Juan Martin Del Potro‘s match with Jerzy Janowicz promised to be one of the best clashes in round one if the Argentinian’s wrist could hold up. Sadly, it forced his withdrawal prior to the tournament and the Pole will now face a lucky loser in Hiroki Moriya. It’s hard to predict what Gael Monfils will produce on a weekly basis but if he puts a good enough run together to make the semi finals, he will have to reverse one hell of a deficit against Djokovic if they meet. Monfils has won once – a futures match in 2004. Projected to make the quarters alongside Djokovic is Milos Raonic. The Canadian is fresh of a confidence boosting run to the Brisbane final in which he won a tight three setter against Kei Nishikori to make it there. Raonic was solid against those outside the top group of players last year, losing to Nishikori, Djokovic, Federer and Dimitrov at slams. If his serve is on, there is very little reason to expect he fails to make the last eight but once more his inability to manufacture much on return will hurt him a lot.
Quarter 2 – (5) Nishikori vs Wawrinka (4)
Last year’s winner Stanislas Wawrinka faltered a bit as the season went on but still did enough to add a Davis Cup title to his maiden slam. He got backed to winning ways with the title in Chennai without dropping a set but doesn’t quite look in the imperious form you think he’d need to defend his title. However, his draw looks far from terrible and should allow him to progress to week 2 with very little problem. Pablo Cuevas and Fabio Fognini are the highest ranked players in the way of him and the quarter finals although given that both are far more comfortable on clay, the likes of Vasek Popsisil and Alexander Dolgopolov look best placed to outperform their ranking.
David Ferrer was always seen as the top 4/8 seed that was most vulnerable at slams but would always grind his way through to the quarter finals at least. A Doha title shows he isn’t quite ready to go away and is solid enough to take advantage if the two higher ranked players in this quarter fail to take advantage. Both he and Gilles Simon are no stranger to lengthy matches and it could be a marathon if both players make their way to round three. Kei Nishikori finally looks ready to hang with the slam contenders after his US Open final run which included an incredible win over the best hard court player in the world. Unfortunately for the Japanese, he ran out of gas when it came to the final and it is fitness that is always the biggest question mark over Nishikori. In a few months, an opener against an unseeded Nicolas Almagro would scream danger but the Spaniard is likely far too rusty to trouble Nishikori over 5 sets in their match. That final run for Nishikori saw him face projected opponent Wawrinka at the quarter final stage, winning in five.
Quarter 3 – (7) Berdych vs Nadal (3)
Another injury and another loss to a lowly player have Rafael Nadal fans plenty worried coming into Melbourne but this is nothing new for the Spaniard who plays his way into tournaments and will probably be looking like a true contender if he makes it to the second week. Nadal has looked vulnerable in the first weeks of Wimbledon in years gone by but on a slower Melbourne court it is very difficult to see him losing early. Despite having 4 wins over Nadal (the lst in 2008), Mikhail Youzhny won’t be too confident coming into the match after an awful second half of 2014. Lukas Rosol awaits in round three if seeds hold but it is worth remembering that even with Nadal far from his best, it still required a superhuman performance from the Czech to defeat Nadal in five sets.
Nadal would be projected to play Richard Gasquet in round four, looking to extend his record to 14-1 over the Frenchman. The one win came 10 years ago in a Challenger. Kevin Anderson is the other seed in play here but will likely be sick of the sight of the other projected quarter finalist in this quarter – Tomas Berdych. In just 3 years, Berdych has amassed a 12-0 record over the South African. That is nothing to the current 0-17 run Berdych is on against Nadal which hasn’t looked in much danger in any recent meeting. Berdych finally ended his 7 year run of losing a first round slam match last year and won’t want to resume that when he plays Alejandro Falla. Berdych could possibly play a 2015 titlist in the third round with Viktor Troicki (Sydney) and Jiri Vesely (Auckland) facing off in round 1. Ernests Gulbis is the other dangerous seed in this quarter but an inspired bunch of Australians will stand in his way with a possible route to the fourth round of Thanasi Kokkinakis, Bernard Tomic and Samuel Groth.
Quarter 4 – (6) Murray vs Federer (2)
The final quarter could see a rematch of the 2010 final in which Roger Federer beat Andy Murray in straight sets. They also played at the event in 2013 and 2014 with the pair splitting the matches. The 2013 semi final victory was Murray’s only one against Federer in their last 5, with the most recent an embarrassing 6-0 6-1 loss at the World Tour Finals. Murray will be expecting much better and at least has a dominating victory over Nadal at Mubadala to give him confidence coming into the event, even if exhibitions are of little importance. Martin Klizan is his toughest potential opponent on the way to the fourth round but it will be tough there with Grigor Dimitrov likely awaiting. Dimitrov was dominant in their meeting at Wimbledon, winning 1, 6 and 2 on his way to the semi finals. Murray should expect to do better, especially given that he has always gone well in Australia. David Goffin squeezed into a top 20 seeding and the potential round three with Dimitrov should give a better idea of his chances of competing with top players after he was found wanting vs Wawrinka in Chennai.
Plenty of eyes will be on Nick Kyrgios in the final eighth of the draw after his emergence last year at Wimbledon but a deep run is far from a gimme here especially when he could face the opponent who ground him down in 4 sets at the US Open in Tommy Robredo. He would also have to face Ivo Karlovic who is fresh off a win against Djokovic a few weeks back. As for Federer, the route to the fourth round should be fairly straight forward. While he did lose to Robredo at the US Open in 2013, it was in the midst of his back problems which turned out to be far worse than the former Champ let on.