2015 Australian Open Week 2 Men’s Preview, Predictions
Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
It’s been an exciting week at the Aussie Open on the men’s side. Many of the names we expected to see in the second week like Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka are still very much in it to win it, while Roger Federer is the biggest name to already have packed his bags in Melbourne. The round of 16 onward will feature competition between the top tier players and a group of rising challengers looking to topple them. Here is a look at the round of 16 matchups which will begin tonight if you’re in the USA.
Round of 16 Matchups:
(1)Novak Djokovic vs. Gilles Muller
Novak has had little in the way of slip ups through his first week of matches, cruising past Aljaz Bedene, Andrey Kuznetsov and Fernando Verdasco without dropping a set. Verdasco brought some of his best tennis to the table at times in their third round encounter but even still it wasn’t consistent enough to seriously threaten the world number one.
Muller continues his fantastic comeback results, as he is one of the great storylines of the AO this year. The big serving Luxembourger has had his serve and volley game clicking all week. He beat Pablo Carreno Busta in three sets, dominated proceedings against the seeded Roberto Bautista Agut and beat him in four sets, then kept a steady hand against fellow big server John Isner and took him out in straights, as a frustrated Isner could barely get a racquet on Muller’s serve at times.
The pair have never met before, though both are veteran players, and trouble could lurk for Novak given he can struggle against big servers. Muller’s game is rather limited but in order to beat him, Novak will need to keep his focus the entire match, as a momentary slip up for a break of serve, or in a tiebreak could spell ruin for him. Novak had trouble with Verdasco’s serve when he was pumping it in at upwards of 130 MPH, and Muller is going to bring the hammer here, but I still think the world number one will find a way to win, perhaps dropping his first set of the tournament in this one.
(8)Milos Raonic vs. (12)Feliciano Lopez
It should come as no surprise to see Raonic in the second week. The Canadian number one has looked impenetrable on serve in his first trio of matches and has avoided even the slightest bit of pressure. The Canadian number one put a chokehold on Ilya Marchenko, Donald Young, and surprise third round participant Benjamin Becker, never dropping a set, and never giving up more than three points to his opponent in any of the three tiebreak sets he has played this week. The revitalized veteran Becker took out the seeded Julian Benneteau, and then clawed his way back into the match from two sets against Lleyton Hewitt on home soil to win in five sets, a shocking result that was an enjoyable match to watch.
Lopez, on the other hand, has to have surprised even himself to make the second week. He came into the tournament in an awful slump, and he’s back playing top 15 caliber tennis after the first week. It wasn’t easy for the Spaniard though, he was tested by Denis Kudla who was up 2 sets to 1 at one point, and later had match points late in the fifth set. The clean ball striking of Kudla produced some incredible highlights but Lopez’s lefty serve and touch at the net eventually won the day. He overcame fatigue to win that round 1 match 10-8 in the 5th set. Against Adrian Mannarino in round 2 he was down 2 sets to love but he clawed back and won the third set tiebreak, after which the wheels came off for Mannarino and he would retire midway through the 4th set. He put up his best showing of the week against Jerzy Janowicz in round 3. The Pole came into the match in good form but Lopez slammed the door on him, winning in three sets with a pair of tiebreak wins, as he had that little bit of edge to put him through. Janowicz had reached the third round by taking out Gael Monfils in five sets, as the acrobatic Frenchman played two entertaining five set matches this week, coming back from 2 sets and a break down against Lucas Pouille, his countryman, and then falling to Janowicz.
Lopez beat Raonic last year in Canada on hard courts, and he’ll at least have a chance in this one after how well he played against Janowicz, but I personally don’t see how Raonic will lose this one with how well he’s been playing. His serve is like Thor’s hammer at the moment and Lopez is going to face more pressure on his. It should be a close match but assuming Raonic takes advantage of the opportunities that arise, he should pull through.
(4)Stan Wawrinka vs. Guillermo Garcia-Lopez
Wawrinka remains one of the favorites to take the title, yet again, this year. He controlled proceedings against Marsel Ilhan and Marius Copil through the first two rounds, not dropping a set, then fought off a good effort from fleet footed veteran Jarkko Nieminen without dropping a set. He hasn’t been fully perfect, but like Djokovic, that hasn’t been necessary for him. Wawrinka hasn’t faced anyone that has put serious pressure on him, and he’s been able to play matches at a lower intensity than his peak so he’s rested going into the business end of the tournament.
Garcia-Lopez took out Peter Gojowczyk in a fourth set retirement, then didn’t drop a set against Alejandro Gonzalez (who vanquished Fabio Fognini in round 1), and Vasek Pospisil, who was carrying an injury into the match. This was always going to be an open section, and GGL was the one who took advantage, even though he entered the tournament in pedestrian form. This is the second time in his career he’s reached the second week of a Slam.
Wawrinka was upset by GGL at the French Open last year, and this is chance for revenge. Given this is the AO on hard courts, I expect Wawrinka to dominate and win this match comfortably. GGL is a talented shotmaker but I don’t see him having the consistency and the stamina to keep up with Wawrinka here, the Swiss doesn’t appear to be messing around right now.
(5)Kei Nishikori vs. (9)David Ferrer
Nishikori faced quality opposition in the first week, and pulled through against them, as he continued to play like a top 10 player. The Japanese number one took out Nicolas Almagro in straights, Ivan Dodig in four sets, and Steve Johnson in four sets to solidify himself as one of the last 16 men in the tournament. Dodig and Johnson raised their levels of play for a set or so, but simply couldn’t maintain against Nishikori, who was always able to refocus and start firing his shots on all cylinders again. Credit goes to Stevie J for reaching the third round, as he took out Kyle Edmund and Santiago Giraldo.
Ferrer has had momentary lapses in all of his matches so far, but long term he sorted himself out and got through in four sets. He beat Thomaz Bellucci, Sergiy Stakhovsky and Gilles Simon in this fashion. He dropped the first set against both Bellucci and Stakhovsky, and the third set, from 2 sets to love up, against Simon, but none of the challengers could maintain their level against Ferrer’s tenacity.
Nishikori won this top tier matchup four times last year, as I discussed in my week 1 preview, and I expect four or five sets in this meeting. The path to victory for Ferrer here is narrow and will involve simply surviving Nishikori’s shotmaking through the first few frames and getting the match deep into a fourth or fifth set where Ferrer’s steadiness and fitness should help him out. Nishikori on the other hand needs to avoid going for too much, and overhitting against Ferrer. The winner of this match will be the one who takes control of the rhythm and flow and plays at their pace and style.
(7)Tomas Berdych vs. Bernard Tomic
Berdych is another top player who reached the second week without much of a sweat, under the radar he cruised over Alejandro Falla, Jurgen Melzer, and Viktor Troicki without dropping a set, as his game is clicking and he’s been dominant in the rallies in every match.
Tomic appears to be enjoying himself and staying focused in his home slam. The young Aussie beat Tobias Kamke and Philipp Kohlschreiber in 4 sets, then his big serving countryman Sam Groth in 3 sets to reach week 2. Tomic played poorly against Kamke for a good bit of the match, spewing errors off his racquet, and he was flummoxed by the shots that Kohli was throwing at him at times in that match, but perhaps it bodes well for him that he found a way to win those matches, along with fight off the Groth serve that had vexed both Filip Krajinovic and another young Aussie, Thanasi Kokkinakis, in the first two rounds. Kokkinakis played a thrilling five setter against Ernests Gulbis to reach the second round, He bageled Gulbis in set 2, then got breadsticked himself in set 3, saved match points in set 4, and finally won it 8-6 with a late break in set 5, as his intensity and performance rose to the occasion when the pressure was on.
Berdych is appropriately favored in this match, and he is likely to win it given he’s 7-1 in 2015 and hasn’t dropped a set in any of this wins this season. That said Tomic will have the home support, and he’s doing well when under pressure right now, so he should at least take a set, and perhaps if Berdych has a mental lapse, he can shock the Aussie tennis world and reach the last 8. Berdych in 4 sets is the safe pick though.
(3)Rafael Nadal vs. (14)Kevin Anderson
Nadal has had a strange odyssey in week 1, in the first and third rounds, he was in control and bossed around both Mikhail Youzhny and Dudi Sela without dropping a set, but in round 2, he was ill, and seemingly dizzy with stomach and fever problems and got pushed to the brink against American journeyman Tim Smyczek, a stalwart of the USTA Pro Circuit. Smyczek looked like a pushover in the first frame, and the match appeared routine but he stormed back to take the second set, and then the third set in a tiebreak to go up two sets to one. Nadal, who was clearly struggling and playing poorly at this point managed to raise his level enough to take the fourth set, and then they held serve in the fifth as Nadal was selectively retrieving balls, while Smyczek was throwing everything he had left in the tank at the Spanish number one. Nadal would eventually win the day 7-5 in the fifth, while Smyczek was complimented for his sportsmanship, allowing Rafa to replay a point due to fan interference 6-5 30-0 up, serving, in the fifth set. Tim is one of the nicest players on tour and he’s fun to watch, so hopefully this great effort, where he truly looked to be enjoying himself on court, bodes well for him having further success in 2015, I’d quite enjoy to see him do well at the ATP level.
Anderson has surprisingly dominated down under, and he’s another one of the big servers through to the second week, he beat Diego Sebastian Schwartzman in 4 sets, Ricardas Berankis in 3 sets, and Richard Gasquet in 3 sets to reach week 2. Gasquet had set points and was up breaks in multiple sets but he wilted under relentless pressure from Anderson.
Nadal should win this, he’s simply the better player, but after the situation against Smyczek there are still serious questions about Rafa’s condition right now. Over time Nadal has played himself into form in matches, but against Anderson he will finally be facing an opponent who should push sets deep, and consistently be able to hold his serve, giving Nadal less margin for error if his form slips and he gets broken on serve. The key for Anderson will be to get off to a fast start, and in a perfect world, get two sets to love up before Nadal can find himself, but it’s a bold guess to say Anderson will do that, so Nadal in 4 sets is the pick, Anderson probably salvages a tiebreak at some point.
(6)Andy Murray vs. (10)Grigor Dimitrov
Murray is playing his best tennis since his back surgery at the end of 2013. The UK number one rolled over Yuki Bhambri, Marinko Matosevic, and Joao Sousa without dropping a set, as he was simply too strong for players of that caliber. Bhambri and Sousa both pushed him for a set and clearly put in effort but the result was never in doubt.
Dimitrov has faced some headaches in his path the second week, Dustin Brown was no trouble at all in round 1, as he won that contest in straights, but Lukas Lacko pushed him to four sets, and Marcos Baghdatis danced with him for a full five sets in rounds 2 and 3. The match against Lacko was relatively routine except for a long second set tiebreak that Lacko won 12-10 after saving multiple set points, the Slovak would fade thereafter however. Against an aggressive Baghdatis, spirited by his rowdy fans, Dimitrov was looking for answers for a large portion of the match. He dropped both the first and third set against Baghdatis, who was cracking winners and moving up the court on both wings, taking his chances when possible. The former AO finalist showed shades of his former self but he doesn’t have as much stamina and consistency as he used to, and eventually Dimitrov sorted himself out and got through in five sets 6-3 in the fifth as Baghdatis last real chance to win the match was in the fourth set, that he also lost 6-3. This was another classic Baghdatis slam match regardless and was a joy to watch if you like attacking tennis. Dimitrov was pushed on his back foot and forced to moonball at times. It should be noted that Baggy made the third round by upsetting a listless David Goffin in round 2, after winning in 5 sets against Teymuraz Gabashvili.
The match between Murray and Dimitrov is one of my two most anticipated clashes of the fourth round (the other is Ferrer vs. Nishikori). These are two talented and motivated stars who will be dueling just to make the quarterfinals. This should be a physically grueling contest, and with Dimitrov coming off a taxing five setter, while Murray has sprinting all over the court against his first three opponents, the advantage in physicality and stamina goes to Murray, one of the fittest players in the sport. Dimitrov has raw shotmaking ability and he can stretch Murray using angles, bringing him forward and so forth, but I feel like Murray will wear him down and win this in four or five sets, taking advantage of perhaps just a lone break of serve in a set, or a minibreak in a tiebreak to get himself through. The level of these two players is very close, but I’m very encouraged by what I’ve seen from Murray this tournament, and less so by Dimitrov.
Nick Kyrgios vs. Andreas Seppi
Two players that myself, and many others did not expect to be still in it at this stage in the tournament. Kyrgios showed signs of injury in his round one win in five sets over Federico Delbonis, but got progressively better against Ivo Karlovic and Malek Jaziri. Kyrgios went from hunched over and barely holding against Delbonis to ripping serves and smashing forehands against Karlovic and Jaziri. Karlovic who before the match was serving lights out, didn’t play as well as expected and Kyrgios was in control most of the contest. Jaziri was coming off of a four setter with Mikhail Kukushkin and a five setter with Edouard Roger-Vasselin and he didn’t have near the fitness level to compete.
Seppi, one of the stories of the tournament who is off to a roaring start in 2015, having already done better with his results than in all of 2014, won the essential fifth set against Denis Istomin, in a match that was guaranteed to go five like an Italian opera, and then won in 4 sets against Jeremy Chardy. All that was good, but then it went from a good tournament to an amazing one for Seppi, who is perhaps on his way to reclaiming the Italian number one designation from a slumping Fabio Fognini. Seppi shocked Roger Federer 6-4 7-6 4-6 7-6 in what is certain to be one of the biggest upsets of the 2015 season. Federer played very poorly and had limited depth on his shots, he almost appeared limp wristed at times and was simply massaging the ball into play while Seppi was going for the lines, and connecting on his shots, mixing in offense, defense and good old fashioned counterpunching. Most people had Seppi as good as done by the time it went to a fourth set tiebreak, but he hung in it, and hit an incredible, once in a lifetime passing shot past Federer on a match point to minibreak and earn himself the greatest win in his career. Seppi redlining against an inhibited Federer was enjoyable to watch and he’s the most surprising name to have reached the second week.
Kyrgios beat Seppi at the USO last year, but that said, who knows if Kyrgios is fully 100%, though he looks fine at this point, and this is an inspired tenacious Seppi, who is well out playing his 2014 form. A lot of people don’t see this being close, but I feel Seppi actually has a shot if he can deal with Kyrgios serve and make him rally, he’s still the underdog but he’s thrived in that situation with the crowd against him and I’m picking the upset and putting Seppi through to the quarterfinals. The crowd will be loving this match, as Kyrgios is incredibly popular in his home country, while Seppi is a likable player.
Djokovic d. Raonic in 4
Wawrinka d. Ferrer in 4
Nadal d. Berdych in 3
Murray d. Seppi in 3
Djokovic could be tested with how well Raonic is playing, but even if it goes five, Novak has the experience and has dealt with a lot more of these massive matches. I’m comfortable at this point going with Wawrinka over Ferrer or Nishikori, as much as I’m tempted to revise my week 1 pick and put Nishikori through, I’m going to stick to my guns and have Ferrer reaching the quarters, either way Stan seems a cut above the pair right now.
My reasoning for Berdych over Nadal in my original predictions was that I wasn’t sure if Nadal was going to be really struggling coming into this, though he was ill against Smyczek, you can’t really classify him as “struggling” right now and given the H2H, even with Berdych looking like a tough customer in the first week, Nadal now has to be the favorite to reach the semis from this section. He’s eliminated enough doubt in my mind to put him that far through at this point.
I would go with Murray over Kyrgios or Seppi, Kyrgios would perhaps be a tougher opponent given it would mean a hostile crowd and a Laver night session, not to mention his aggression and skill set, but Murray is playing really well right now, and I just don’t see him losing to either of those players, especially Seppi. The competition is getting tougher but I don’t see that scaring Murray.
Djokovic d. Wawrinka in 5
Murray d. Nadal in 4
Given the form of both players, and the result of previous contests, I can almost guarantee that Djokovic vs. Wawrinka will be a Laver night session five setter, and go over four hours. Both players will need to give 110% as neither appears to be giving much away in the first week, they both have their weaknesses and showing no mercy is going to be essential. Novak still seems like the better “finisher” of the two, and that’s why I have him through as much as I want to believe Wawrinka can recapture the magic of last year and win again. This probably ends up 7-5 or 9-7 in the fifth set. For what it’s worth I’d have Djokovic through to the final against any other possible opponent here, and Wawrinka likewise, as they are the two players most likely to actually win the title in my opinion. Unless they wear each other out, the tournament winner should come from the top half of the draw.
I’m comfortable going with Murray over Nadal, or any other possible opponent left, even more so than I was at the start of the tournament. He’s played up to the level I thought would be needed for him to get through to the final, and he avoids Federer now, this is a slightly easier path than I expected and Murray should get himself to another slam final.
Djokovic d. Murray in 4
Sticking with my original pick, not having Federer in the final means it’s still a valid proposition, and as much as I personally want Murray to win this to silence the critics and prove he’s back, Djokovic or Wawrinka over Murray has to be the pick here. Djokovic on hard court at the AO has generally shown himself to be superior and the only real chance for Murray here is if he plays lights out and Novak is playing on a half full tank going into the match because Wawrinka (or Nishikori/Raonic etc.) has wounded him.