The first slam of the year is upon us with Novak Djokovic looking to0 win his first Australian Open in three attempts and seventh overall. The Serbian is back to his best and looks ready to dominate on tour, with a chance to further extend his lead as World No. 1 with a title. This year also sees the introduction of the fifth set tie break in the men’s event with a match tie break being played at 6-6, the same format being used in main tour doubles events currently.
Full draw here: Australian Open Men’s 2019 Draw
Novak Djokovic goes into the tournament as the clear favourite due to his successes here and his return to form as the best player in the world. There shouldn’t be too much concern about his semi final exit in Doha with him having played enough matches to get back into the swing of things for the season. In terms of his draw, it is hard to pinpoint what would be a majorly tough draw for the Serbian given his dominant run of form and the his performances on hard courts over his career. However, there are several players who could trouble him for at least a set in the earlier rounds. A returning Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is a wildcard here and could face Djokovic in the second round. It would be a repeat of the 2007 final in Melbourne, which Djokovic won in four sets. Denis Shapovalov and Daniil Medvedev are both seeded and could play him in the third and fourth rounds respectively. The pair are two of the better up and comers on the tour and this match would provide them with a great opportunity to showcase their talents in front of a major audience over the first weekend of the tournament.
A quarter final with Kei Nishikori seems the most likely outcome with that section of the draw weak on potential threats. Pablo Carreno Busta is a grand slam semi finalist but had barely played since a retirement at last year’s US Open. Fabio Fognini and Philipp Kohlschreiber are the other potential seeds in a quarter final situation, who may see a big opening to go far with very few stand outs in the way of them and a spot in the last 8. Nishikori should match his career best quarter final once more but will have his work cut out should he play Djokovic. The Japanese star has just 2 wins in 17 against the top seed.
Alexander Zverev will hope to build on his title at the ATP World Tour Finals with what many would hope to be a career best run to the semi finals at least. The German has more than showcased his talents over best of three but has found it difficult to convert that to the best of five format. He has not yet made the fourth round in Australia and has just one quarter final to his name – toughing out several five setters to get there last year in Paris. It could have been much worse for him in the draw but there should be a fascinating fourth round match up should he get there. There are multiple former slam finalists in that part of the draw with former champion Stanislas Wawrinka joining Milos Raonic while Nick Kyrgios and Hyeon Chung will also feel they can advance from this section. Kyrgios and Raonic face off in one of the most intriguing matches of the first round, especially if both are at their best.
Dominic Thiem is another for whom a career best run should be the target here. He has yet to make the quarter finals in two of the slams, including this one. It’s clear his best performances come on clay but he should be still favoured to beat most players outside of the top 10 on this surface, specialists aside. The two biggest threats facing him before the quarter finals look to be Lucas Pouille and Borna Coric. He is 3-1 against Coric but the Croatian has been on a major rise over the past year and now finds himself as a top 12 seed at this event. He held wins over Federer, Del Potro and Zverev last season but was bested on both occasions by Thiem, including at the Paris Masters late last year.
The third quarter of the draw has a number of strong contenders but the big story for now is that it may possibly be the final match that Andy Murray plays. The five-time finalist announced his upcoming retirement before the tournament and wishes to end his career at Wimbledon but should the pain prove too much, it could be that his last match comes in defeat to Roberto Bautista Agut. Having just defeated Novak Djokovic in Doha, the Spaniard will be confident of a good run here – although his 1-4 record against potential fourth round opponent Marin Cilic has to remain a concern. The Croatian was a losing finalist last year and will need a good run to ensure he doesn’t lose too many ranking points. Karen Khachanov is the one to look out for in this section though with the Paris Masters champion a top 10 seed and will look to showcase his talents once more in Melbourne. Khachanov’s record at hard court slams so far leaves a lot to be desired. He has just one third round between the Australian and US Open in the five main draws he has played at them.
Roger Federer will hope to repeat his victory of last year but his No.3 seeding makes that job slightly tougher with the possibility of having to beat Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal on the cards. His dominant record over Cilic will see him hope the Croatian makes it to the quarter finals, a place that shouldn’t be too difficult for Federer to make himself. He will be hoping to bounce back from what was a disappointing second half of the season by his standards. He did not make a final at either Wimbledon or the US Open or pick up one of the three Masters 1000 events that he played. The projected fourth round match up with Stefanos Tsitsipas will excite many with the Greek earning a lot of fans last year, in part due to his wins over some of the big names on tour.
The final quarter of the draw is led by Rafael Nadal, who still harbours hopes of regaining the No.1 spot in the rankings. It would require a title and Djokovic departing early for that to happen but you can never write off the former for the Spaniard. However, not playing since New York has to be a concern for him – especially when also withdrew from the warmup in Brisbane at the start of the year. He hopes that the thigh issue that kept him out will be solved come next Monday, where he should be able to ease himself in with a fairly comfortable draw. A third round with Alex de Minaur feels like the first opportunity for him to be in danger but this match happened at Wimbledon and it was extremely one sided in Nadal’s favour. Kyle Edmund is the highest seed Nadal could play in the first four rounds but the Brit has struggled for consistency, most recently losing in Brisbane to a player ranked outside the top 180 in Yasutaka Uchiyama.
Nadal would still be comfortable favourites against both of them but the big serving duo of Kevin Anderson and John Isner will be happy with the introduction of the match tiebreak in fifth sets. It means that neither player will be drawn into too lengthy matchups like the one they had at Wimbledon last year. They are projected to meet in the fourth round and should they do so, one player will achieve a career best at the tournament. Both players are getting better as they grow older and this tournament provides a great opportunity for a deep run once more, especially fifth seed Anderson. Grigor Dimitrov looked to have kickstarted his career a few years back, playing a tough semi final with Nadal, but it continues to stall. The Bulgarian opens his tournament against Janko Tipsarevic, who uses his protected ranking to enter the event despite having not played since late 2017.
Prediction – Novak Djokovic over Roger Federer in the final