2015 Australian Open Men’s Qualifying Preview and Predictions
Chris De Waard, Tennis Atlantic
The start of the Australian Open main draw is nearby, but first we will have 128 players competing in the qualifying draw who will be battling it out for sixteen much wanted spots in that main draw.
Top 16 seeds (of 32 total)
1: Damir Dzumhur
2: Jurgen Melzer
3: Pierre-Hugues Herbert
4: Tim Smyczek
5: Andreas Beck
6: Nicolas Mahut
7: Aljaz Bedene
8: Jimmy Wang
9: Farrukh Dustov
10: Michael Berrer
11: Horacio Zeballos
12: Norbert Gombos
13: Alexander Kudryavtsev
14: Aleksandr Nedovyesov
15: Evgeny Donskoy
16: Adrian Menendez-Maceiras
First round match-ups to watch:
(2) Jurgen Melzer – Nicolas Jarry
Melzer has gone off the deep end since Wimbledon, going on a bad streak which saw his ranking plummet from inside the top 50 to outside the top 100. In his first match this year, against Martin Klizan in Brisbane, he did well to go up a set and a break, but after that he lost the plot and eventually got breadsticked in the third set. Nicolas Jarry has very limited experience on hardcourt, but the 19 year old is a very promising player who should be able to adapt. He already showed that in the qualifying draw of Sydney this weekend, when he took Viktor Troicki to 6-4 in the third set. Don’t get me wrong, Melzer should still be marked a solid favorite, but Jarry may well push him more than most people are expecting.
(18) Benoit Paire – Elias Ymer
Paire has been struggling with a knee injury for a while now, making his second comeback within a year at the Hopman Cup last week. He did reasonably well, not winning a singles match but keeping it respectable in all three of his losses against Andy Murray, Jerzy Janowicz and Marinko Matosevic. 18 year old Ymer is rising rapidly: only a year ago he was ranked #768 and he is now heading towards the top 200 at #212, after beating Igor Sijsling in the first round of Chennai last week. Paire is the favorite, but it won’t be easy.
(12) Norbert Gombos – James McGee
Can James McGee do it again? After his dream run at the US Open last year, where he qualified for a slam for the first time at the age of 27, he surely wants to repeat that qualifying run here. It’s not inconceivable. Gombos has always been the least comfortable on outdoor hardcourt and last week he lost to world #261 Matt Reid in the second qualifying round of Brisbane.
(20) Alexander Zverev – John-Patrick Smith
Zverev hasn’t looked comfortable ever since he made that dream run at Hamburg last year, reaching the semi-final out of nowhere. Since then he posted a 0-3 record in ATP main draws and 8-10 in qualifying and challengers. Smith has always performed above average in Australia and has a good chance of beating Zverev in front of a supportive home crowd.
Top seed Damir Dzumhur has a tricky opening round against Miloslav Mecir, but if he manages to survive that encounter another big hurdle potentially awaits him in #23 seed Rajeev Ram, who went through the qualifying draw in 2013 and beat Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in the first round before losing to Marin Cilic in the second. Ram has shown he knows his way around the Australian hardcourts, but nevertheless I still give Dzumhur the slight edge to get through this section.
In the second section the favorite has to be #17 seed Steve Darcis. He won the Noumea Challenger last week, beating world #44 Adrian Mannarino 6-3 7-5 in the semi-final, and he is quite clearly at a much higher level than his ranking suggests, which is so low due to an injury spell. #2 seed Jurgen Melzer might still be a tough nut to crack, but Darcis is a crafty player who can handle Melzer’s power. Although the matches were played all the way back in 2008 and 2011, Darcis leads the head to head against Melzer 2-0, which should be an indication of what is coming.
The third section is very interesting, with a couple of names who could advance. As mentioned, #18 seed Benoit Paire should be able to beat Elias Ymer, but in the final qualifying round a couple of very dangerous players might await. Most likely this will be #3 seed Pierre Hugues-Herbert, but youngsters Hyeon Chung and Ramkumar Ramanathan are in there with an outsider’s chance as well.
In the final section I will predict what may come as a surprise to most. #4 seed Tim Smyczek leads this section, but he has never convinced outside of America and I think #29 seed Luca Vanni will get the better of him. Vanni qualified into Chennai last week and went down to Ricardas Berankis in the first round after a long fight, 1-6 6-2 5-7.
To qualify from this quarter: (1) Dzumhur, (17) Darcis, (18) Paire and (29) Vanni.
The first section is difficult to predict. The seeds are #5 Andreas Beck and #24 Matthias Bachinger, but the unseeded players might well pull off an upset. You never know what Jesse Huta Galung is going to do, while Andrew Harris surprised with a semi-final at the Happy Valley Challenger last week. You also have Matthew Ebden, who was ranked in the top 70 a year ago, but has made a spectacular dive since, now being ranked #264. But perhaps the off-season helped him and he fixed his game. Nevertheless, I will predict Bachinger to get through. He actually played Beck last week in the qualifying draw of Doha, winning 7-6(1) 6-4. He also did well in his most recent Grand Slam experience, coming through the US Open qualifying draw last year to set up a second round encounter with Andy Murray.
The second section holds a lot of older players. 32 year old #6 seed Nicolas Mahut will square off with 35 year old Jan Hernych in the first round, for example. In the second round 32 year old Andre Ghem potentially awaits. Mahut landed a comfortable section and I think he will go through. He should be able to handle #27 seed Frank Dancevic.
After reaching the final of Chennai last week, Aljaz Bedene is quite clearly the overwhelming favorite to get through the third section. If you can beat two top 15 players, the Bradley Klahn’s of this world should be doable as well.
In the final section we will see if Ryan Harrison can continue his revival, after winning the Happy Valley Challenger last week. He faces countryman Wayne Odesnik in the first round and will likely face off with #8 seed Jimmy Wang for a place in the main draw. Harrison beat Wang 6-4 6-4 in the qualifying draw of Brisbane last year, so if he indeed is back, he should be able to repeat that victory.
To qualify from this quarter: (24) Bachinger, (6) Mahut, (7) Bedene and Harrison.
#9 seed Farrukh Dustov heads the first section, but I have to go with my countryman Thiemo de Bakker here. After not caring about the sport for a long time he looks to be on the right track again, pushing David Ferrer to the brink in Doha. De Bakker even started eating vegetables again, which he refused to do for years, so that tells you everything.
The man who overcame Rafael Nadal in heroic fashion last week, Michael Berrer, will try to get through the second section. He potentially faces the unpredictable Ruben Bemelmans in the second round, who could pose a threat. Robby Ginepri and #28 seed Hiroki Moriya face each other in the other half of the section, but this seems to be a cushy draw for Berrer, trying to qualify for the final Australian Open of his career.
#11 seed Horacio Zeballos leads the third section, but he is in awful form and isn’t even the favorite to get through his first round match against Marius Copil, let alone qualify. I would actually mark Copil the favorite to get through the entire section, which also features Philipp Petzschner and the earlier previewed couple of Alexander Zverev and John-Patrick Smith.
In the final section I’m going to predict another miracle run of James McGee, who after beating #12 seed Norbert Gombos will take care of a slumping #22 seed Somdev Devvarman, which is the ideal pairing of seeds for an unseeded player to make a run.
To qualify from this quarter: (21) De Bakker, (10) Berrer, Copil and McGee.
Rhyne Williams has shown some positive signs after a disappointing 2014, qualifying into the main draw of Brisbane. He faces #13 seed Alexander Kudryavtsev in the first round, who hasn’t been in the best shape lately. An in-form Williams should be able to overcome him, followed by #19 seed Yuichi Sugita in the final qualifying round. Sugita had a bad start to the season, losing 6-4 6-2 to world #270 Guilherme Clezar in the first round of the Noumea Challenger.
The second section offers a perfect opportunity for unseeded Lukasz Kubot to get through. The Pole had a great run at Brisbane, getting through the qualifying draw and beating world #16 Kevin Anderson in the first round, before falling to Sam Groth in the second round after a third set tiebreak. The seeds in this section are Aleksandr Nedovyesov and Iliya Marchenko, both of which Kubot should be able to handle in his current form.
The third section is very interesting, with several players who could go through without any surprise. #15 seed Evgeny Donskoy faces Yuki Bhambri, who could pose a threat if Bhambri can reach the level he had prior to his injury problems. This is unlikely however, as he has been struggling ever since his comeback in July. In the second round Donskoy would probably face the talented 19 year old Yoshihito Nishioka, but given his heat-related retirement at the US Open last year I’m not sure if he is ready to face the Australian heat. Also in this section is Nikoloz Basilashvili, who reached the second round of Doha after beating world #93 Filip Krajinovic in the final qualifying round and #45 Mikhail in the first round of the main draw before falling to Ivo Karlovic.
In the final section #16 seed Adrian Menendez-Maceiras has an excellent opportunity to qualify for his second Australian Open. It’s one of the weakest sections of the draw, with #25 seed Gastao Elias being his biggest challenger. Menendez-Maceiras reached the final of the Noumea Challenger last week and should comfortably survive this section.
To qualify from this quarter: Williams, Kubot, (15) Donskoy and (16) Menendez-Maceiras.