Rafael Nadal avoided meeting a seed first up at his comeback tournament after drawing a qualifier in the Brisbane International, with Russia’s Aslan Karatsev a potential second-round opponent.
The 37-year-old Spaniard has been out of the game for almost 12 months following hip surgery after the 2023 Australian Open in January.
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It was feared that Nadal, the winner of 22 Grand Slam singles titles, would never play professionally again.
However, Nadal has fought his way back and was granted a wildcard to the season-opening Brisbane International in preparation for the first Grand Slam of the year at Melbourne Park beginning January 14.
While Nadal missed out on facing a seed, there are plenty of accomplished players competing in Brisbane qualifying, including 2020 US Open champion Dominic Thiem and former world number eight Diego Schwartzman.
If Nadal advances, he will play eighth-seeded Karatsev or Australian wildcard Jason Kubler in the second round, with fourth seed Ugo Humbert lurking as a potential quarter-final opponent.
Britain’s Andy Murray drew second-seeded Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov in an intriguing first-round clash.
Murray is a two-time winner of the Brisbane International, and beat Dimitrov in the final in 2013.
In the women’s draw, four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka will be pitted against Germany’s world number 84 Tamara Korpatsch in the opening round as she makes her highly anticipated return.
The Japanese star, who gave birth to daughter Shai in July and has previously struggled with her mental health, has not played since September 2022.
If she sees off Korpatsch, she will face three-time Brisbane champion Karolina Pliskova in the second round.
World number two Aryna Sabalenka received a first round bye.
Nadal played four matches in January and did not compete for the rest of the season due to a psoas muscle injury.
Nadal, who has spent 209 weeks atop the Pepperstone ATP Rankings in his career, will chase his 93rd tour-level title at the ATP 250.
It is the second time he will compete in Brisbane. Nadal played the tournament in 2017, when he reached the quarter-finals behind wins against Alexandr Dolgopolov and Mischa Zverev. He lost to then-World No. 3 Milos Raonic.
Brisbane top seed Holger Rune will open his season against aggressive Australian Max Purcell. Third seed Ben Shelton, who took the ATP Tour by storm in 2023, will launch his year against Wimbledon quarter-finalist Roman Safiullin.