2018 Women’s Australian Open Preview, Predictions Niall Clarke, Tennis Atlantic
We have reached the first Grand Slam of 2018 as the Australian Open approaches. There will be plenty of sunshine and tennis to feast on over the next two weeks, and the womens draw looks as open as ever. Here is a rundown of what to expect in Melbourne.
Simona Halep enters a Grand Slam as the top seed for the first time in her career, and she opens as one of the favourites for the title. The Romanian has an interesting section with a few players who are capable of blowing her off the court. The world number one has shown she is vulnerable in early stages of major events when she is not firing, and with Petra Kvitova potentially waiting in the third round, we could see Halep exit another Grand Slam early. Combined with the fact you have in-form players such as Ashleigh Barty and Camila Giorgi, and young big hitters Naomi Osaka, Aryna Sabalenka and Oceane Dodin, the world number one will do well to come through this section.
Prediction: Halep def. Barty
Karolina Pliskova is Halep’s projected quarter final adversary, and we do not know what her form is a like at the moment. The Czech lost to Elina Svitolina in Brisbane and did not look overly convincing in that match. We all know Pliskova can blow anyone off the court with her serve and effortless power, but she has not quite pulled it together during Grand Slams. That may open the door for Johanna Konta to make the last eight. The Brit has reached the quarter finals and semi finals in her two previous visits to Melbourne and if prior history has anything to do with it, she should make the last eight again.
Prediction: Konta def. Pliskova
There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding Garbine Muguruza heading into the Australian Open. The Spaniard withdrew from both her warm up tournaments with injury and there are doubts about how far she can go in Melbourne. She can not be happy with her draw either. Muguruza could face former champions Angelique Kerber and Maria Sharapova on the way to the quarter finals. Kerber in particular is in excellent form heading into the tournament. The other seeds in the section are Agnieszka Radwanska and Anastasija Sevastova, both are awkward opponents with variety in their games. This is undoubtedly the strongest section in the draw.
Prediction: Kerber def. Muguruza
Caroline Garcia finished 2017 in the form of her life and that has led to some lofty expectations for 2018. The Frenchwoman comes into the Australian Open as an outside favourite, but a back injury has left her short of preparation. She is still a heavy favourite to make the last eight though with her biggest test probably being Madison Keys. The American can blow hot and cold, but she often brings her best to the big events. Kristina Mladenovic has landed in this section too, and it will be interesting to see if she can end her losing slump. The Frenchwoman has not won a match since last August and is on a 14-match losing streak.
Prediction: Garcia def. Keys
Venus Williams is a defending finalist in Melbourne, but there are a few players in her section who can mount an upset. The American opens against Belinda Bencic in arguably the most anticipated round one match as the young Swiss is finding her best form after a long injury layoff. Julia Goerges is arguably the most in form player on the tour at the moment. The German has won her last three tournaments and is certainly a name to look out for in this tournament. However there are some dangerous floaters in this section too with Australia’s Daria Gavrilova, the ever dangerous Ekaterina Makarova and Hobart champion Elise Mertens looking to cause an upset in this section of the draw.
Prediction: Goerges def. Venus
Daria Kasatkina (Photo: Tony Callaio)
Elina Svitolina heads into Melbourne as the favourite to lift the trophy in the eyes of many people, and it is easy to see why after her run in Brisbane. The Ukrainian has a pretty soft draw to the last eight too, with the out of form Sloane Stephens being her projected last 16 opponent, though it may end up being Daria Kasatkina. None of the seeds in this section are In good form, so Svitolina will be a huge favourite to advance to the last eight from this section.
Prediction: Svitolina def. Kasatkina
Jelena Ostapenko (Photo: Tony Callaio)
Jelena Ostapenko is the seventh seed in Melbourne and heads into the tournament in poor form having lost her previous two matches. The Latvian has shown she is capable of producing her tennis on the big stage though, she proved that at the French Open last season. This section is full of unpredictable players who can easily go far, making this quarter one to look out for. Ostapenko opens against Italian veteran Francesca Schiavone and could meet the promising Anett Kontaveit in the third round. Upsets could leave the door open for Coco Vandeweghe, who heads into the tournament as the 10th seed. The American is capable of producing big tennis on her day, but she like many others can often blow cold too. With former finalist Dominika Cibulkova, Olympic gold medallist Monica Puig and veterans Cara Suarez Navarro and Sam Stosur in this section, this feels like a section that could do either way.
Prediction: Ostapenko def. Cibulkova
Second seed Caroline Wozniacki has never won a Grand Slam before despite being a former world number one, but with the way thing stand, this may be her best chance yet to end that duck. Wozniacki has been drawn into the lighter half of the draw and is heavily favoured to make the semi finals from this section. The Dane has some dangerous seeds in her section such as Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Magdalena Rybarikova, and that is where she could fall into danger territory in the fourth round, but apart from that it should be plain sailing for the second seed until the last eight.
This is a hard slam to predict as there is no clear favourite to win. Despite the rumours of courts playing pretty quickly, form favours the defensive players so we could end up with some long semi finals. Kerber is in good form and I believe she will go deep if she continues that into Melbourne, but I think the winner comes from the bottom half. Both Wozniacki and Svitolina have good draws until the semi finals where they should meet each other. Despite the Ukrainian’s head to head advantage, she could falter on the big stage here and I think Wozniacki’s experience will tell.
2016 Australian Open Women’s Preview Niall Clarke, Tennis Atlantic
The first grand slam of the 2016 is upon us and it promises to be a cracker. The tour is wide open with potential winners, so let’s get down to it.
The Australian Open has been staged in seven cities throughout Australia and New Zealand since its launch in 1905. It moved to its present home named Melbourne Park in 1988, with the tournament also switching from a grass to hardcourt surface.
Defending champion Serena Williams has the Open Era record with six singles titles. Just two behind her with four victories are Margaret Court, Evonne Goolagong, Steffi Graf and Monica Seles.
The Australian Open
Tier: Grand Slam
Location: Melbourne, Australia
Prize money: $ 40,000,000
Date: January 18th- January 31st
Top eight seeds (Ranking)
1. Serena Williams (1)
2. Simona Halep (2)
3. Garbine Muguruza (3)
4. Agnieszka Radwanska (4)
5. Maria Sharapova (5)
6. Petra Kvitova (6)
7. Angelique Kerber (7)
8. Venus Williams (10)
Lucie Safarova (injury) and Flavia Pennetta (retired) are absent from the tournament.
First round matches to watch
Camila Giorgi, Fed Cup
(1) Serena Williams vs Camila Giorgi
The world number one begins her title defence with a tough round one clash with the unpredictable yet dangerous Giorgi.
There are few players that can match Serena’s power on the court, Giorgi is one of them. The Italian is a big hitter and on her day can blast almost anyone off the court. The top seed is still a massive favourite for this match and the tournament as a whole, but if Giorgi turns up she could catch Serena off guard.
The American has not had much in terms of warm up for the first grand slam of the year, and one thing is for sure- she will not get much rhythm from the Italian.
(28) Kristina Mladenovic vs Dominika Cibulkova
There are not many potential upset matches in the opening round when it concerns the top seeds, but there is a nice match to look out for involving Mladenovic and Cibulkova.
The talented Frenchwoman is 0/2 in 2016 after back to back defeats to compatriots- she will be happy to see a Slovakian on the other side of the net. Cibulkova on the other hand has started the season well and is a former finalist at the Australian Open.
The Slovakian leads 5-0 in the head to head which is rather surprising. This one should be a lot closer than their previous meetings and It is possible that the seeded player could make an early exit.
(14) Belinda Bencic vs Alison Riske
Alison Riske (Photo: @Tennis_Shots)
60 places separate these two so if the American was to win this match it would be considered quite an upset.
In the WTA, anything is possible. Bencic is a much improved player since their last and only meeting in 2014 where Riske won in straight sets. However the Swiss lady has not looked at he best in the warm up events and there is a lingering chance of an upset.
That would require the world number 74 to bring her best tennis to the court, but big matches can often bring out the best in a lot of players. Bencic is the likely winner but it could be a close match.#
(17) Sara Errani vs Margarita Gasparyan
Errani is a very consistent retriever and a former grand slam finalist, however her gamestyle lets you play. It will be a good chance for the young Gasparyan to show her talents even if she does end up on the wrong side of the scoreboard.
The Italian is not as versed on hard courts as she is on clay, but she is not a player you can ever sleep on. The Russian will have to be game if she is to win the match, but it is winnable for her and a chance to claim a good scalp and make a good run.
The world number one has been dealt with a fairly tough draw in her path towards the title. Giorgi is not the type of player you want to play first that’s for sure. From there it get’s a little more predictable with Anna Schmiedlova the projected round three opponent for the world number one. Schmiedlova is a solid player, particularly on clay, but unless Serena has a nightmare then the Slovakian will likely be brushed aside. The fourth round may see her face good friend Caroline Wozniacki. The draw to the round of 16 has been kind to the Dane and she will be majorly disappointed if she does not make it this far. Given the 10-1 head to head it is difficult to see Serena not making it through this match and through this section. Unless he has a real off day somewhere there is not a player after round one that could realistically match the power of the top seed.
It is not a familiar sight seeing Sharapova next to the number five, but Radwanska’s good form has knocked the Russian from the fourth seeding. Her reward?- Drawn in a quarter with the woman she has not beaten in over a decade. Her path to the potential clash with Serena is not an easy one either. Nao Hibino should be a comfortable opener, as should round two, but the third round potentially against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova is a tricky one. It does not get any easier with the possibility of Bencic waiting in round four which could be a classic match. But Riske followed by possibly Heather Watson then Svetlana Kuznetsova is not exactly a good draw either. Bencic vs Sharapova is the safe bet and the Russian making it to the quarter finals is safer still, but there are banana skins.
If Radwanska had not made the Shenzhen open final then she would have been drawn in Serena’s quarter. With her victory in the Chinese event, the Pole has taken the fourth seed and has been drawn with a potentially injured Kvitova instead. Radwanska will play America’s Christina McHale in the opening round- not the easiest of draws but one she will be expected to win. That could lead to quite the round two clash against a rejuvenated Eugenie Bouchard who is looking more like her 2014 self in the early parts of the season. Sam Stosur is projected in round three but the Aussie has had issues playing in front of a home crowd. The round of 16 will likely feature either Roberta Vinci or an in form Sloane Stephens. Either one is a huge test for whoever they play and could upset the number four seed. Vinci of course is now famous for denying Serena a calendar year grand slam at the US Open.
Kvitova was forced to withdraw early in Shenzhen, then did not compete at all in her Sydney title defence. It leaves you wondering whether she is 100% ready for the Australian Open. The Czech is unpreditable at the best of times and if bad Petra shows up then she could be heading for an early exit. Round two is where the first test will likely come against Australia’s Daria Gavrilova. She is a rising talent in the WTA and will be pumped up to play in front of the home crowd. She is coming off victory with Nick Kyrgios at the Homan Cup. Round three will not get any easier with either Mladenovic or Cibulkova likely opponents. Carla Suarez Navarro might be the biggest beneficiary if Kvitova is not up to standard. The Spaniard has a fairly comfortable ride to the third round where she will face Andrea Petkovic. She could be the one that emerges to face Radwanska in the quarter finals.
After an impressive 2015 there is a lot of hype and expectation surrounding Muguruza, and this is a tournament you would expect her to do well in. She has had good results in Melbourne before and the courts seem to fit her game nicely. The opening two rounds seem fairly simple for the third seed, but it is in the round of 32 where things could get messy. Caroline Garcia is the projected seed, the talent Frenchwoman is unpredictable but she has a big game and matches up well with the Spaniard. But if she manages to get past the 32nd seed then she will meet a resurgent Victoria Azarenka who is fresh off winning the Brisbane title. This colossal round four match will could decide the finalist so keep an eye out for this one. The former two time champion must first make her way through a difficult third round against Elina Svitolina, but the Belarusian should match up well with the 20 year old.
Kerber could not translate her Premier level success into the grand slams in 2015, but her draw to the quarter finals here looks fairly promising. Barring a huge upset, Irina Begu will be her toughest challenge en route to round four where she projected to face Timea Bacsinszky. The Swiss however has not made the best of starts to the year and could be upset potential in the early rounds. Jelena Jankovic therefore might be the favourite to meet the German in the round of 16. With Muguruza or Azarenka likely for the quarter finals however, it is hard seeing either player progressing any further than the last eight.
Halep is still searching for her first grand slam title and she will feel that 2016 might just be her year. Her grand slam season opens pretty nicely with a qualifier then either Alize Cornet or Bojana Jovanovski. The third round against Lesia Tsurenko could be tricky but it is a match that Halep should win fairly comfortably. The fourth round is where things get interesting with Madison Keys or Ana Ivanovic likely to await the Romanian. Keys has a potential banana skin round two against Tsvetana Pironkova or Yaroslava Shvedova- both can be dangerous on their day. Ivanovic’s path to the third round is a little easier but nothing she should take for granted. Jarmila Wolfe could pose a test in front of her home crowd in round two. Halep is likely to make it out of this section but Keys and Ivanovic are more than capable of causing an upset.
Venus Williams’ resurgence was one of the many stories that gripped us in 2015. The 35 looks like a genuine contender for the big events again, even if she did lose her only match of the season thus far. Joanna Konta was another player who made headlines in 2015 but has made a poor start to 2016. The Brit is capable of an upset if she can perform to her summer 2015 level, but Venus likely prevails. In fact it is a fairly packed section with the ever dangerous Sabine Lisicki projected for round three. The German however is never a safe bet and could be dumped out early be Petra Cetkovska, Bethanie Mattek-Sands or Denisa Allertova. Karolina Pliskova was another name who played well but failed to make a deep run at a grand slam in 2015. However this could be the time she can finally make in roads at grand slam level. The Czech should make it to Ekaterina Makarova in round three at the very least. The winner likely plays Venus in round four- what a match that could be. Halep is the favourite to make it out of this quarter, but as you see there are many players who could trip her up.
The Aussie Open is of course the tournament for picks over the next two weeks, as our draw challenge has a ton of points at stake, here are our experts take on what should happen in Melbourne park on the Men’s side.
2015 Australian Open Men’s Draw Picks
Steen Kirby’s picks
Steen’s 2015 AUS Open Men’s Draw Top Half Part 1
Steen’s 2015 AUS Open Men’s Draw Top Half Part 2
Steen’s 2015 AUS Open Men’s Draw Bottom Half Part 1
Steen’s 2015 AUS Open Men’s Draw Bottom Half Part 2
Steen Kirby 2015 Aus Open Men’s Draw Bottom Half Part 3
Quarterfinals: Djokovic vs. Raonic, Wawrinka vs. Ferrer, Berdych vs. Nadal, Murray vs. Federer Semifinals: Djokovic vs. Wawrinka, Berdych vs. Murray Final: Djokovic vs. Murray Champion: Djokovic
Chris de Waard’s picks
Chris de Waard’s 2015 Aus Open Men’s Draw Top Half Part 1
Chris de Waard’s 2015 Aus Open Men’s Draw Top Half Part 2
Chris de Waard’s 2015 Aus Open Men’s Draw Bottom Half Part 1
Chris de Waard’s 2015 Aus Open Men’s Draw Bottom Half Part 2
Quarterfinals: Djokovic vs. Raonic, Wawrinka vs. Nishikori, Berdych vs. Nadal, Murray vs. Federer Semifinals: Djokovic vs. Nishikori Nadal vs. Federer Final: Djokovic vs. Nadal Champion: Djokovic
Jeff McMillan’s picks
Jeff McMillan’s 2015 AUS Open Men’s Draw Top Half Part 1
Jeff McMillan’s 2015 AUS Open Men’s Draw Top Half Part 2
Jeff McMillan’s 2015 Aus Open Men’s Draw Bottom Half Part 1
Jeff McMillan’s 2015 AUS Open Men’s Draw Bottom Half Part 2
Quarterfinals: Djokovic vs. Raonic, Wawrinka vs. Nishikori, Tomic vs. Anderson, Murray vs. Federer Semifinals: Djokovic vs. Nishikori, Tomic vs. Federer Final: Djokovic vs. Federer Champion: Djokovic
Niall Clarke’s picks
Niall Clarke’s 2015 Aus Open Men’s Draw Top Half Part 1
Niall Clarke’s 2015 Aus Open Men’s Draw Top Half Part 2
Niall Clarke’s 2015 Aus Open Men’s Draw Bottom Half Part 1
Niall Clarke’s 2015 Aus Open Men’s Draw Bottom Half Part 2
Niall Clarke’s 2015 Aus Open Men’s Draw Bottom Half Part 3
Quarterfinals: Djokovic vs. Monfils, Wawrinka vs. Nishikori, Berdych vs. Nadal, Murray vs. Federer Semifinals: Djokovic vs. Wawrinka, Nadal vs. Federer Final: Wawrinka vs. Federer Champion: Wawrinka
Courtney Massey’s picks
Courtney Massey’s 2015 Aus Open Men’s Draw Top Half Part 1
Courtney Massey’s 2015 Aus Open Men’s Draw Top Half Part 2
Courtney Massey’s 2015 Aus Open Men’s Draw Top Half Part 3
Courtney Massey’s 2015 Aus Open Men’s Draw Bottom Half Part 1
Courtney Massey’s 2015 Aus Open Men’s Draw Bottom Half Part 2
Quarterfinals: Djokovic vs. Mannarino, Wawrinka vs. Nishikori, Troicki vs. Anderson, Murray vs. Federer Semifinals: Djokovic vs. Wawrinka, Troicki vs. Federer Final: Djokovic vs. Federer Champion: Djokovic
Djokovic is the majority pick for the AO champion, he gets the selection of four out of our five experts. Niall went with defending champion Wawrinka to win, while Federer is perhaps a slight favorite to make the final with three out of five experts going with the legend. Murray and Nadal also get plugs to make the final, and a shot out to Jeff (Bernard Tomic), and Courtney (Viktor Troicki) for having bold picks for semifinalists. The outcome will be interesting to watch.
It was a poor week for everyone in terms of accuracy as the draw was full of unexpected results, Jeff takes the title by virtue of having Anderson in the semis, and nobody did well this week.
Sydney 1: Steen (24 points) (+250 overall)
2: Chris (16 points) (+150 overall)
3: Jeff (16 points) (+150 overall)
4:Courtney (10 points) (+90 overall)
5: Niall (10 points) (+90 overall)
Likewise everyone did very poorly in Sydney as two qualifiers made the final, Steen had Muller and Tomic in the quarters and that was enough to have him finish in first place this week. Niall and Courtney finished with what should probably be a record low of 10 points all season.
Overall standings (after week 2)
1: Steen: 830 ranking points (+400 this week)
2: Chris: 730 ranking points (+300 this week)
3: Jeff: 640 ranking points (+400 this week)
4: Niall: 565 ranking points (+180 this week)
5: Courtney: 525 ranking points (+135 this week)
Steen pulls ahead of Chris this week since he took a title and got finals points in the other event, Jeff also has a big boost with his title and final points, he moves into third place early on in the season, while Courtney slipped down to fifth.
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.