Roger Federer captured Grand Slam #18 at the age of 35 this past weekend with his five set victory over long time rival Rafael Nadal 6-4 3-6 6-1 3-6 6-3. Federer turned back the clock for two weeks in Melbourne, after missing of half of 2016 due to a back injury. The swiss legend took advantage of the quick surface in Melbourne to gain key advantages against Rafa in the three sets he won. Nadal was broken early in the three sets he lost, and in the fifth set, he was up a break, but lost it, going on to surrender the match. When Federer slipped into more passive play, Nadal took advantage with his topspin forehand, but from the start of the second week, with Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray defeated, the tournament looked to be Federer’s to lose.
Federer had not won a title since 2015, and hadn’t won a slam since 2012, many thought he had at most a couple years left on tour. He still may have a couple of years left, but those years are all the sudden looking a lot more promising. The injury layoff gave Federer time to rest and recuperate, and in the right conditions, his ability to play masterful attack tennis is still good enough to beat almost every ATP player on tour.
Federer also showed renewed stamina, outside of his three set victory over Mischa Zverev, who served and volleyed his way into the quarterfinals, ending Andy Murray’s bid for a first AO title, the two other Federer victories to reach the final in week 2 were in five sets. Semifinalist Stan Wawrinka couldn’t keep up sustained pressure after coming back from 2 sets to 1 down. Kei Nishikori also forced a fifth set against Federer, but his serving wasn’t strong enough to take the 5th in their round of 16 match.
Nadal was an underdog all tournament, having not won a hard court title since early 2014. The 30 year old Spaniard was pushed to his limits against Grigor Dimitrov, in his second five set contest of the tournament, but in the end, Nadal’s experience and poise was too much for the less accomplished Dimitrov, who has been playing great tennis in 2017. Milos Raonic and Gael Monfils were Nadal’s two other victims, despite being top 10 players, they were no match for Rafa’s movement, and forehand pace.
Federer’s victory and Nadal’s finals appearance sets up an intriguing 2017 season. Djokovic and Murray remain the overall top 2 players, and should compete as co-favorites for the remaining three Grand Slam titles this season. At Wimbledon and the French Open however, Federer and Nadal will have key roles to play. A renewed Federer is dangerous on a fast grass court, especially if he continues to hit the ball as flat as he did against Nadal. A healthy Nadal remains the king of clay, and has a fantastic shot at winning yet another title in Paris.
Dimitrov has shown signs that he could solidify a spot in the top 10, after an excellent start to 2017. His performance at the eight Masters 1000 tournaments this season will go a long way towards determing his fate however. Dimitrov has historically failed to live up to expectations in clutch moments.
Wawrinka also showed he’s not going to drop from the top 5 anytime soon, having his Swiss countryman back playing at a top level should push Wawrinka to up his game as well. Wawrinka and Dimitrov were both masterful in their quarterfinal matches, defeating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and David Goffin respectively.
Players on the second tier of the ATP tour in terms of accomplishment, such as Monfils, Raonic, Nishikori, and Marin Cilic are going to have to play much better if they are going to threaten the tour’s core of Djokovic, Murray, Wawrinka, and once again Federer and Nadal. They benefited from Federer and Nadal’s relative absence, especially on hard courts, but the competition level of the ATP tour just rose. Young guns such as Alexander Zverev, and Dominic Thiem are also fast improving too.
Henri Kontinen and John Peers took home the doubles title, defeating the legendary Bryan Brothers in straight sets. The Finnish/Aussie duo rose to prominence in 2016, and brought joy to home fans already in 2017.
Week 1 at the 2017 Australian Open is in the books, and what a week it’s been. World #1 Novak Djokovic fell to a stunning five set defeat in round 2 at the hands of qualifying wild card Denis Istomin, who started the tournament ranked outside of the top 100. That opens up the bottom half of the draw, and makes it more likely that we’ll have a new Grand Slam champion, and perhaps finalist as well. Here is your look ahead to week 2, with predictions for what’s to come.
Round of 16 matches
(1)Andy Murray vs. Mischa Zverev
Murray hasn’t dropped a set through three matches. Illya Marchenko and Sam Querrey both gave it a good effort, while teenager Andrey Rublev didn’t play quite as well, but regardless, the world #1 is the favorite to take his first ever Aussie Open title.
Zverev continues a late career breakthrough, he stunned John Isner 9-7 in a 5th set in round 2, and also earned wins over Guillermo Garcia-Lopez and Malek Jaziri. Zverev’s serve and volleying has been difficult to stop thus far, but Murray is a tremendous returner, and is a clear favorite in this match with a 3-0 h2h.
(17)Roger Federer vs. (5)Kei Nishikori
Federer has beaten Nishikori the past three times they met, and hasn’t dropped a set outside of his round 1 victory against Jurgen Melzer. Noah Rubin and Tomas Berdych were both dominated by the Swiss maestro, who is fit, and highly motivated at age 35.
Nishikori struggled with his serve, needing five sets to put away Andrey Kuznetsov in round 1, but has looked much better in matches against Jeremy Chardy and Lukas Lacko that were both completed in straights. Nishikori has the game to trouble Federer, but the Swiss veteran is a clear favorite, his aggressive ball striking should be superior in this one.
(4)Stan Wawrinka vs. Andreas Seppi
Wawrinka has won the last three meetings against Seppi, and although he’s had a shaky start, dropping sets in two of his three matches, he’s still a dangerous player left in the draw. Stan the man needed five sets against big hitter Martin Klizan, beat Steve Johnson in straights, and then narrowly avoided five sets against Viktor Troicki, winning a fourth set tiebreak. Seppi should be a bit exhausted as he dropped sets against both Paul-Henri Mathieu and Steve Darcis. In round 2, Seppi stunned Nick Kyrgios 10-8 in the 5ht set, coming back from two sets down to defeat the home favorite. Seppi’s steady play contrasted with Kyrgios roller coaster form, and eventually frustrated the young gun into defeat.
Seppi’s steadiness will likely trouble Wawrinka as well, but Wawrinka should tighten his game up and hit enough winners to prevail.
(12)Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs. Dan Evans
The former AO finalist Tsonga got a huge win over Jack Sock in four sets in his last match, and he’s also defeated Thiago Monteiro and Dusan Lajovic to reach the second week. The in-form Evans is playing the best tennis of his career. The new top 50 player has won seven of his last eight matches, behind a powerful and versatile one-handed backhand. Evans upset Bernard Tomic, and also Marin Cilic in four sets, in consecutive matches, he also beat Facundo Bagnis in round 1.
Tsonga is a good attacking player, but Evans motivation has been something to watch recently. I’m going with an upset, and have Evans reaching a first ever slam quarterfinal.
(6)Gael Monfils vs. (9)Rafael Nadal
Nadal leads the h2h 12-2. Having lost weight, Rafa is playing better on hard courts than he has in recent years, and he looks fit, and newly aggressive on his groundstrokes, taking the ball earlier in rallies. The Spaniard needed five sets to defeat a powerful Alexander Zverev in round 3, as he outlasted the young gun with strong defensive play. Rafa also had easy wins against Florian Mayer, and Marcos Baghdatis in round 1 and 2.
Monfils has wins against Jiri Vesely, Alexandr Dolgopolov, and Philipp Kohlschreiber, dropping just a set to Dolgopolov. The Frenchman is playing quite well right now, but I don’t think he’s good matchup for Nadal, given Nadal’s top spin tends to push him back and away from the baseline.
(13)Roberto Bautista Agut vs. (3)Milos Raonic
Milos Raonic is suffering from flu, but leads the h2h 4-0 against RBA and is playing well, with his serve, volleys, and groundstrokes all clicking. Raonic defeated Dustin Brown, Gilles Muller, and Gilles Simon through three rounds, dropping just a set to Simon.
RBA dropped a set to David Ferrer, but he’s in a great form, having posted routine wins against Guido Pella and Yoshihito Nishioka. RBA is 7-0 to start the season, but unless his return game improves considerably, Raonic has to be the favorite.
(8)Dominic Thiem vs. (11)David Goffin
Thiem has won three of his last four matches against Goffin and the young Austrian continues to cement himself as a top 10 player. Wins against J.L. Struff, Jordan Thompson, and Benoit Paire allowed him to reach the second week, even though he dropped sets in all three matches.
Goffin is also a picture of steady tennis, after slipping past Reilly Opelka in five sets in round 1, he had no trouble with Radek Stepanek, and Ivo Karlovic, winning those matches in straight sets. The qualifier Opelka’s versatile game bothered Goffin, and Thiem isn’t the easiest opponent. That said, Thiem was having problems on serve in his last match, and seems to still be suffering from shoulder problems. Goffin is a clear favorite.
Outside of a bad set against Hyeon Chung in round 2, Grigor Dimitrov has been playing great, posting eight straight wins, including routine victories over Chris O’Connell and Richard Gasquet. Most people expected Gasquet to put up a better showing, but Dimitrov simply dismantled him, playing especially well on return games.
The draw has opened up, thanks to Denis Istomin. Istomin was nearly defeated in a pre-qualifier to gain a wild card to the AO, but instead he played the match of his life, handing Novak Djokovic his worst defeat since 2008 with a confident five set victory. Djokovic started the match slow, and never was able to gather momentum, Istomin’s great ball striking and confident serving allowed him to overcome leg cramps to win two tiebreaks, and the fifth set. Djokovic was especially poor on return and spewed errors. Istomin’s first victim was Ivan Dodig in round 1, and Pablo Carreno Busta lost to Istomin in round 3, falling in five sets, after taking the 4th set.
Istomin has proven that he may be set for a return to being an ATP regular, but Dimitrov is the more consistent and higher ranked player. Istomin’s run should end in the round of 16.
Predictions for the remaining rounds
Quarters Murray d. Federer in 4
Wawrinka d. Evans in 3
Raonic d. Nadal in 5
Dimitrov d. Goffin in 4
Murray will have a difficult match against Federer, but the fresher, younger, and better player at this point in their careers should prevail. Wawrinka’s backhand is better than Evans, and his experience should win out. Raonic and Nadal is a tough match to call, but on hard courts I’ll still go with Raonic. Dimitrov should have more upside than Goffin given his recent form.
Semis Murray d. Wawrinka in 4
Raonic d. Dimitrov in 5
Murray and Raonic should be clear favorites to reach the final, Dimitrov is a wild card to reach his first ever slam final though, depending on Raonic’s health.
Final Murray d. Raonic in 4
Raonic’s serve is a great weapon, but Murray’s elite return game neutralizes that. The World #1 should win his first ever Australian Open title, defeating Raonic just like he did in the Wimbledon final.
19 year old Russian/Kazakh Alexander Bublik has an entertaining style of play, and is making his grand slam debut after qualifying against French young gun Lucas Pouille. Despite Pouille being just 22, he has significantly more tour experience than Bublik, and that alone should give him an edge in this matchup that should feature entertaining shotmaking. Pouille retired in his last match though, so Bublik may have a shot if the Frenchman is unfit.
(5)Kei Nishikori vs. Andrey Kuznetsov
A three time and defending quarterfinalist in Melbourne, Nishikori has two previous wins over Kuznetsov, and they both came in slams last season. Kuznetsov continues to improve though and coming off of the semifinals in Sydney, perhaps he can take his first set in a slam against Nishikori. Kei dropped the final in Brisbane as his pre-AO warm-up.
(14)Nick Kyrgios vs. Gastao Elias
Kyrgios has made the quarters in Melbourne before, but knee problems have prevented him from playing any warm-up matches. Expectations are down for this controversial home favorite, while Elias pushed Dominic Thiem to a third set in Sydney, and perhaps could trouble Kyrgios in this one if he’s unfit. More than likely Kyrgios will dictate play with his serve.
(27)Bernard Tomic vs. Thomaz Bellucci
Tomic is defending fourth round points after a miserable run in his Australian summer. He’s lost twice previously to the big hitter Bellucci, and is in danger of losing this match after unexpected losses in his warm-ups. Tomic is apparently struggling with his diet, and while Bellucci isn’t in great form, I see Bernie crashing out in round 1 to Bellucci, who has never made it past the second round in Melbourne.
Both players are big hitters, and their careers have taken drastically different turns. Cilic has cemented himself in the top 10 and is a former AO semifinalist and slam champion. Janowicz, once in the top 15, has fallen from the top 200 and didn’t post a tour level win last season. Janowicz has the talent to pressure Cilic with aggressive play. Despite his poor start to the season, Cilic should win though.
(6)Gael Monfils vs. Jiri Vesely
A defending AO quarterfinalist, Monfils has a loss to Vesely in their only slam meeting and didn’t opt to play warm-ups before his first round match. That said, Monfils remains an athletic and talented threat, while Vesely, a quarterfinalist in Auckland, has power, but probably lacks the movement to get past Monfils in this match.
Alexandr Dolgopolov vs. Borna Coric
Dolgo is a one time AO quarterfinalist who continues to play well below his potential and is outside of the top 50 in the rankings. Coric won their last h2h meeting, but after knee problems, and then knee surgery, he’s been struggling to get himself back to his talent level. At age 20, Coric still has a long career ahead, but Dolgopolov will probably win this encounter.
Mikhail Youzhny vs. Marcos Baghdatis
These over 30 veterans have met seven times in their careers, with Youzhny holding a 4-3 edge in the h2h. Youzhny made the quarters in Chennai, while Baghdatis made the semis in Auckland, showing they are in good form heading into this matchup. Baghdatis is a fan favorite and former finalist here, while Youzhny once made the quarters. Baghdatis attacking style likely gives him a slight edge in this one.
The first meeting between this pair of 20 year old talents. Neither have much tour level experience, but Medvedev is coming off of his first ever tour final in Chennai, while Escobedo came through qualifying. Escobedo has enough power to win this, but Medvedev should be the better, and fresher player right now.
(21)David Ferrer vs. (WC)Omar Jasika
A two-time semifinalist in Melbourne, Ferrer has fallen on hard times at 34, and after a rough 2016, has had a miserable 1-2 start to 2017. The 19 year old Jasika, a wild card, is one of the most promising young players in tennis. He just reached a challenger final and very well could made a match of this against Ferrer. I still can’t count against Ferrer’s grinding though, despite his decline in shotmaking ability and fitness.
Muller comes off of his first ATP title in Sydney, while Fritz is still seeking his first Grand Slam win after taking part in all four Grand Slams last year. The 19 year old will likely struggle with Muller’s effective serve, but if the veteran is fatigued, Fritz could gain a confidence boosting win.
Jordan Thompson vs. Joao Sousa
Sousa dispatched Thompson in the 2015 AO when they last met, and he comes off a run to the final in Auckland. Fatigue should play a part in this match though, and with Thompson garnering home support, he’ll have a punchers chance in this one. Thompson reached the quarters in Brisbane, and after a 3-2 warm-up record, I don’t count him out in this match as the underdog.
(28)Feliciano Lopez vs. Fabio Fognini
Lopez has won both of their meetings, which happened to take place in Slams. These veterans play entertaining tennis, and this match is a bit of a toss-up. Neither are in great form, but Fognini is probably a bit worse off, and presuming Lopez is fit he should serve and volley his way to a third victory in this matchup.
(11)David Goffin vs. (Q)Reilly Opelka
The big serving Opelka, who plays like a younger version of John Isner, will make his slam debut against the talented David Goffin. Opelka towers over Goffin on the court, but Goffin has crisper groundstrokes, and will probably win this match. The Belgian is defending fourth round points, and I doubt he’s happy to get this first round matchup.
(2)Novak Djokovic vs. Fernando Verdasco
A one time semifinalist, Verdasco once again gets the misfortune of a brutal early round matchup in Melbourne. Djokovic leads the h2h 9-4 and just saved multiple match points to defeat Verdasco in a Doha three setter to start the season. I don’t see Djokovic losing this one, but Verdasco can still make for a difficult, and entertaining matchup.
For the first time, the new world #1 (Sir) Andy Murray gets the #1 seed slot in a Grand Slam. Murray will start his campaign against journeyman Illya Marchenko, and in round 2 he’ll either get the steady ball striking of Yen-Hsun Lu, or the more aggressive approach of qualifier Andrey Rublev, a hot shot young gun. Rublev could be a bit more troublesome, but either way Murray should slide into the third round, and then the fourth, as none of Sam Querrey/Quentin Halys/Gerald Melzer/Alex De Minaur is a threat to him. The 17 year old De Minaur has three wins already in 2017 and has a great shot at his first slam win against Melzer. Querrey should snap a six match tour losing streak against Halys, who isn’t as sharp on hard courts. I don’t count De Minaur to find form and reach the third round, but the veteran Querrey, who won a pair of exo matches, should fall to Murray at that stage.
John Isner is in a bit of a career decline but he still has a favorable draw early on. Isner faces Konstantin Kravchuk, who at 31, has just one tour level win in the last 3+ seasons. Mischa Zverev and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez face off below Isner, a loser of eight straight matches, GGL looks to be in no form to challenge Zverev, who should serve and volley his way into round 2, before falling to Isner. Pouille/Bublik will face Malek Jaziri or qualifier Go Soeda in round 2. This isn’t a strong section, but Pouille vs. Isner isn’t a bad third round match. Isner should have a slight edge to reach the second week due to his serve.
Tomas Berdych and Roger Federer look set for a star studded third round clash on Rod Laver, presuming Berdych handles qualifier Lucas Vanni, and serve and volleyer Nicolas Mahut or Ryan Harrison. Federer faces fellow veteran, Jurgen Melzer, a qualifier, then an American qualifier, either Bjorn Fratangelo or Noah Rubin. Federer isn’t the player he once was, especially after injury, but it can’t be discounted that the maestro has won his last five matches against the Czech. It’s not the biggest upset in the world, but I’ll go with Berdych’s form to reach round 4.
Nishikori/Kuznetsov look to be favorites to reach the second week as well, Jeremy Chardy or Nicolas Almagro await in round 2. Almagro leads the h2h 5-0, so I have him falling to Nishikori in round 2. Albert Ramos isn’t in great form, and could be troubled by qualifier Lukas Lacko, but I don’t trust Lacko at this point to make a run, and I have Ramos winning in round 1, before falling to the in-form veteran Dudi Sela in round 2. Sela opens with fellow veteran Marcel Granollers, and regardless, Nishikori should win in round 3. Sela is 8-1 to start the year with a challenger title.
Former champion Stan Wawrinka has a h2h win against his first round opponent Martin Klizan, and Klizan is in terrible form, having lost nine straight matches. Klizan is normally a tough matchup, but Wawrinka should beat him, and defeat Auckland semifinalist Steve Johnson in round 2, presuming Johnson eases past Federico Delbonis. Wawrinka faces Viktor Troicki, a Sydney semifinalist, most likely in round 3, as Troicki opens with journeyman Damir Dzhumur, with James Duckworth or Paolo Lorenzi to follow. At home I give Duckworth an edge in round 1, with Wawrinka beating Troicki in the third round for the eight time, in eight meetings (7-0 h2h).
Kyrgios or Elias will get a veteran, either Andreas Seppi or Paul-Henri Mathieu in round 2. PHM is in miserable form, so Seppi should win for the third straight time, with Kyrgios a favorite for the third round. Steve Darcis or Sam Groth are his likely third round opponent, Pablo Cuevas or Diego Schwartzman are also in this section. It’s hard to pick between Cuevas or Schwartzman, but I have Darcis serve and volleying past a struggling Groth, and then beating Schwartzman to reach round 3, before falling to Kyrgios. Darcis has been in good form as of late, and could be a dark horse if Kyrgios knee fails him.
Cilic or Janowicz will battle either Facundo Bagnis, or more likely Sydney finalist Dan Evans in round 2. Tomic or Bellucci likely await in round 3, unless Aljaz Bedene beats Victor Estrella, and then Tomic/Bellucci. This is a weak section, but I have Bedene over Bellucci, and then Cilic reaching the fourth round, despite his poor form.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has an easy early path, Thiago Monteiro, who is poor on hard courts, and neither Dusan Lajovic or Stephane Robert are likely to trouble him through the first two rounds. Both Lajovic and Robert are in poor form. The former Australian Open finalist looks set to face Jack Sock, the Auckland champion, in round 3. Sock opens with doubles specialist Pierre-Hugues Herbert in round 1, with Karen Khachanov or Adrian Mannarino to follow in round 2. Khachanov beat Mannarino at the end of last season, but either way, Sock should be the one to face Tsonga in round 3. Given the fatigue factor, I have Tsonga advancing into week 2.
The Canadian #1 Milos Raonic gets his own quarter of the draw after reaching the semifinals for the first time last year. Raonic will face fan favorite Dustin Brown to start, with Muller/Fritz to follow, and a struggling Gilles Simon most likely in round 3. Simon opens with Michael Mmoh, and Jared Donaldson or Rogerio Dutra Silva will follow. Simon is the seed, but his form hasn’t been great, I see Donaldson having a bright future,but I’m not quite sure he’s ready to beat Simon yet. Raonic should beat Simon in round 3.
Roberto Bautista Agut is a solid favorite in his own part of the draw. The Chennai champion opens with Guido Pella, with Yoshihito Nishioka or qualifier Alex Bolt to follow. RBA is defending fourth round points and will likely face a third round contest with his countryman Ferrer. I’m going with an upset though, and I have RBA facing Daniil Medvedev the third round, with Medvedev upsetting Ferrer. RBA should reach the second week.
One-time champion Rafael Nadal opens with Florian Mayer, Nadal’s form is a little shaky, but he should beat the veteran Mayer, and the Baghdatis/Youzhny winner, before facing off with talented young gun Alexander Zverev in round 3. Zverev opens with journeyman Robin Haase, and either Frances Tiafoe or Mikhail Kukushkin will follow. Nadal won his only meeting against Zverev, and the veteran should reach the fourth round. Zverev has the ability to beat Rafa, but Nadal’s quality should have an edge in best of 5.
Monfils/Vesely will face Dolgopolov/Coric, with Monfils likely to be opposite Philipp Kohlschreiber in the third round. The veteran German faces Nikoloz Basilashvili, with Thomas Fabbiano or Donald Young to follow. Presuming Kohlschreiber is fit, he could test Monfils, but a healthy Monfils is the best player in his section. Monfils leads the h2h 12-2 over Kohli.
Six-time and defending AO champion Novak Djokovic will do battle with Verdasco, then will face Denis Istomin or qualifier Ivan Dodig in round 2. Djokovic should ease past Dodig with Kyle Edmund likely waiting in round 3. Edmund opens with Santiago Giraldo, with Pablo Carreno Busta or Peter Polansky to follow. Edmund continues to improve, and although I see him defeating PCB in round 2, Djokovic should be a bridge too far.
Brisbane champion Grigor Dimitrov opens with wild card Christopher O’Connell, who is making his Slam debut. Dimitrov has been playing great tennis as of late, and should ease into the third round over Hyeon Chung, after Chung beats Renzo Olivo. Richard Gasquet, who opens with qualifier Blake Mott, looks to be fit, and should beat Mott and Radu Albot or Carlos Berlocq to setup a third round clash of the one handed backhands. Gasquet leads the h2h 5-1, but Dimitrov won their last meeting, and I back the Bulgarian to reach week 2.
Goffin faces Opelka, then the oft-injured Dmitry Tursunov or more likely 38 year old qualifier Radek Stepanek in round 2. Goffin could be tripped up, but I have him reaching round 3, and then dispatching Ivo Karlovic, who opens with Horacio Zeballos. Adam Pavlasek or wild card Andrew Whittington waits in round 2. Karlovic has reached Melbourne’s second week once before, but Goffin seems reliable enough.
Dominic Thiem opens with J.L. Struff, who reached a challenger final in his last outing. Thiem has struggled a bit to open the season, but he should beat Thompson/Sousa in round 2 before running into Lopez in round 3. Chennai semifinalist Benoit Paire is also in this section, opening with the ageless Tommy Haas. Lopez should beat Fognini and Paire before falling to Thiem.
Dark Horses (one for each quarter of the draw): Mischa Zverev, Steve Darcis, Daniil Medvedev, Feliciano Lopez
Zverev could upset Isner and Pouille to reach the second week of a slam for the first time. His brother Alex could also upset Nadal for a big result for the whole family. Darcis, another veteran, has reached the third round of a slam once before, he has a great shot at making it at least that far, and with Kyrgios knee in question he could reach the second week for the first time.
The young Medvedev needs to upset Ferrer and RBA to reach the second week, it’s a tough task, but doable given his talent. Lopez has reached the second week of slams before, and with Thiem and Paire a bit shaky in terms of form, he could well do so again.
Round of 16 Murray d. Isner (8-0 h2h)
Nishikori d. Berdych (4-1 h2h)
Wawrinka d. Kyrgios (2-2 h2h)
Tsonga d. Cilic (3-5 h2h)
Nadal d. Monfils (12-2 h2h)
Raonic d. Bautista Agut (4-0 h2h)
Goffin d. Thiem (5-3 h2h)
Djokovic d. Dimitrov (6-1 h2h)
Murray, Djokovic, and Raonic should be pretty safe to advance into the final stages, Nishikori, Wawrinka, and Nadal should be tested, but I see them surviving. Tsonga should be in better form than Cilic, and Goffin is probably fresher than Thiem.
Quarters Murray d. Nishikori (9-2 h2h)
Wawrinka d. Tsonga (4-3 h2h)
Raonic d. Nadal (2-6 h2h)
Djokovic d. Goffin (5-0 h2h)
These four quarterfinals, if they come to fruition, should be quality matchups. Murray and Djokovic remain clear favorites, Wawrinka vs. Tsonga and Raonic vs. Nadal should be quality and tightly contested matches. Raonic and Wawrinka have had an edge in the past year, and that should continue.
Semis Murray d. Wawrinka (10-7 h2h)
Djokovic d. Raonic (8-0 h2h)
It’s hard to pick against the world’s top 2 players to reach a hard court Grand Slam final.
Final Djokovic d. Murray (25-11 h2h)
Djokovic won in Doha, Murray may be the world #1 for the time being, but Novak still has a clear edge in the h2h, and until Murray can beat him in Melbourne, I have to go with Djokovic over the five time AO finalist Murray.
2017 Australian Open Women’s Preview and Predictions Niall Clarke, Tennis Atlantic
The draw has been made, the excitement is building and the first grand slam of the year is just days from getting started. Angelique Kerber is the top seed and defending champion of the Australian Open, can she defend her title? Or will somebody else step up to the face whether new or familiar? Here is a run down of the draw.
Kerber’s start to 2017 has not be great as she faced early exits in Brisbane and Sydney, but this is a grand slam in which she is the defending champion, so the motivation will be multiplied. The German starts her campaign against Lesia Tsurenko, a player who took the top seed the distance in the build up to the tournament. Kerber’s section is full of dangerous unseeded players such as Yaroslava Shvedova and Kristyna Pliskova, both of which may fancy themselves to take advantage of an out of sorts Irina Begu in the opening rounds. The fourth round could bring on a rematch with Daria Kastakina who stunned the world number one in Sydney. The young Russian is one of the most promising players on tour, and with a good draw against Roberta Vinci in the third round, Kasatkina could find herself making the second week.
Garbine Muguruza is about as predictable as the weather in Britain. One day she looks like a future world number one, the next she barely looks top 100. Either way this is quite a kind draw for the Spaniard who will play Marina Erakovic in round one. The first seed projected is an Anastasija Sevastova who is on a seven match losing streak… ouch. Muguruza could end up facing compatriot, friend and doubles partner Carla Suarez Navarro in the fourth round. She too has a good draw to last 16 with Shuai Zhang being the biggest threat. An all Spanish affair is on the cards for the round of 16 with Muguruza looking good for at least the quarter finals.
Many fans will be hoping for a Kerber-Muguruza quarter final, and that is likely to happen. Kasatkina is perhaps the biggest threat to that match, but her vs Muguruza is no less interesting. With the seventh seed it is difficult to predict which version will show up, so the safe bet is on Kerber making the semi finals.
With the tour being so wide open, there is a good chance of Simona Halep breaking through the glass ceiling and claiming her maiden slam. The Romanian has a good draw in front of her, can she take advantage? The first real test should come in the form of Monica Puig in the third round. The Puerto Rican has the power to blast through the strong defence of Halep. Speaking of power, Venus Williams packs plenty and she will be hoping for one last shot at grand slam glory. Like Halep, the American has a good draw to the round of 16 with the third round against Kiki Bertens being the toughest challenge. The chances of a Halep vs Venus clash for a spot in the quarter finals are quite high and that would be a high profile showdown.
Svetlana Kuznetsova is a potential dark horse here and out of the four possible semi final opponents, she got the best one. The Russian is no known for remarkable consistency but on her day she can beat anyone on tour. The path to the fourth round should be simple enough with Laura Siegemund being the other seeded player in that mini section. Elina Svitolina in the last 16 is where things get real interesting. The Ukrainian is still highly touted to make a breakthrough at any time now, and this could the tournament to do it. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova is her toughest test before Kuznetsova. The winner of that fourth round match may fancy their chances of making the last four.
This is a tough section to call as the two projected fourth round matches could go either way. Venus is capable of beating Halep, but on a slower surface you would favour the Romanian to get through. Svitolina vs Kuznetsova is a toss up, but the Ukrainian has beaten Kuznetsova here before so she can do it again. I feel this could be a good tournament for the youngster, and she could beat Halep and make the final four, so I am going out on a limb and predicting Svitolina to advance.
The third quarter is perhaps the most stacked of all and promises a very interesting quarter final between Agnieszka Radwanska and Karolina Pliskova. First they must get through a tough draw of players though, kicking off with Tsvetana Pironkova for the Pole. Radwanska has some tough floaters in her draw including Mirjana Lucic-Baroni who is a potential second round foe. Alize Cornet had a good run in Brisbane so comes into Melbourne with form on her side and could give Radwanska a tough match in the third round. The fourth round will likely be against Elena Vesnina, but the Russian has struggled with form in the build up to the tournament. Sam Stosur will be hoping for a good run at home, but her record in Australia is not good, so it may be a good chance for an unseeded player such as Heather Watson, Joanna Larsson or Magda Linette to make the fourth round.
Pliskova is the form player heading into the Australian Open after a good run of play saw her lift the Brisbane trophy at the start of the season. The Czech has a fair draw to the fourth round with Monica Niculescu and Yulia Putintseva being the most difficult tests. The last 16is where things get interesting as there are a number of players in this mini-section capable of making an impact. Timea Bacsinszky and Daria Gavrilova are the seeds, but will they manage to compete against each other in the third round? Gavrilova faces Naomi Broady then possibly up and comer Ana Konjuh in the second round. The Swiss faces the dangerous Camila Giorgi in the opening round so there are plenty of upset chances on the cards. However, Pliskova is expected to make it through this section, problems or not.
Radwanska vs Pliskova is difficult to call, but the match lies in the hands of the fifth seed. If Pliskova is on point with her power then it will be difficult for Radwanska to resist. If not then the Pole will win the match by virtue of consistency. Given how well Pliskova played in Brisbane, it is difficult to look past her getting through here.
Serena Williams’ dominance of the WTA tour came to an end in 2016 as she was dethroned by Kerber as the best female tennis player in the world. 2017 will see the 22 time Grand Slam champion look to not only reassert her dominance, but also make history, starting in Melbourne. Serena will still be the favourite in most peoples minds despite being the second seed, but she could have hardly asked for a tougher opening match. Belinda Bencic, a player who knows what it takes to beat her, will kick off he world number two’s campaign. It does not get much easier with former French open finalist Lucie Safarova possibly awaiting in the second round and the big serving Timea Babos the first seed Williams will likely come across. From there Serena will likely go on to face Barbora Strycova or Caroline Garcia, two talented but very different players who can cause trouble in many ways. To say Serena will have to earn her place in the quarter finals is an understatement.
Dominika Cibulkova knows what it takes to reach the final in Melbourne, and with a bit of luck she might like her chances of repeating that feat in 2017. Her draw looks pretty good with Ekaterina Makarova in round three being the toughest predicted opponent until the fourth stage. There she could meet in form Brit, Johanna Konta. The ninth seed was superb in Sydney where she captured the title so comes into Melbourne full of confidence. She has a tricky opener against Kirtsen Flipkens and a possible match with talented Japanese youngster Naomi Osaka in round two. All eyes will be on a potential round three clash with Caroline Wozniacki though. This is one of the most anticipated third round matches looking at the draw, and the winner could reach the quarter finals and a potential meeting with Serena.
Williams feels vulnerable in this section because there are plenty of players who are capable of upsetting her in every round. British fans will be interested in my predicted quarter final of Serena vs Konta, but I feel they will not like the result. Serena struggles but advances through this section to meet Pliskova in the semi finals.
Prediction: Serena def. Konta
I have gone on a limb and predicted Svitolina to make her first grand slam semi final, but it is difficult to see her progressing any further. It is likely the pressure will get to the Ukrainian, the same pressure in which Kerber thrived on last year. Their head to head is close and Svitolina did win their Brisbane clash, but this is a different stage and I see Kerber prevailing
Prediction: Kerber def. Svitolina
Pliskova pulled off one of 2016’s stunning upsets by defeating Serena at the US Open to make her maiden Grand Slam final. The question on whether she can do it again will be at large, but the thing with the American is, she always seems to win the next big meeting. I can see it being a close match, but this time I feel Serena edges it.
Prediction: Serena def. Pliskova
So it will end up being a repeat of the 2016 final as Serena faces Kerber. The German pulled off a stunning display a year a go to win her maiden slam, a performance that kicked off an incredible year for the world number one, in which she went on to make the Wimbledon final and win the US Open. She lost to Serena in that very Wimbledon final though, and the world number two had seemingly made some adjustments to counter Kerber. It is a tough one to predict, but I am going with Serena based off their last big meeting. I will not be shocked to see Kerber do it again, and I will not be shocked if Serena does not even make the final. But I am going to predict her to win Grand Slam number 23 in Melbourne.