY TO BE YESTERDAY'S MAN: RAFAEL NADAL

Because why the heck not? Nadal, at the age of 35, returned from a long foot injury lay-off with a title at the Melbourne Summer Set tournament this month, and if his record at the Australian Open is deemed unspectacular by some, the Spaniard himself takes great pride in his achievements.

Recently, in a Melbourne news conference, he was asked why he had not reached the semi-finals of the Australian Open since his title year, and Nadal swiftly put his questioner right.

"I am very sorry to tell you – I don't want to – but I have been in the final of 2012, '14, '17, '19," he said. "I got injured a couple of times here in my tennis career, so of course it's been a great tournament for me, and of course I had a lot of challenges in terms of injuries in this event. Sorry to correct you."

Polite as ever, but pointed. Nadal knows he has been successful in Australia and would surely not have returned this year if he felt there was no chance of another run to the final. He rightly takes issue with those who forget his feats. Remember, he, like Djokovic and Federer, sits on 20 grand slams.

Nadal reached the quarter-finals last year and lost from two sets up against Stefanos Tsitsipas, so he will want to banish that memory. There is little evidence of hard-court form beyond his win in a mediocre field last week in Melbourne, but he is Rafael Nadal and he wins tennis tournaments. At least one every year since 2004. A 6-8 record against rival top-10 players over the past 52 weeks is no great shakes, but you count out Nadal at your peril.

 

NEXTGEN OR NEXT NEW CHAMP? JANNIK SINNER

Tennis is such a generation game just now. The Big Three (Big Four, if you include Andy Murray) are in the twilight years of their careers, coming under long-awaited threat from the mid-twenties likes of Medvedev, Zverev, Dominic Thiem (absent from Australia), Tsitsipas and Matteo Berrettini.

Sinner is to the forefront of the pack of the next big group coming through (see also: Carlos Alcaraz, Lorenzo Musetti). At 20, the Italian is entering a big year in the context of his career. By the time Djokovic turned 20, he was sixth in the world, Federer was 14th on the day he left his teenage years behind, and Nadal was second. Progress comes at different rates.

Sinner was 15th in the rankings on his last birthday, in August, but has since dipped his toes into the top 10 and currently stands 11th. He won four ATP Tour titles in 2021, finished the year with a 49-22 record, and can reasonably be expected to kick on. The Italian has yet to majorly show up at the grand slams, with a Roland Garros quarter-final in 2020 his best run yet.

Expect that to change soon enough. Sinner is only 6-9 against top-10 players on the 52-week list, but he warmed up for the challenge that lies ahead in Melbourne with three straight-sets singles victories at the ATP Cup. His 42-14 record on hardcourts over the last year suggests the Australian Open should suit him as well as any slam.

Felix Auger-Aliassime pulled off a terrific win over Alexander Zverev to carry Canada through to the ATP Cup semi-finals.

After Great Britain beat the United States 2-1 earlier to stake a claim for a last-four spot, Canada's singles players rose to the challenge to see off Germany.

That meant disappointment for Dan Evans and the British team, with Canada progressing to a clash with Russia as winners of Group C.

Denis Shapovalov got the better of Jan-Lennard Struff in a tight tussle, the world number 14 beating 51st-ranked Struff 7-6 (7-5) 4-6 6-3, giving Auger-Aliassime a swing at Olympic Games and ATP Finals champion Zverev before a possible doubles decider.

The world number 11 duly got the better of third-ranked Zverev by a similar score to the opening singles rubber, winning 75 per cent of first-serve points as he came through 6-4 4-6 6-3 late at night in Sydney.

Great Britain had impressed in edging out the US team, with Dan Evans beating John Isner and then teaming up with Jamie Murray to see off Isner and Taylor Fritz 6-7 (3-7) 7-5 10-8 in a dramatic doubles decider. Fritz beat Cameron Norrie in the second singles rubber.

Daniil Medvedev played a pivotal role as Russia wrapped up a perfect 3-0 match record in Group B, beating Italy 2-1 to nail down their semi-final place.

Defending champions Russia, who also won the Davis Cup last year, were on the back foot early on against Italy after Jannik Sinner beat Roman Safiullin, but US Open champion Medvedev ground out a 6-2 6-7 (5-7) 6-4 win over Matteo Berrettini to take the match – and the battle for top spot in the group – down to a doubles decider.

Medvedev and Safiullin were given a stiff test by their singles foes on the doubles court but had just enough to beat Berrettini and Sinner 7-5 4-6 10-5.

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