2016 Australian Open Men’s Qualifying Preview and Predictions
Chris De Waard, Tennis Atlantic
2016 Australian Open Men’s Qualifying Preview and Predictions
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: Luca Vanni
2: Ruben Bemelmans
3: Tim Smyczek
4: Alejandro Falla
5: Jan-Lennard Struff
6: Lukas Lacko
7: Marsel Ilhan
8: Go Soeda
9: Michael Berrer
10: Radu Albot
11: Edouard Roger-Vasselin
12: Yuichi Sugita
13: Tatsuma Ito
14: Kimmer Coppejans
15: Dustin Brown
16: John-Patrick Smith
First round match-ups to watch:
(1) Luca Vanni – Daniel Evans
A tough draw for the top seed against the highly volatile Evans. Once a promising youngster on the verge of the top 100, Evans fell off majorly due to motivation and injury struggles, but recovered himself somewhat last year and finds himself in the top 200 again. However, he knew a poor start to the year, losing 7-5 6-4 to world #500 Dayne Kelly in the first round of the Happy Valley Challenger. Vanni did a lot better, beating #107 Jan-Lennard Struff before barely falling to #45 Aljaz Bedene in the main draw of Chennai, 5-7 6-3 6-4. Vanni desperately needs the points, as he is unlikely to defend his final in Sao Paulo of last year.
Saketh Myneni – Ramkumar Ramanathan
Something that is rarely seen outside of India, an all Indian clash. 21-year-old Ramanathan made a big run at Chennai to start the year, which saw him rise 42 ranking spots and almost crack the top 200 for the first time at #206. He beat Daniel Gimeno-Traver and Alexander Kudryavtsev before falling to Bedene with almost the same scoreline as Vanni, 6-7(5) 6-4 6-3. Myneni is mainly strong in tournaments on the Asian continent, so all things considered Ramanathan has to be favored here.
(18) Konstantin Kravchuk – Andrey Golubev
A coin toss match-up between contrasting players. While Golubev is mostly known for his wasted potential, Kravchuk is a hardworking and humble professional who is making small steps every year and might be one of those players who reaches the top 100 for the first time in his thirties.
The first section is immediately a hard one to predict. The winner of Vanni – Evans might play Luke Saville next, the man who last year came back from two sets down and saved a match point to beat Vanni in the final qualifying round of Wimbledon. In the other half seventeenth seed Bjorn Fratangelo is a dangerous candidate, who faces Frank Dancevic in the first round.
At first sight the second section seems to be going down to the seeds, Ruben Bemelmans and Blaz Rola. However, both had a poor start to the season. In relation to that I would pick 23-year-old Gerasimov as another candidate. He very nearly beat Mikhail Youzhny, the eventual winner, in the quarterfinal of the Bangkok Challenger
The third section is headed by Tim Smyczek, who had a legendary Australian Open run last year, nearly beating Rafael Nadal in the second round. Only after five sets, 6-2 3-6 6-7(2) 6-3 7-5, did the 14-time Grand Slam champion prevail. Smyczek stole the hearts of tennis fans worldwide even more by displaying amazing sportsmanship deep in the fifth set. Unfortunately, he couldn’t build on it tennis wise, seeing his ranking slip considerably throughout 2015 and dropping out of the top 100. Him and Aslan Karatsev are the favorites in this section. Karatsev qualified into Qatar and nearly beat world #66 Robin Haase in the first round, 6-5 6-1 7-5.
The fourth section should be decided between the seeds, Alejandro Falla and Thomas Fabbiano. Fabbiano had a dream run at Chennai, beating world #38 Gilles Muller in the second round as a qualifier, before losing 6-4 7-5 to #19 Benoit Paire. 32-year-old veteran and former top 50 player Falla has played seven Australian Open main draws, but had a poor 2015 and dropped out of the top 100. He started 2016 in excellent fashion, however, reaching the final of the Noumea Challenger, where he lost in three sets to #47 Adrian Mannarino.
To qualify from this quarter: (1) Vanni, Gerasimov, Karatsev and (4) Falla.
The first section is likely to be decided in the second round between Jan-Lennard Struff and Radek Stepanek. Stepanek is 37, but feels refreshed after putting last year’s injury struggles behind him and has to be given a slight edge over Struff, who doesn’t seem able to make the step to regular ATP tennis. Stepanek hammered world #76 Dusan Lajovic in the first round of Brisbane before losing against #19 Bernard Tomic in a spectacular encounter: 7-6(6) 4-6 7-6(4).
The second section features Ramanathan, but I don’t think he will be able to carry his Chennai form over to Australia. This leaves the volatile Lukas Lacko as the favorite on paper, but my pick is Marius Copil. Copil qualified last year as well and beat Pablo Andujar in the first round, before losing to Stan Wawrinka in the second.
Marsel Ilhan heads the third section, but has a tough opening round against Aleksandr Nedovyesov. Ryan Harrison is the other seed in this section and someone who makes it impossible to predict what he is going to do. Young Australian Bradley Mousley might make a big run here and beat Harrison, but I suspect Ilhan will be too much for him.
The final section is absolutely stacked and practically impossible to predict. Among the seeds Go Soeda and Jared Donaldson there are also Maximilian Marterer, Alexander Kudryavtsev, Peter Gojowczyk and Frances Tiafoe who all could very well qualify. It’s anyone’s guess.
To qualify from this quarter: Stepanek, Copil, (7) Ilhan and (21) Donaldson.
He is the talk of the town currently, 18-year-old Taylor Fritz. And with good reason, he is taking the tennis world by storm with spectacular results on the Challenger tour, most recently winning the Happy Valley Challenger to start the year. He might face the top seed in this section in the second round, which will be quite the clash of generations, as Michael Berrer is 35 and turned pro when Fritz was only 1. Other players here are Mischa Zverev, Andrea Arnaboldi and Norbert Gombos, but I am riding the Fritz train.
The second section is relatively weak outside of the two seeds, Radu Albot and Daniel Brands. On these slower outdoor courts you have to give an edge to Albot, but it isn’t a big one. It would be a surprise if one of the other players qualifies.
The third section is likely to be heading towards a generational clash of Frenchman in the final round. 24-year-old Pierre-Hugues Herbert would be up against 32-year-old Edouard Roger-Vasselin. While Herbert is on the way up, Roger-Vasselin is on the way down, so it would be a must win for Herbert if he wants to make a push towards the top 100, something that really has to happen at his age. He had a very short stay last year, but dropped off again very fast.
The fourth section is another one of those hard to predict sections. Seeds Yuichi Sugita and Dennis Novikov have just as big of a chance as unseeded Ante Pavic, Farrukh Dustov and James Ward. As I said regarding one of the previous sections, it’s anyone’s guess.
To qualify from this quarter: Fritz, (10) Albot, Herbert and Ward.
Headed by Tatsuma Ito, the first section also features veteran Brazilian Andre Ghem, who faces fellow veteran Adrian Menendez-Maceiras in the first round. Ito doesn’t have an easy first round draw himself either, going up against Marton Fucsovics. Fucsovics had a good start of the year, reaching the semi-final of Happy Valley, while Ito got hammered 6-3 6-2 by Chiudinelli in the first round of Bangkok, so Fucsovics is my pick to beat Ito and go on to qualify as well.
This might be an excellent opportunity for my countryman Igor Sijsling to start off the year on a good note, having suffered through a disastrous 2015. The top seed in this section is Kimmer Coppejans, but he hasn’t shown good form in a while and might be ripe for the picking. Karen Khachanov and Grega Zemlja face off in the first round and are the two other candidates to qualify.
The third section is headed by crowd favorite Dustin Brown. He is his own biggest opponent when it comes down to it, but his draw is comfortable. He should only be threatened by the winner of Golubev – Kravchuk in the final round of qualifying.
And to close it off the final section, headed by John-Patrick Smith. A big chance for the Australian to qualify, being placed in a fairly weak section. His fellow seed Elias Ymer is his biggest and perhaps only threat. The 19-year-old Swede has been on a bad run lately, but can find confidence in knowing that he managed to qualify into all four Grand Slams last year.
To qualify from this quarter: Fucsovics, (28) Sijsling, (15) Brown and (16) Smith.