Australian Open Mens Singles Draw Breakdown and Predictions

Australian Open Preview
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Trust the inimitable Ogden Nash to say it like it is,

“Athletes, I’ll drink to you,
Or eat with you
Or anything except compete with you…”

Here we are then, at the start of the new year and new tennis season: sunshine and popcorn at the ready Down Under while the northern hemisphere braves winters. For it is us onlookers who have perhaps missed the action more than the gladiatorial professionals themselves who would definitely appreciate a longer off-season.

World No. 1 and top seed Novak Djokovic enters the year’s first major—the Australian Open—as an overwhelming favorite, despite his last three defeats in competitive play, most recently to the pugnacious Roberto Bautista Agut, and then two more—towards the end of 2018—to youngsters (or NextGen, as ATP Tour calls them) Sascha Zverev and Karen Khachanov.

While one may be tempted to put in an asterisk against Djokovic’s favorite status, because the losses to the young pretenders came in finals, let us not forget that a Grand Slam is a different animal altogether. And facing the Serb on hard courts over five sets is one of tennis’ ultimate tests, which is what fourth seeded Zverev could well find out should the duo face off in the semis.

Six-time champion and two-time defending champion Roger Federer, the number three seed, may only count himself among the “top 10 favorites”, but is being viewed by most experts as Djokovic’s main challenger, and if they do meet in the final, the eventual champion would have a record 7 Australian Open titles.

Poetic it was then that the Swiss landed in the opposite half of the Serbian, giving scribes even more to write home about: a potential ‘Fedal’ semi-final.

Lest we forget, 17-time major champion Rafael Nadal is on the hunt for an elusive second crown on the Plexicushion Prestige surface—one that would mean the Spaniard would have won at each of the sport’s four flagship events at least twice – but the Spaniard has had to withdraw mid match from his last two hard courts slams (AO ’18; USO ’18) so scribes may be denied their Fedal part 39.

So, how did the draw play out and what lies in store for the top four? The Tennis Review editor Christian Deverille and sports analyst Karthik Swaminathan @Lord_Kartz) present their points of view below.

First Quarter:

Headlined by the top-ranked Serbian, who begins his quest for a fifteenth grand slam against a qualifier (tbd), this section comprises shot-makers old and young.

Djokovic could face an old foe who is making a comeback, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, in the second round, before an exciting third round against Denis Shapovalov.

Daniil Medvedev (15), the towering Russian who reached the final in Brisbane (l. Kei Nishikori), might lie in wait in the fourth. The Russian, who led the 2018 ATP tour in hard court wins (37), is one of the trickier last 16 opponents Djokovic could have drawn and an opportunity for the Serbian to reassert himself against the younger prospects in the game.

Brisbane winner Kei Nishikori, who stopped an ignominious nine-match losing streak in title bouts, is Djokovic’s scheduled last eight opponent. He will need the awesome returning he showed in that Brisbane run if he is to survive Ivo Karlovic in round 2. In round 3, he could meet veteran Philipp Kohlschreiber. Fabio Fognini is scheduled for round 4, but few will be relying on the dynamic Italian to meet his seeded position meaning Nicolas Jarry or Pablo Carreno Busta could find themselves in a position to challenge the Japanese.

David Goffin (21) is the dark horse in this section. His potential last 32 match vs Medvedev could be one of the matches of the first week.

Christian’s pick: Djokovic is less of a favorite for me this year than he was in his pomp. But, Djokovic doesn’t have to be as good as he was – he just has to be better than everyone else right now, which he will likely prove to be in best of five sets in Melbourne.

Karthik’s pick: Novak Djokovic; writing off the Serb in a major would be a costly, costly mistake. While Shapovalov and Medvedev are among the most exciting talents to rise up the ranks, the World No. 1 has one skill which is perhaps beyond their reach: his defence, which is backed by a mind that no longer doubts itself.

Second Quarter:

Having not gone past the third round in three of the four majors, Australia being one of them, Alexander Zverev (4) will be on a mission to reach the semis of a slam for the first time. Only this time, he will be venturing out into the unknown coming off his biggest title—the World Tour Finals—and with Ivan Lendl in his corner.

The German’s quarter brims with young talent such as
Hyeon Chung whom he lost to last year and could meet again in the fourth round, unseeded Nick Kyrgios (another potential fourth-rounder) and Borna Coric (11) (possibly in the quarterfinal), who has been drawn the dangerous Marton Fucsovics in round 2, a match no one will want to miss if it happens.

Zverev’s drawn Alex Bedene in round 1, could face Jeremy Chardy in round 2, and will be tested in round 3 if he meets 29th seed Gilles Simon. In the fourth round, it’s Milos Raonic (16), but few will be shocked to see Stan Wawrinka, who outmuscled Khachanov and Jarry in Doha, waiting for him.

Sascha’s dear friend Dominic Thiem (7) stars in the far end of the section, but fast hard courts are not Thiem’s favorite, and Benoit Paire or Mischa Zverev have a good chance to upset the Austrian in rounds 1 or 2 respectively.

Marton Fucsovics, who ran Djokovic so close in Doha a couple of weeks back, is the dark horse who could go far in this section.

Christian’s pick: Marton Fucsovics.

Zverev is still a little unproven at slam level- his one run to a quarter-final was anything but convincing – so this quarter is wide open.

Fucsovics seems the best candidate to take advantage of that- he is supremely fit which will help him in the brutal conditions and has the powerful ball striking game to succeed on the surface.

Karthik’s pick: Sascha Zverev; if not now, when? Surely then. What is perhaps most striking is the assurance Sascha showed in London, against some of the best the sport has seen. He became just the fourth player ever to beat Federer and Djokovic in succession. Not a small feat by any means.

Third Quarter:

The tournament could see a rematch of last year’s final in the quarters as Federer and Marin Cilic (6) take their positions as the highest ranked players in an explosive third section.

The Swiss commences his campaign for a record-extending 21st grand slam against the mercurial Denis Istomin, who memorably ousted Djokovic on these very courts two years ago. Possibly lying in wait in succession are Gael Monfils (30) (third), Stefanos Tsitsipas (14) (fourth) and either Khachanov (10) or Cilic or the red hot Bautista Agut (22) (quarterfinal).

Defending finalist Marin Cilic won’t be going under the radar at the Australian Open this year after drawing home hope Bernard Tomic in round 1, Russian big hitter Andrey Rublev potentially in round 2 (or Mackenzie McDonald who ran Dimitrov so close last year), Fernando Verdasco (26) in round 3, and Karen Khachanov in round 4. It’s exhausting just thinking about it.

The returning Andy Murray finds himself in this quarter and opens against the Doha champion. Murray shocked the tennis world by announcing this Australian Open could be his last tournament. The five time AO finalist has been suffering with his hip and was tearful making his announcement. He’ll be proud if he goes down to Bautista Agut, though, who lost his mother last season and has show tremendous spirit to lift his game to its recent heights.

Christian’s pick: Bautista Agut. He’s full of confidence, very fit, and fast hard courts are where his skills really shine.

Federer did play well in the Hopman cup, but that was an exhibition event, so how his serve and forehand, which were as vulnerable as they have been in a while post Indian Wells, will hold up under the pressure of Grand Slam tennis is a big question mark.

Karthik’s pick: Roger Federer; yes, it can get tricky. Yes, he can make things hard for himself. And yes, he isn’t growing any younger. But on a medium-fast court and with a ball that pops around, high bounce or not, trust the magician to show why he is considered one of the greatest ever.

Fourth Quarter:

Nadal (2), who is returning from surgery and is testing a new serve, could well cause multiple heartbreaks to the home crowd as three of his first four potential opponents—James Duckworth, Matthew Ebden and the rapidly rising Alex de Minaur—are Australians.

Kyle Edmund or Diego Schwartzman are potential fourth round match-ups. Edmund may fall victim to the resurgent Tomas Berdych in the first round, however.

One of last season’s biggest success stories, Kevin Anderson (5) who triumphed earlier this year in Pune, could present a tall order should the pair face off in the quarterfinal. Kevin Anderson faces Adrian Mannarino in round 1, Frances Tiafoe, in round 2, Steve Johnson (31) in round 3 (or Andreas Seppi) and John Isner (9) in the last four. If that match happens, the final set tiebreak at 6-6 might be seen as a wise decision indeed.

Christian’s pick: Kevin Anderson. Anderson is the ultimate tennis professional and this is a nice draw for him to knuckle down and get on with powering through.

Karthik’s pick: Kevin Anderson; the gentle giant doesn’t just possess a killer serve. He has made his game more solid and doesn’t hesitate to unleash his forehand to create openings.

Christian’s predictions for the semis and final:

Semis:

Djokovic d. Fucsovics: Djokovic’s experience will out, though if their US Open and Doha matches are anything to go by, there’ll be some brutal and hairy moments.

Anderson d. Bautista Agut: Anderson’s serve will make the difference here, and the final set tiebreak will work in his favor.

Final

Djokovic d. Anderson: This will be a better match than the Wimbledon final, but the result will be the same.

Karthik’s predictions:

Semis:

Djokovic d. Zverev: Order will be restored.

Federer d. Anderson: Wimbledon will be avenged.

Final:

Djokovic d. Federer: Call it more mental between the two, but no one, not even Federer, will stop Djokovic from making the Australian Open his own.

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Christian Deverille

Christian Deverille is a tennis writer with a diploma in Freelance Sports Writing from the London School of Journalism. He loves all things tennis, most of all the Federer and del Potro forehands.
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