Tennis is a game of numbers, and it’s the digits that tell the story yet again. Serena Williams’ 17th career victory over Maria Sharapova captured her 19th Grand Slam title, moving the American within 3 of Steffi Graf’s record of 22 major victories.
The world number one defeated Sharapova 6-3,7-6 to claim her sixth Australian title of her illustrious career and 19th major, which now separates her from Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova who have 18 each.
Serena was the favourite heading into the match, and with good reason. The American hadn’t lost to her final opponent in 15 matches. Maria’s last victory over Serena came in 2004 in the WTA Championships that year. Since then, the Russian has barely been able to win a set, never mind a match against her long-time rival. Despite the lop-sided head to head, there was a slight glimmer of hope for Sharapova as Williams appeared to be carrying a virus. Serena apparently only practiced for five minutes a day before the final, and was said to have a nasty cough heading in to the final.
It didn’t take long for the world number one to stamp her authority on the match, however. Serena broke in the very first game, giving her the perfect nerve settler. The match stayed with serve until a rain delay at *3-2 30-30 forced the roof on Rod Laver arena to be closed. During the interruption, Williams took it upon herself to leave the court, presumably because of the illness.
Despite being pictured coughing in the tunnel, Serena came out and won the first five points after the delay extending her lead to 5-2, and giving herself a chance to serve out the first set. Sharapova is known for her determination and her competitive spirit and she showed exactly why that is. The world number two broke straight back giving herself a fighting chance of rescuing the opening set. Unfortunately for the Russian, it turned out to be all for nothing. Serena re-asserted control by breaking Sharapova to love; 1-0 to the top seed.
Williams continued to look dominant as she soon raced to a game lead, and two break point opportunities at the start of the second set. Most players facing Serena would fold in this situation, but the world number two isn’t just another player. The fighting spirit that has seen Sharapova win five grand slam titles was on display for everyone to see as she saved the break points and won the game.
The 27 year old had played her way into the match, and despite facing two more break points, and a match point on her own serve, Sharapova salvaged a second set tie break.
Possessing one of the best serves in the whole of tennis, and experience that most dream of, Serena was no doubt the favourite in the tiebreak. She gave the mini-break to Sharapova in the first point of the breaker, but it was soon overturned by the world number one as she raced into a 4-1 lead. The second seed kept in touch by holding on to her serve in the next two points, and she was rewarded by getting the mini-break back at 5-3. Unfortunately for Sharapova her efforts were futile as Serena re-established her advantage in the next point to set up 2 match points. Maria saved the first with a big forehand down the line, leaving Serena to settle it on her own serve. The world number one’s cough soon turned into a hiccup as an apparent ace was called a let by the umpire. But the 33 year old re-grouped to fire down an ace that replicated the ruled out one from moments before to close the match out. It was a champion’s way to finish it off, from perhaps the greatest women’s athlete of all time.
Williams stepped up to the podium to collect her trophy to cries of “I love you” from the crowd, in which she responded “I love you back, I really do!” She added: “I have to congratulate Maria, who played a wonderful, wonderful match tonight. She really pushed me tonight. She played so well and gave us a great final – not only for you guys, but for women’s tennis and all of the sponsors who support our sport and all of us. I’m honoured to play you in the final.”
“Growing up I wasn’t the richest, but I had a rich family in spirit and support, and standing here with 19 championships is something I never thought would happen. I went on the courts with just a ball, a racquet and a hope. That’s all I had. So all you guys who want to do something or be something, just never give up. You never know what can happen or who you can inspire. I’m just so honoured.”
Sharapova was gracious in her runners up speech: “First of all I’ve got to congratulate Serena on creating history and on playing some of her best tennis,” Sharapova said. “It’s an honour playing against her. I haven’t beaten her in a really long time, but I love it every time I step on the court to play her because she’s the best, and as a tennis player you want to play the best, so congratulations on such a great achievement.”
“It’s been a long couple of weeks here for me. I was almost down and out in the second round, and I gave myself a second life in this tournament. It wasn’t enough today, but I love it here. I’ve had some of my best memories on this court and my toughest losses, but that’s life as a tennis player.”
Both players had their struggles on the way to the final, but they ultimately prevailed.
Serena had to come from a set down against Elina Svitolina and Garbine Muguruza in rounds three and four. The two youngsters found themselves up a set, but Serena’s experience and ability to reach another level proved too much. From then on, the world number one didn’t drop a set as she dispatched last year’s runner up, Dominika Cibulkova and American prospect Madison Keys in straight sets on her way to the final.
Maria Sharapova was on the brink of an early exit in round two, but the 27 year old saved match points to defeat Alexandra Panova in three sets. That seemed to light a fire under the world number two, as she went on a tear in the new few rounds. Sharapova dispatched Zarina Diyas, Shuai Peng, Eugenie Bouchard and fellow Russian Ekaterina Makarova in straight sets before eventually losing out to Serena in the final.
It is a wonder whether Sharapova will ever defeat Williams again. When the Russian first burst onto the scene in 2004, she dispatched Serena with relative ease in the Wimbledon final. But since then, she has only defeated the world number one once, and even that was in the same year. Is it mental, is it technical, or is it a mixture of both? Either way, since 2004 Williams has dominated Sharapova in nearly all of their matches, and it’s hard to see that changing. But if Tomas Berdych can beat Rafael Nadal, surely Maria can beat Serena, no?
The legacy of the world number one just continues to grow by the year, and despite being at the ripe age of 33, Serena is still the woman to beat on the WTA tour. Williams has a presence on court that isn’t replicated by anyone else, and with the amount of time off she’s had during her career, I can safely say she will still be around competing for Grand Slams for years to come.
It has been a memorable grand slam, concluded with a great match between the two best players in the women’s game. The collapse of the seeded players in round one, the dream run of Madison Keys and Serena capturing her 19th grand slam title only scratches the surface of what happened in the past fortnight. As usual, the Australian Open didn’t disappoint and the best in women’s tennis will be back next year.
Be sure to catch all the WTA action on Tennis Atlantic throughout the season.
2015 Australian Open Week 2 Women’s Preview, Predictions Niall Clarke, Tennis Atlantic
It has flown by quicker than a jet fighter, but we are already half way through the first grand slam of the year. The main talking point was the early demise of seeded players in the first round. Lucie Safarova, Angelique Kerber, Jelena Jankovic, Carla Suarez Navarro, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Sabine Lisicki, Flavia Pennetta, Andrea Petkovic, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and most shockingly Ana Ivanovic bowed out in the opening round in Melbourne. I suppose ranking doesn’t matter In the WTA.
We have seen a lot of shocks, thrilling matches and drama in the first week, so let’s look back on the action and see is on the horizon for the second week of the Australian Open starting with the bottom half.
It’s been a mixed bag so far from the number two seed. Sharapova cruised through her first round match against Petra Martic, before almost stumbling out to Alexandra Panova. The Russian star had to save 2 match points before overcoming the world 150.
Shaui Peng has made it to the round of 16 without dropping a set thus far, dispatching of Tatjana Maria, Magdalena Rybarikova, and Safarova conqueror, Yaroslava Shvedova. The Chinese number one reached the US Open semi finals last year, and has continued her great grand slam form thus far at the Australian Open.
That said, I don’t feel Peng has the game to beat Maria Sharapova in a grand slam. The match will be on the world number two’s racket, and will come down to how well she plays. I can only see Peng winning of Sharapova has a stinker, and even then it’s not certain with the fighting spirit of the 5 time grand slam champion.
(7)Eugenie Bouchard vs. Irina-Camelia Begu
The grand slam gods keep smiling down on Bouchard, who found herself the only seed left in this section after the opening round. The Canadian hasn’t let the seed collapse affect her game however, as she has been flawless in the opening three rounds. Straight set wins over Ana-Lena Friedslam, Kiki Bertens and Caroline Garcia have allowed the 20 year old to advance to the fourth round.
Begu is the woman who dispatched of ninth seed, Angelique Kerber in the first round and she hasn’t slowed down since. The Romanian hasn’t dropped a set since she upset the German. Begu defeated Katerina Siniakova, and Carina Witthoeft in the 2nd and 3rd round respectively.
It will be Bouchard’s biggest test to date, but with the Canadian’s tendancy to bring her best to the big events, I believe Bouchard should advance to the quarter finals. Begu will offer a big challenge and could upset the 7th seed, but the safe bet is on Bouchard.
Number three seed, Simona Halep has looked good thus far as she continues on her quest for her maiden grand slam title. The Romanian didn’t drop a set as she dispatched Karin Knapp, Jarmila Gajdosova and Bethanie Mattek-Sands in the opening three rounds.
Yanina Wickmayer has claimed the scalps of two seeded players on her way to her 2nd round 4 appearance at Melbourne. The Belgian dispatched (28) Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, and (14) Sara Errani in three sets. In between those victories she defeated Lara Arrubarrena in three sets, so she has gotten used to going the distance.
If Halep is serious about winning her first grand slam here, she should dispatch Wickmayer with little trouble. The way things have been going however, we may see yet another upset down under. If I was to predict, I would say Halep in two sets though.
(10)Ekaterina Makarova vs. Julia Goerges
The tenth seed Ekaterina Makarova has been flawless in her opening three matches, winning all of them in straight sets. An-Sophie Mestach was the first victim of the Russian, followed by Roberta Vinci. Then came the much anticipated clash with an in form Karolina Pliskova, which Makarova made look easy, breaking the big serving Czech three times.
The biggest beneficiary of Ana Ivanovic’s exit has been Julia Goerges. The big serving German took advantage of the fifth seed’s exit to make her maiden grand slam fourth round appearance. Goerges took apart youngster Belina Bencic, Klara Koukalova and qualifier Lucie Hradecka on her way to this stage.
Makarova is another one of those players who brings her best to the slams, and this one has been no different thus far. Goerges has performed well in her best slam to date, but I feel this will be in the end of the road for her. Makarova in 2 sets is my prediction.
The world number one hasn’t been as destructive as she has been in the past, but she’s managed to get it done in her first three matches, all with a bagel. Williams dispatched of Alison Van Uytvanck, and Vera Zvonareva in straight sets before coming from a set down to beat young star Elina Svitolina.
In round four she’ll face another young star in Garbine Muguruza. The Spaniard has opened her own bakery this year, handing out a bagel in all but one of her matches in 2015. Muguruza defeated Marina Erakovic in straight sets before getting taken all the way by Daniela Hantuchova and the inform Timea Bacsinszky.
This is arguably the most interesting round four match as Muguruza handed Williams her biggest grand slam loss for over a decade last year. Serena will be motivated and looking for revenge, but Garbine has been playing well thus far despite her lapses in concentration. She can’t afford that against Serena, so I expect a tight battle no matter which way it goes.
(11)Dominika Cibulkova vs. Victoria Azarenka
Last year’s finalist didn’t build on her performance last year, but Cibulkova has returned to form in time to try defend her points from 2014. The Slovakian has only dropped one set on her way to the fourth round and that was her opening set of the tournament against Kirsten Flipkens. Since then, Cibulkova has defeated Tsvetana Pironkova and Alize Cornet.
Victoria Azarenka emerged the favourite to make the quarter final after her straight sets win over Caroline Wozniacki in round two. The former two time champion is looking to kick start her 2015 season after struggling last season, and she’s doing it the right way thus far. No sets dropped in her wins over Sloane Stephens, Caroline Wozniacki, and Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova has shown the Belarusian to be in good form.
Interesting match with potential to go either way. A lot will depend on the form of Cibulkova because she has proven to give anyone a test when playing well. However, Azarenka is always at her best in Melbourne and is in good form, so I feel Vika should make the Quarter Finals.
Madison Keys vs. Madison Brengle
Big hitting American, Madison Keys shocked the tennis world with her straight sets victory over Petra Kvitova in the third round. Before that, she upset the home crowd by beating Australian Casey Dellacqua in three sets in round two and straight setting Lesia Tsurenko in round one.
The other Madison (Brengle) has had an upset of her own as she beat Andrea Petkovic in three sets. The American hasn’t dropped a set since that upset. Brengle defeated countrywomen Irina Falconi and Coco Vandeweghe on her way to the last 16.
The battle of the Madisons is very hard to predict. Keys has the bigger game and usually I would expect her to blast Brengle off the court. The question is how will Keys handle the pressure of being the favourite in the 2nd week of a slam? Any lapses in concentration and Brengle will be waiting to pounce, so interesting to see who makes their maiden grand slam quarter final.
The Pole has been in ominous form, only dropping 9 games en route to the fourth round. Radwanska dropped only three games against Kurumi Nara, one against Johanna Larsson and five against Vavara Lepchenko. In each one of her matches, the sixth seed has delivered a bagel.
Venus Williams was a potential dark horse to win the tournament coming off her Auckland triumph. The 34 year old has reached the last 16 for the first time since 2011, so maybe she’s having one last hurrah. It hasn’t been all easy for Venus however, she was tested my Camila Giorgi in the third round who failed to serve out the match, and that was after straight set wins Maria Theresa Torro-Flo and Lauren Davis.
Both players will be facing their biggest test in the fourth round, and will feel they have a golden opportunity to make the semi finals with Kvitova’s surprise exit. I picked Venus to win this encounter before the tournament, but with Radwanska’s form so far I am now siding towards the Pole. It will be tight, and most likely go the distance no matter which player ends up winning.
Sharapova d. Bouchard in 3 Halep d. Makarova in 3 Muguruza d. Azarenka in 3 Radwanska d. Keys in 2
I am sticking to my original prediction and saying that Sharapova defeats Bouchard in to set up a semi final showdown with Simona Halep. The world number two I feel is too experienced for Bouchard at this stage and I expect something akin to their Roland Garros battle last year.
Makarova is a great grand slam player, but Halep is the better overall player at the moment. The Russian will no doubt test the number three seed and may even get the win, but it’s hard not to back Halep in her undefeated form this year.
Our readers might have gathered I have a lot of faith in Muguruza fulfilling her potential. I am really feeling a big run from her here, especially given how the draw has really opened up for the Spaniard. Azarenka has looked very good thus far, but I still don’t think she’s the Azarenka of old yet, so I will go with my heart and say Muguruza in 3 sets.
Like I mentioned, I am now siding towards Radwanska in her fourth round match against Venus. The Pole is in good form, and she’ll have a deep run here. Keys will blast Brengle off the court, but Radwanska is a few levels above her at the moment. The 6th seed will be too crafty and experienced for the youngster in a straight sets win.
Halep d. Sharapova in 3 Radwanska d. Muguruza in 3
I am will also stick to my guns and say Halep narrowly defeats Sharapova in the semi final. The head to head is massively in favour of the Russian, but I just feel it’s Halep’s time to win her maiden slam. Sharapova puts up a great fight as usual, but ultimately ends up falling in a three set thriller.
Radwanska will make her second grand slam final appearance after defeating a tired Muguruza in the semi finals. The Spaniard may come out all guns blazing, but she is not quite ready for a huge breakthrough yet, so physical and mental fatigue will catch up with her. Radwanska fights back from a set down to defeat Muguruza in three.
Final: Halep d. Radwanska in 2
Like I said, I just feel it is Halep’s time to win a grand slam, and with the exit of Kvitova and potentially Serena Williams, it may have just opened up for her perfectly. Radwanska would have made a tremendous effort to get this far, but I don’t see the Pole going all the way. The Pole leads the head to head, but Halep won comfortably in their last meeting. I expect a tight 2 set victory for Halep in the final, thus claiming her maiden slam title.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Quarters: 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.
Semis: 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.
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.
2015 Australian Open Week 1 Men’s Preview and Predictions Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
2015 Australian Open Men’s Preview
January 18-February 1, 2015
Prize Money: $40,000,000
It’s one of the more open Grand Slam draws in a while when it comes to the Men’s Aussie Open. The traditional “big four” of Djokovic, Nadal, Federer, and Murray are all competing for the title, while other names could also put up great showings including defending champion Stan Wawrinka, Kei Nishikori, and Milos Raonic. Here is a preview of all that could take place down under come Monday.
Top 8 seeds (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Novak Djokovic (1)
2: Roger Federer (2)
3: Rafael Nadal (3)
4: Stan Wawrinka (4)
5: Kei Nishikori (5)
6: Andy Murray (6)
7: Tomas Berdych (7)
8: Milos Raonic (8)
Notable players missing in the draw include US Open champion Marin Cilic, former finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, former top 10 player Tommy Haas, Juan Martin Del Potro, who came back last week but needs to rest his wrist again and pulled out of the draw, and young American Jack Sock, who are all injured.
RBA reached the round of 16 last year, his best result ever in a slam, and even with his top 15 seeding he likely won’t be pleased by his round 1 opponent Dominic Thiem. Thiem appears to be struggling with his fitness early in the season, as he was sick and lost weight in the offseason, thus RBA will be a favorite, but the young Austrian still has talent, and given RBA crashed out of Auckland with flu like symptoms, he may also not be feeling so hot himself. RBA should advance but it’s not a lock by any measure.
(12)Feliciano Lopez vs. (WC)Denis Kudla
Lopez lost his opening match in Chennai, and played poorly in both the Abu Dhabi and Kooyong Exos in preparation for the AO. He’s a top 15 seed but his form appears to be awful, and the USTA WC winner Kudla will have a chance of grabbing an upset win in this one. Lopez is the more talented player but he recently lost to lower ranked players Aljaz Bedene and Jordan Thompson, thus I’m making a gutsy pick and going with Kudla to advance. He’s 4-2 in 2015 and his form appears to be reliable enough to win this one.
One of the few R1 matches to watch that has any sort of h2h record: Querrey won a 4 setter over Pospisil on grass at Wimbledon in 2012, and Vasek is defending his best ever result in a slam, as he reached the third round here last year before injuring his back. Both players played well at times last year but only Pospisil has won a match this season, as he beat Andreas Seppi in Sydney. I give Vasek a slight edge to advance but this match is almost a pure toss-up.
Guillermo Garcia-Lopez vs. Peter Gojowczyk
GGL appears to be in poor form going into this match, as he has lost a pair of matches to lower ranked players, given he slumped at the end of last season, the German Gojowczyk will have a good chance to advance. He’s a talented player who hasn’t reached his potential yet, having mostly played challenger level tennis, and I expect this one to go four or five sets as well.
(5)Kei Nishikori vs. Nicolas Almagro
The h2h for this matchup is split 1-1, and both times they met at the ATP level, the match went a full three sets. Nishikori is playing under the pressure of being the top Asian player in the Grand Slam of Asia-Pacific while Almagro is returning from injury and still has rust. Nishikori is favored to advance and likely will, but it’s not the easiest R1 match-up for a number 5 seed in a slam and we could be looking at a four or five setter. Also watch out if this is a day match for Nishikori possibly wilting in the heat.
Victor Estrella vs. (Q)Jurgen Melzer
The almost 35 year old Estrella will face off with the 33 year old Melzer in round 1. Estrella is making his Aussie Open debut, as he reached a career high ranking inside the top 70 in 2014 and got himself into the main draw by the end of the season. Melzer once reached the second week in Melbourne but he struggled mightily last season and his ranking dropped low enough he had to qualify to get into the main draw. Both these guys are at the twilight of their careers, though Melzer has accomplished considerably more in his, and this will be a fun match to watch veterans do battle. Estrella isn’t a pushover on hard courts, but given Melzer is more talented and apparently rounding into some form, I have him winning this one.
A match between players who won ATP titles in Sydney and Auckland last week, which is quite rare in terms of occurrence, both are in great form, but given they won those titles as qualifiers, are likely very fatigued going into the AO. Vesely is a promising young gun who just broke into the top 40, while Troicki is a passionate competitor who has had a tremendous comeback. This match could be great, but at the same time, if they meet during the day in difficult conditions, I would almost expect a retirement if the match starts swinging one way or another depending on the physical condition of the players coming into the match. It’s a hard pick with all that in mind, but I feel Troicki is actually the better player right now, and I have him winning this one.
(26)Leonardo Mayer vs. (WC)John Millman
A match with great potential for an upset, Mayer is a top 30 player but he is far superior on clay than on hard courts, and though he made the semifinals in Sydney, I still think the Aussie wild card Millman will notch the upset. Millman is a talented player who is 11-1 in his last twelve tournament matches, with that lone loss coming to Roger Federer. Given this is hard courts, and Millman will have support from the home crowd, he should feed off that and use it to fuel him to a victory.
(11)Ernests Gulbis vs. (WC)Thanasi Kokkinakis
Gulbis has lost three straight tournament matches going back to least season and he struggled mightily in his only warm up test this year against Jiri Vesely in Auckland. He rarely plays well at the AO and he will be facing a home young gun player in Kokkinakis. The lanky Kokkinakis lost to his countryman Bernard Tomic in the second round of Brisbane in his only tournament tune up. Once again Gulbis is a top 15 seed, but upset potential exists depending on the type of form the Latvian is in. I’m not over confident in Kokkinakis but he’s due for a big win and I have him through to round 2 in my own bracket.
The only time this pair met, on clay in 2012, it went 3 sets, and though Dimitrov reached the quarters in Brisbane, he wasn’t super impressive there. Brown is an erratic player who play lights out tennis on rare occasion, and otherwise is a challenger level player, I still feel Dimitrov will win, possibly in straight sets, but I don’t feel enough people are looking at this matchup as one to watch. If Dreddy shows up playing like a human highlight reel, and Dimitrov gets off to a slow start, we could at least be looking at a four or five setter. Expect some talented shotmaking by both players here.
(25)Jeremy Chardy vs. Borna Coric
Chardy, a former quarterfinalist here, will take on the confident young gun Coric who is 1-2 in his ATP tune up matches this season, while Chardy is 2-2. Coric has a lot of talent but his pedestrian performance against clay courter Pablo Carreno Busta in Auckland demonstrates he’s far from reliable at this stage in his career, thus Chardy, the veteran Frenchman, is probably a slight favorite. This one could go either way depending on which Coric shows up, but I personally have Chardy going through to round 2.
The four time Australian Open champion Djokovic will open with an in-form Aljaz Bedene who qualified for the AO after reaching the Chennai final, then should get another easy match against Andrey Kuznetsov/Albert Ramos before a likely third round meeting with former AO semifinalist Fernando Verdasco. Verdasco, who comes off a pair of wins in the Kooyong exhibition, will need to defeat journeymen James Ward and Go Soeda/qualifier Elias Ymer to get that far. Ymer is a promising young Swede and he should beat Soeda but I don’t feel he has enough ability to beat Verdasco. Djokovic is 3-1 against Verdasco on outdoor hard courts in his career and I don’t see any particular reason why Novak won’t make the second week based upon his potential draw. Bedene is in great form but he’s played so much tennis as of late Novak should wear him down.
The RBA/Thiem winner will face Gilles Muller or Pablo Carreno Busta in round 2. The big serving Muller comes off the semis in Sydney and he’s 5-2 in 2015. With that in mind, given the surface, and RBA in questionable form coming off illness, I’m calling an upset in this section and putting Muller through to the third round. He’s had a great comeback over the past year and he’s due for a solid slam result. Muller/RBA/Thiem will face most likely John Isner in round 3. Isner has a good draw if he doesn’t lay an egg here, with qualifier Jimmy Wang, and qualifier Laurent Lokoli or Andreas Haider-Maurer on tap in the first two rounds. Isner is 3-0 in his career against Muller, with all of those wins coming on hard courts and given their similar styles of play, with Isner being better at the one two serve/return combo, the American should make the second week, even with poor history in Melbourne. If RBA were to be fit and healthy and get to the third round, I would have him beating Isner but that’s a big if.
Milos Raonic, who comes off the final in Brisbane, will be trying to break through in a slam this year, and he should at least make the second week, as his path is qualifier Ilya Marchenko, Donald Young or qualifier Tim Puetz, and one of Julian Benneteau/Benjamin Becker/Lleyton Hewitt/Ze Zhang to get to the round of 16. Raonic is 2-0 against Auckland quarterfinalist Young, while Benneteau should beat Becker, who he is 2-0 against, with Becker not having won a match in 2015. Lleyton Hewitt is struggling but he’s still a strong favorite against the Chinese wild card Zhang and given Benny won their H2H meeting last year, I expect home hero Hewitt to be ousted in round 2, and a Benneteau vs. Raonic third round match. Raonic is 3-1 in his career against Benneteau, and in good form, so he should reach the round of 16.
The Lopez/Kudla winner is slated to face Blaz Rola, or Auckland finalist Adrian Mannarino. Mannarino has been in great form in 2015, but Rola has talent and they are similar level players as a general rule. With Mannarino likely fatigued, even with Rola in poor form, I have a Kudla vs. Rola round 2 matchup, with a great opportunity for third round points for the winner. Kudla and Rola have never met, but Kudla is playing better tennis right now, so I have him into round 3 in my own bracket. Jerzy Janowicz, or Hiroki Moriya, who took Del Potro’s place in the draw as a lucky loser will face Gael Monfils or wild card Lucas Pouille in round 2. Pouille was a semifinalist in Auckland as a lucky loser while Monfils hasn’t had any match prep before the AO. I expect Pouille to be fatigued, but he did play some great tennis in Auckland, so perhaps that match will stretch out, that said I have Monfils over Janowicz in round 2. Monfils beat JJ last year, and I feel that style matchup favors the acrobatic Frenchman, after that Monfils should beat Kudla/Rola or someone else in round 3 to reach the round of 16 from this section. Janowicz has been decent this year, but not good enough to get past round 2.
The defending champion Stan the man will face Marsel Ilhan in his first match on his quest to repeat as the champion. After Ilhan it will be qualifier Marius Copil or Pablo Andujar, and then most likely Jarkko Nieminen or a qualifier in round 3, in what is very weak early draw for Wawrinka, as he should face little in the way of tough competition. Nieminen, who qualified in Sydney, will need to dispatch Andrey Golubev, and then Pablo Cuevas or qualifier Matthias Bachinger to reach the third round. Cuevas much prefers clay, so Bachinger, who is 5-1 in 2015, will also have a nice chance at round 2, but regardless Wawrinka should defeat Nieminen in round 3, as he comes off taking the Chennai title and is in great form. Also look for an in form Copil to defeat Andujar, the Romanian is 6-1 in 2015 and qualified by beating Aussie teen Omar Jasika in straight sets.
Fabio Fognini is slated to face Alejandro Gonzalez in round 1, the Italian is seeded 16th but has been playing well below the level of a top 50 player for quite some time. Thus Gonzalez, even though he prefers clay, may have just enough ability to notch an upset victory, given that unlike Fognini, he’s known for fighting hard in matches. The winner of Fognini/Gonzalez will face Garcia-Lopez/Gojowczyk in round 2, and I have Gojowczyk getting into the third round as a surprise. At that stage, expect the Pospisil/Querrey winner to defeat him, or another opponent, to reach the round 16. The winner of Pospisil/Querrey is slated to face Alex Dolgopolov or dirtballer Paolo Lorenzi in round 2. With Dolgopolov coming off an injury, though he should still defeat Lorenzi, who mostly plays hard court tournaments to collect a check. Dolgo has great talent but with that injury in mind, Pospisil/Querrey, most likely Pospisil should beat him, and eventually reach the second week. It’s possible Dolgopolov may withdrawal, and it’s a shame he’s not healthy because otherwise this would be a great draw for him all in all, if he withdraws and one of the lucky losers replaces him, I still favor that LL over Lorenzi.
Nishikori/Almagro will face Ivan Dodig or Joao Souza in round 2, with neither of those players being in particularly impressive form, I expect Nishikori to setup a round 3 encounter with American Steve Johnson. Johnson, an Auckland quarterfinalist, has qualifier Kyle Edmund first up, and then Santiago Giraldo or qualifier Jan Hernych, with Giraldo in poor form right now (He was rolled over in his first Auckland match) Johnson has the advantage, as he’s also more accomplished than Edmund. Nishikori beat him in Brisbane, and I expect the same result, with Nishikori making the round of 16.
Doha champ David Ferrer will face the laggard Thomaz Bellucci, with Dusan Lajovic or Sergiy Stakhovsky on deck, Ferrer is a near lock for the fourth round, as his third round opponent is most likely Gilles Simon, who appears to be struggling with a knee injury. Simon has had AO success before, and he still should reach the third round as the legendary choker Robin Haase, and then the Stephane Robert/Marcel Granollers winner are his path, with Granollers in awful form in his own right. Overall this section is weak and Ferrer is far superior to anyone else here.
Nadal is another player that is in terrible form going into the AO, but he has a round 1 opponent who is in even worse shape than he is, that being the veteran Russian Mikhail Youzhny. Youzhny has four career hard court wins against Rafa but none since 2008, he’s lost four straight matches going back to last season. Even though Nadal is 4-4 in his last eight with losses to the likes of Michael Berrer in Doha, Martin Klizan in Beijing, and Borna Coric in Basel, he still should beat Youzhny given this is a slam. After Youzhny, Nadal will face qualifier Tim Smyczek or Luke Saville, an Aussie wild card. In the third round, Lukas Rosol, who famously beat him at Wimbledon, is a possible opponent but I personally have JL Struff getting through to that stage instead to be Nadal’s opponent. Struff opens with Israeli veteran Dudi Sela, Sela hasn’t played any warm up events in 2015, while Struff is 2-2 in 2015 with wins over solid competitors Philipp Kohlschreiber, and Dominic Thiem. Rosol faces Kenny De Schepper first up, the Frenchman qualified and won a round in Auckland, while Rosol is on a four match losing streak.there may be some upset potential there but De Schepper is a one dimensional player built around his serve so I’m not sure he has enough to win. Struff beat Rosol last year on grass, and given current form, I have Struff over Rosol as I mentioned earlier. I’m deeply tempted to pick Struff over Nadal, but that would be quite a shocking pick, and I’m not confident enough to make it. Smyczek should defeat Saville as he’s the more accomplished veteran and plays some of his best tennis at the AO, Saville has yet to win a match in 2015 while Smyczek has won four and has more confidence.
The fourth round opponent for Nadal/Struff/Rosol is most likely to be either Auckland semifinalist Kevin Anderson, or Richard Gasquet, who made the quarterfinals in Doha. Anderson faces off with Argentine Diego Sebastian Schwartzman in round 1, Schwartzman much prefers clay, so it is almost certain to be Anderson against Igor Sijsling or Ricardas Berankis in round 2. Berankis has had some success in Australia, while Sijsling qualified in Sydney, I favor Berankis getting through over the one dimensional Sijsling. His match with Anderson is quite interesting, he is 2-0 in the h2h record with both those matches taking place at the challenger level, and Anderson may have some level of fatigue, with that in mind I’m going with an upset and placing Berankis in the third round. Richard Gasquet should safely defeat Carlos Berlocq, and then either Blaz Kavcic or home Aussie James Duckworth to reach the third round. Duckworth and Kavcic played a legendary match at the 2013 Australian Open, Kavcic won in five sets, 10-8 in the fifth, and had to get an IV after the match because it was played in white hot conditions. Kavcic qualified in Doha, and Duckworth made the quarters in Brisbane most recently, with home support, I feel like Ducky will get through to round 2. Expect Gasquet to take out Berankis in round 3 to reach the round of 16.
Doha finalist Tomas Berdych will face Alejandro Falla in round 1, then the winner of Estrella/Melzer, Berdych should safely reach the third round and face either Troicki/Vesely or the Millman/Mayer winner at that stage. I’m predicting a great tournament for Millman, as I have him beating Mayer, and then a fatigued Troicki/Vesely in round 2 to reach round 3, before falling to Berdych, who occasionally has lapses in form, but appears to be in good form.
The Gulbis/Kokkinakis winner is slated to face Filip Krajinovic/Sam Groth in round 2, Groth has a great shot at the third round, he plays well at home in Australia and Gulbis isn’t in great form here, while Kokkinakis still hasn’t fully matured, while the big serving, one dimensional Groth made the quarters in Brisbane. I have a Groth vs. Bernard Tomic third round matchup slated, Tomic just beat a struggling Kohlschreiber who has lost three straight, in Sydney and he is likely to face him again in the second round. Assuming Kohli beats Paul-Henri Mathieu and Tomic beats Tobias Kamke. Tomic and Groth have yet to play each other, but with Tomic being more well rounded and normally playing well on home soil, Bernard should reach the round of 16 to face off with Berdych.
Four time AO champ Federer will open with Rendy Lu, who is a solid hard court player but doesn’t have near enough weapons to take out the Swiss, who most recently won the Brisbane title. Federer is likely to face Simone Bolelli in round 2 as Bolelli faces a slumping Juan Monaco in round 1. Though he recently made the quarters in Sydney, it’s highly unlikely Federer will face any trouble in his first two matches. In round 3 it will be Chardy/Coric or Denis Istomin/Andreas Seppi as the opponent for Federer. Seppi and Istomin have a back and forth h2h history and Seppi leads it 2-1 on hard courts with a pair of Grand Slam wins that went five sets. The recent Doha semifinalist Seppi should beat Istomin who hasn’t won a match in 2015. Chardy beat Seppi at the 2013 AO and I feel he will do so again before losing to Federer who he famously beat on clay last year but is 0-2 against otherwise.
The fourth round opponent for Federer is most likely to be Ivo Karlovic, Karlovic upset Novak Djokovic in Doha and reached the semifinals. If his serve is clicking, he should defeat qualifier Ruben Bemelmans, then dirtballer Federico Delbonis or Nick Kyrgios, the promising young Aussie who seems to be struggling with a shoulder injury. Kyrgios probably has enough talent to beat Delbonis on a hard court, but with an injury, Karlovic should defeat him as Kyrgios may have trouble reading the Croats serve. Tommy Robredo has an abductor injury but he plans on playing anyway. The Spaniard will face Edouard Roger-Vasselin in Round 1 and perhaps Mikhail Kukushkin, who was a finalist in Sydney, in round 2. Kukushkin would need to defeat Malek Jaziri. I have Kukushkin into the third round before falling to Karlovic. ERV could also upset Robredo but the Frenchman isn’t playing well right now so I’m not risking it in my own bracket, even with Robredo less than 100%.
Andy Murray, who hasn’t lost a match in 2015 (Hopman Cup and Abu Dhabi exo singles) faces qualifier Yuki Bhambri, then qualifier Alexander Kudryavtsev or Marinko Matosevic in his first two matches. I don’t expect much trouble for the three time former AO finalist in the first two rounds, especially given Matosevic is slumping. Brisbane quarterfinalist Martin Klizan could be trouble in the third round though. Klizan, who opens with Tatsuma Ito, has been in great form recently, and his round 2 opponent will be either Aussie wild card Jordan Thompson or Joao Sousa. Thompson is a promising young player who took Jerzy Janowicz the distance last year at the AO, but I don’t feel he has matured enough to deal with the powerful shotmaker Klizan. Murray and Klizan have never met, but it will be a high quality third round matchup if it takes place, and isn’t likely to be straight sets. Murray has been in good form since the second half of 2014 and he is working hard to get back into the top 5. Given Murray is best at defense and returning the ball, while Klizan is a bit of a ballbasher, the matchup favors Murray.
Murray/Klizan are set to face either the Dimitrov/Brown winner or David Goffin in the round of 16. Goffin, a semifinalist in Chennai, who has played some high quality tennis since the second half of 2014, will need to beat qualifier Michael Russell who continues to grind away on tour, then Marcos Baghdatis or Teymuraz Gabashvili to reach the third round. I expect him to do so and set up a highly anticipated clash with Dimitrov, that should have basically even odds. However, Dimitrov beat Goffin at last year’s US Open and is 4-0 overall against him in the h2h. That h2h record gives me enough reason to pick Dimitrov to reach the round of 16. Dimitrov’s path to round 3 is Brown, and Lukas Lacko or Maximo Gonzalez in round 2.
Dark Horses (one for each quarter of the draw): Gilles Muller, Peter Gojowczyk, Bernard Tomic, and David Goffin
Muller has a potential path to the round of 16. He will need to beat an inconsistent Bautista Agut, and Isner, who can tire and do poorly in slams, to get there. I don’t see him having a shot against Djokovic, but a second week showing for a player who has a great comeback story from injury is still inspiring.
Gojowczyk has a great path to the third round, and could also make the round of 16. To do that he will likely need to defeat Pospisil/Querrey but that is a doable proposition given they aren’t known for being the most reliable players.
Tomic could even reach the quarterfinals, but on home soil he should at least be good enough for the round of 16. The seeds in his section, Gulbis and Kohlschreiber, are both in poor form and he would face Berdych in the round of 16. He must be pleased with his draw as he seeks to prove to his home country that’s he’s truly serious and committed to being successful at the top level of tennis.
Goffin will have his big test against Dimitrov in round 3. If he can pull that upset off, he can also make the second week, and this is still a good draw for him to make a run.
Djokovic d. Isner
Raonic d. Monfils
Wawrinka d. Pospisil
Ferrer d. Nishikori
Berdych d. Tomic
Nadal d. Gasquet
Murray d. Dimitrov
Federer d. Karlovic
Isner has won twice against Novak on hard courts, and the Serb does tend to struggle with big servers, but Novak plays some of his best tennis at the AO and thus should advance, perhaps dropping a set or two. Monfils is 2-0 in his career against Raonic but I feel the Canadian is clicking right now, and he’ll be able to pull through in a best of five sets format. Monfils tends to get distracted at points in matches, and if Raonic can maintain his serve that should be enough.
Wawrinka was slated to meet Pospisil last year at the AO but Vashy hurt his back and had to withdraw. Wawrinka is the better player, and though Vashy may trouble him, I don’t expect an upset. Ferrer-Nishikori should be a great matchup and I could see it going either way. Nishikori has an overall h2h edge but on outdoor hard courts they are split 2-2, and Ferrer won the only time they met in Australia back in 2013. Ferrer is one of the fittest players on tour and appears to be in great form. I have a feeling if this is a daytime match, that Nishikori, who struggles with heat, could be negatively impacted, and that will be enough of a difference to give Ferrer the edge.
Berdych has beaten Tomic in consecutive years at Wimbledon, and on a hard court. Berdy should be favored and anything is possible but Berdych is likely to overpower Tomic. Nadal could lose to Gasquet depending on his health, and form, but Rafa has destroyed Gasquet every time they have met including three times since 2013. With that in mind, I have to play it safe and pick Nadal into the quarters.
Murray is 3-0 against Dimitrov on an outdoor hard court, and 4-2 overall in the h2h. They tend to play exciting, competitive matches yet I feel like Murray has more motivation right now and is playing better recently thus I have him through. Federer has won his last six meetings against Karlovic and given he looked good in Brisbane, I don’t expect him to have any trouble reaching the quarterfinals.
Picking the rest of the way
Quarters: Djokovic d. Raonic
Wawrinka d. Ferrer
Berdych d. Nadal
Murray d. Federer
Djokovic is 4-0 against Raonic. he tends to struggle against big servers, but still I don’t feel Milos has enough game to beat him. Wawrinka-Ferrer is a highly anticipated matchup in my estimation, Nishikori-Wawrinka likewise, the business end of the tournament will put a lot of pressure on Wawrinka as he seeks to defend his title, but I feel he’s talented enough to beat Ferrer as he has the last three times they have met.
Berdych hasn’t beaten Nadal since 2006 and always plays poorly against him, but even though I feel Rafa will be weakened enough to lose this match, it’s a random guess, and I would never pick Berdy over Nadal in a neutral situation, but something appears wrong with Nadal. Federer is 2-1 against Murray at the AO alone, and both players have had success against each other, again this match could go either way, but I’m backing a motivated Murray who appears to want to prove the doubters wrong and get back into the Grand Slam discussion.
Semis: Djokovic d. Wawrinka
Murray d. Berdych
Wawrinka and Djokovic have played multiple classic matches, and I have Novak winning this one given the 16-3 overall h2h and the fact Novak is 5-1 since 2013 in their h2h meetings. Wawrinka shockingly beat Djokovic last year here, 9-7 in the 5th en route to the title and five sets is certainly possible, but I feel the winning trend will return again in favor of Djokovic.
Berdych actually has a 6-4 h2h edge against Murray and he won their last two meetings in 2013. That said, I still feel Murray is the better player and will get through given current form.
Final: Djokovic d. Murray
Murray went 0-4 against Djokovic last year and is 0-3 against him in Australia, including losing two finals. With that in mind, Djokovic is a clear favorite to win yet another AO title.