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Nadal and Thiem set for superstar Brisbane battle

1 January 2024, by Vivienne Christie

Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem are well acquainted with the big stages of tennis, with each boasting Grand Slam titles in their expansive records.

On Tuesday evening, they meet in the first round of Brisbane International 2024 – underlining both the overall calibre of competition at this tournament, and the resilience of the enduring superstars.

Nadal, a wildcard recipient in Brisbane, has been absent from the tour since January, due to a hip injury that required surgery. Thiem, who came through qualifying, is steadily rebuilding form and confidence after a serious wrist injury decimated his 2021 season.

The players are familiar opponents, having met 15 times throughout their professional careers; Nadal leads the head-to-head record 9-6, claiming two of those victories in the Roland Garros 2018 and 2019 finals.

RELATED: Nadal declares he is “ready to compete” at Brisbane International

Thiem, however, is a winner of their last two matches – one of them in the Australian Open quarterfinals in 2020, when he went on to contest the third of his four Grand Slam finals.

The Austrian arrived in Brisbane this summer at world No.98 in the rankings, but consecutive wins in the qualifying tournament – including match points saved against James McCabe in the opening round – are a reminder of his former world No.3 credentials.

Nadal, at age 37 and ranked No.672, has warned that his comeback from injury is “a little bit unpredictable”.

“I don’t have the expectations that I used to have in the past, especially for the beginning (of the season),” explained the 22-time Grand Slam champion. “It’s obvious, no? It’s one year. It’s surgery. It’s not a long period of time practising in a decent level.”

Yet just as the 30-year-old Thiem has been delighted to compete in earlier matches at the Queensland Tennis Centre, Nadal is happy to be back in Brisbane.

“I decided to be here on my comeback because I had positive feelings from the past,” said Nadal, who last competed at Brisbane in 2017, exiting against Milos Raonic in the quarterfinals in his last match in Brisbane.

“I wanted to come back in a place that was familiar for me and place that bring me back to good memories.”

The Tuesday evening meeting between Thiem and Nadal is not the only clash that will captivate fans in Brisbane.

> VIEW: Brisbane International 2024 day three order of play

Sebastian Korda, the No.5 men’s seed, opens play on Pat Rafter Arena against Germany’s Yannick Hanfmann.

Australian Open 2020 women’s champion Sofia Kenin then takes on Australian wildcard Arina Rodionova, who launched her Brisbane campaign with a thrilling first-round victory.

Two-time Brisbane International women’s champion Victoria Azarenka also takes to Pat Rafter Arena, in a second-round clash with Anna Kalinskaya.

Several all-Australian encounters will also play out in a big day three in Brisbane.

Jordan Thompson and Aleksander Vukic will meet in a battle of the Sydneysiders – and the pair’s first at ATP-level.

Thanasi Kokkinakis, meanwhile, brings mixed feelings into a first ATP match against Rinky Hijikata.

“As an Aussie, you’d rather play someone that’s not from your home country and hope you can all get through,” said Kokkinakis, who is ranked world No.65 compared to No.71 Hijikata.

“(But) that’s tennis. You never know who you are going to play. We’ve got a lot of good Aussie players coming through, a lot in the top hundred. Rinky has had a great year. I’m expecting a tough match, for sure.”

There’s no doubt similar sentiment for Kim Birrell and Olivia Gadecki in the women’s draw, who close out the night session on Pat Rafter Arena.

Birrell, a wildcard recipient, and qualifier Gadecki are both proud Queenslanders and have happy memories of this tournament.

“It’s really special. (I’ve) spent so many hours out on the practice courts here. It’s basically like a second home,” Birrell told media.

“I think as Aussies, we’re so pumped to be able to start the year at home … I can’t wait to play in front of my friends and family.”

> BUY NOW: Tickets for Brisbane International 2024