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Rafael Nadal downs Dominic Thiem in surprise exhibition match

14 Enero 2018

Nadal's five-set defeat to Federer last year will go down as a true epic between two sporting greats, but the longest grand slam final in the Open era belongs to Djokovic and Nadal, who battled for five hours and 53 minutes in 2012.

The Federer fairytale has continued in 2018, with the record-setting 19-times grand slam champion opening his 20th season on tour with an undefeated run at the Hopman Cup in Perth.

In the women's bracket, Serena Williams will miss the Australian Open as she recovers from her pregnancy, but Venus Williams has an extremely difficult draw herself.

World number six Cilic won the opener but found his game not quite up to competitive level as Ebden sneaked out the second set and then won a tight third.

Organizers defended the decision to invite Sharapova to appear as the representative for the women's draw, with tournament director Craig Tiley saying the sanction was over and the 30-year-old Russian was there as a former champion.

But with Murray out until the summer, perhaps this will be the year of the newcomer.

"In my opinion, it's not about the crazy calendar", Rafael Nadal, back at No. 1, said in a recent interview.

He said: "I don't want to be overconfident".

Grigor Dimitrov has long been touted as the player most likely to break the 'Big Four' stranglehold.

Eight players retired from the first round at the All-England Club, including the opponents of Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic during the second sets of their matches on Centre Court.

Thiem, who made the fourth round at the Open last year, was confident he would be 100 per cent by his first match.

Dimitrov has been tipped to challenge in Melbourne after winning last year's ATP Finals in London, but there are two immediate threats to the Bulgarian in the form of mercurial home hope Nick Kyrgios (17) and entertaining Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (15).

This was Nadal's first match in a while.

"This is not normal", Federer told a crowd of hundreds of fans before the draw on Thursday at Margaret Court Arena.

Roger Federer will open his title defence against Slovenia's Aljaz Bedene and has a potential quarter-final with David Goffin in the Australian Open.

Canadian teenager Denis Shapovalov of Richmond Hill, Ont., who cracked the top 50 last year while beating the likes of Nadal and del Potro, makes his Australian Open debut when he takes on Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece. "I'll be fine for the Open".

Ninth seed Konta reached the semi-finals in Brisbane, although she was defeated in the first round in Sydney's warm-up event.

Rafael Nadal downs Dominic Thiem in surprise exhibition match