After two weeks of warm up tournaments, it is time for the first Grand Slam of the year in Melbourne. The Australian Open kickstarted great years for the two finalists there last year with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal both ending up with two slam titles in a 2017 that was injury riddled for both Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray. Djokovic will be participating as 14th seed while Murray’s hip surgery seems him absent for the foreseeable future.
Full draw here: Australian Open men’s draw
While Roger Federer remains bookmaker’s favourite for the tournament, it is Nadal that holds the No.1 seed with Federer at No.2. It’s always the commonly held belief with Nadal that he is at his most vulnerable early on in slam draws and on this occasion, there looks very little to trouble him in week 1. Victor Estrella Burgos and Leonardo Mayer are early on while John Isner is a potential round four opponent although the 16th seed is no guarantee, having often struggled with the best of 5 format at grand slams.
Having beaten him at Wimbledon, Gilles Muller would go into a potential quarter final with confidence although it is hard to see the Luxembourger making it that far on this occasion. The seeds more likely to make advance to the quarters are Pablo Carreno Busta and Marin Cilic. Cilic had career best runs at two of the four slams last year but in Australia, he has been unable to match his semi final run of 8 years ago. A 1-5 record against Nadal suggests that he will be hoping for some good luck prior to the quarters. Busta’s career year sees him slot in at the 10 seed but he will potentially have it tough against one of the wildcards to begin his tournament. Jason Kubler was a junior No.1 and played at his home slam as a 16 year old but injuries have ruined his career to date. In his latest comeback, he has made it into the top 250 and won the Playford challenger as a qualifier earlier this month. Losing Brisbane finalist Ryan Harrison will also hope to take his good form into Melbourne.
With a 4-3 40-15* lead in the deciding set of last year’s semi final, Grigor Dimitrov will have been disappointed to have not been in his first slam final. However, that match and run suggested he is finally ready to become a contender at slams on a regular basis. The ATP Finals winner is seeded third and will play two qualifiers on his way to the third round. Very few matchups have interest but were Bernard Tomic to qualify and face Dimitrov, that is a potential blockbuster match for Rod Laver Arena. Dimitrov’s potential quarter final matchups look kind on paper but with a host of young names before that, he will need to be very careful. Andrey Rublev beat him at the US Open last year while the winner of Denis Shapovalov and Stefanos Tsitsipas could also give him a run for his money. The leading name though is Nick Kyrgios. The 17th seed beat Dimitrov on his way to the Brisbane title and will be backed by a supportive home crowd once more.
Jack Sock‘s admirable late season surge and performance at the ATP Finals has provided him with the opportunity for his first grand slam quarter final, which he should be expected to make as the highest seed in his 1/8 of the draw. His biggest threat is probably another man who hit a career milestone last year in Kevin Anderson. The South African was a losing finalist at last year’s US Open, the first slam final of his career. Anderson is 2-2 against Sock, with the last meeting being a comfortable straight sets win at Washington last year. Denis Istomin is a potential round two opponent for Anderson although the giantkilling from the Uzbek last year appears to just have been a fluke result rather than reflective of any improvements in his game.
The third quarter of the draw has the potential for fireworks but it ultimately depends on the fitness levels of the top players with doubts surrounding a number of them. 5th seed Dominic Thiem will be expected to improve on his career best of 4th round here although his best results continue to occur on the clay. Thiem’s projected third round opponent will be Adrian Mannarino but it is the fourth round with Stanislas Wawrinka that will provide the excitement if the Swiss is fit. Wawrinka called an early end to his season last year, having not played since Wimbledon last year. It will likely take some time for the rust to wear off but if ready, he will take a lot of confidence from his current 3-1 record against the Austrian.
Wawrinka and Novak Djokovic have had some epic encounters in Australia over the years with two matches going into extra games the most notable. Djokovic’s readiness for elite level player is also under question with his elbow issues still nagging him. In order to lighten the load, he has modified his service motion which will add further question marks as to what the Serbian will offer this month. “I feel like I spend less energy but I’m more efficient,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to trying out my new serve.” Gael Monfils could be a nightmare for Djokovic in round two if he is not 100% but otherwise it is the matchup with Alexander Zverev in round four that stands out. Zverev got the best of Djokovic in their one outing last year, winning in Rome. Despite his career 2017, the pressure is on Zverev to prove he can do it at the highest level. The 4th seed has yet to make a quarter final at a grand slam but a win over Djokovic would be a perfect way to break that duck.
The final quarter of the draw contains the defending champion Roger Federer, whose 2 slam titles last year saw him move to 19 overall and to maintain the lead he has over Rafael Nadal in that respect. The Swiss is favourite to retain and definitely seems the player most likely of the top 4 seeds to definitely make it to the semi finals. Federer did not play a warmup tournament this year but instead chose to compete at the Hopman Cup instead. He and Belinda Bencic were victorious in the mixed team event, beating the German team of Angelique Kerber and Alexander Zverev in the final. Federer can match Djokovic’s 6 Australian Open titles were he to be victorious here, another record to add to his still growing legacy. His draw looks fairly kind with Richard Gasquet the first seeded opponent possible. He is 16-2 against the Frenchman while a fourth round with Sam Querrey or Milos Raonic is perfect for Federer, who will likely enjoy picking at both player’s hefty serves.
Juan Martin Del Potro is finally back in the top 10 after so long, a great thing to see after the Argentinian fought back from so many awful injuries. There isn’t a great deal of room to manoeuvre up the rankings for him unless he makes the final four with David Goffin leading him by over 1000 points in the live rankings. Funnily enough, they can play in the fourth round if both players make that far. Del Potro has an intriguing lead in to that matchup with Frances Tiafoe and Karen Khachanov amongst the top Next Gen players while Alex de Minaur has been making a name for himself this month in Brisbane and Sydney. The young Australian has a great chance against Tomas Berdych, another player who has been low on matches played at the back end of last year and the beginning of this. The Czech lost his 1 match in Doha, falling in three sets to Jan Lennard Struff.
SF: Nadal def. Dimitrov
SF: Federer def. Djokovic
F: Federer def. Nadal