#16 seed Pablo Carreno Busta and #19 seed Grigor Dimitrov likely could not help but sigh after seeing the draw for the 2021 Australian Open. Finally, travel, quarantine, practice, and lodging rules are at least settled and the time has come for play. After all the hurdles to get to Day 1 with the protection of a seeding, Carreno Busta and Dimitrov arrive at Melbourne Park to find Kei Nishikori and Marin Cilic waiting for them.
While “the luck of the draw” literally is how tennis scheduling works, these are brutally tough first-round opponents for Carreno Busta and Dimitrov. Being seeded often insulates players from facing experienced and extremely high level talent in the first round. However, injuries, COVID disruptions, and dips in play have taken former World #3 Cilic and #4 Nishikori out of seeded status for the first Major of 2021. Still, they are dangerous world-class players. The unlucky draws may prove disastrous for Carreno Busta and Dimitrov.
Grigor Dimitrov vs Marin Cilic
World #43 Cilic holds a 4-2 career advantage over world #19 Dimitrov. In their last meeting, Dimitrov survived a five set marathon at the 2019 French Open. Cilic led 2-1 in sets before Dimitrov stormed back to claim their only Grand Slam matchup.
While Dimitrov nabbed their last match, Cilic holds a 3-0 record over the Bulgarian on outdoor hard courts like the one being used in Melbourne. In their only other match up in Australia, Cilic won in straight sets at Brisbane in 2014. Seeded players typically have “on paper” advantages in the first round at the Grand Slams. Not so for Dimitrov; what a draw.
Pablo Carreno Busta vs Kei Nishikori
Carreno Busta played six matches at the 2020 US Open. Nishikori played six matches in 2020. After completely different years, Nishikori now finds himself ranked #41 in the world, 25 spots behind the 2020 US Open semifinalist. Still, Nishikori is… well… Nishikori.
After missing most of 2020 with injuries, positive COVID tests, and a turbulent schedule, Nishikori returns to Grand Slam tennis. While his return has been hampered by strict quarantine rules in Melbourne, he is now ready to play.
The former World #4 knocked off Carreno Busta in their only previous meeting. Like this one, the match was contested at the Australian Open, two years ago. In a more fitting Round of 16 match up, Nishikori prevailed in a fifth-set tiebreaker. Carreno Busta will surely have his hands full with his very unlucky first round draw.
In between #15 seed Carreno Busta and #18 seed Dimitrov sits #17 seed Stan Wawrinka. Like his seeded peers, Wawrinka also heads into competition on Day 1. The Swiss will face world #108 Pedro Sousa. While any player in Melbourne is dangerous, Sousa only once cracked the top 100 in the world.
While Dimitrov and Carreno Busta may not like their luck, the Day 1 matchups should provide some great theatre. Someone will end the day unhappy, that is the luck of the draw. Literally.
Main Photo from Getty.