Alex de Minaur says he’s ready for anyone after drawing explosive Canadian Milos Raonic in the Australian Open first round in Melbourne.
The hottest player on the planet, de Minaur has avoided any potential showdowns with the world’s top four heavyweights until at least the quarter-finals.
But Australia’s 10th seed still faces a treacherous path to progress that far.
Despite languishing at No.317 in the world as he returns from a wretched two-year battle with injury, Raonic poses a huge early threat to the home hope.
The former Wimbledon finalist and one-time world No.3 boasts one of the fiercest serves in tennis and is capable of throwing even the best players off their rhythm.
Should he survive the gruelling opener, de Minaur will play either Italian Matteo Arnaldi or Australian wildcard Adam Walton in round two.
The 24-year-old’s first slated seeded opponent is Chile’s world No.18 Nicolas Jarry in the third round, with Russian fifth seed Andrey Rublev potentially awaiting in the last 16.
If de Minaur makes the quarter-finals of his home slam for the first time, after falling in the fourth round the past two years, he could strike Italian fourth seed Jannik Sinner.
But he’s not projected to run into world No.1 and 10-time Melbourne Park champion Novak Djokovic – who starts against a qualifier – until the semi-finals.
With wins over Djokovic, world No.6 Alexander Zverev and the 12th-ranked Taylor Fritz at last week’s United Cup, plus an exhibition victory over Open second seed and reigning Wimbledon champion Carlos Alcaraz on Wednesday night, de Minaur is riding a wave of confidence.
“It has been a goal of mine for a while to make the deep end of the slams and the bigger tournaments,” de Minaur said before Thursday’s draw at Melbourne Park.
“Hey, why not this Australian Open coming up?
“I will be ready to go against whoever I’ve got to play.
“It’s no secret that every single person in the draw is a quality player, so ultimately whoever I draw it’s going to be a tough match, and there’s tough matches all around.”
The draw threw up two all-Australian first-round match-ups for the first time since 1995: Alexei Popyrin versus Marc Polmans, and Aleksandar Vukic against Jordan Thompson.
Of the leading Australian women, three-time grand slam quarter-finalist Ajla Tomljanovic will play Croatia’s Petra Martic in the first round.
If Tomljanovic wins, a match-up with either 11th seed Jelena Ostapenko or fellow Australian Kim Birrell awaits.
Daria Saville takes on Pole Magdalena Frech and could meet either two-time champion Naomi Osaka or 16th seed Caroline Garcia in the second round.
The Osaka-Garcia showdown is among several spicy first-round women’s encounters.
World No.1 Iga Swiatek faces an early litmus test against unseeded 2020 champion Sofia Kenin.
In a loaded top section of the draw, Swiatek is likely to play the winner of another heavyweight battle between 2016 champion Angelique Kerber and Danielle Collins, runner-up to Ash Barty two years ago.
Third-seeded 2023 finalist Elena Rybakina also has a challenging opener against former world No.1 Karolina Pliskova.
WHO THE AUSSIES FACE IN THE AUSTRALIAN OPEN FIRST ROUND (PREFIX DENOTES SEEDING):
10-Alex De Minaur v Milos Raonic (CAN)
Alexei Popyrin v Marc Polmans
Chris O’Connell v Cristian Garin (CHI)
Aleksandar Vukic v Jordan Thompson
Thanasi Kokkinakis v Sebastian Ofner (AUT)
Adam Walton v Matteo Arnaldi (ITA)
James McCabe v Alex Michelsen (USA)
Max Purcell v qualifier
Rinky Hijikata v 24-Jan-Lennard Struff (GER)
James Duckworth v Luca Van Assche (FRA)
Jason Kubler v Daniel Elahi Galan (COL)
Ajla Tomljanovic v Petra Martic (CRO)
Daria Saville v Magdalena Frech (POL)
Kim Birrell v 11-Jelena Ostapenko (LAT)
Olivia Gadecki v Sloane Stephens (USA)
Taylah Preston v 19-Elina Svitolina (UKR)