2018 Australian Open Preview and Predictions: Injury Concerns For Djokovic and Wawrinka Open Up the Draw
Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
With Andy Murray (hip) and Kei Nishikori (wrist) totally out of the 2018 Australian Open, and Novak Djokovic (elbow), Rafael Nadal (knee), and Stan Wawrinka (knee) coming back from serious injuries, the 2018 Australian Open draw on the men’s side is significantly more open than it has been in recent years. Roger Federer remains the favorite, while Grigor Dimitrov and Nick Kyrgios among the trendy picks that some see breaking through this slam and capturing the title. Here is your full preview, with predictions for AO 2018.
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Rafael Nadal got an exo match in but he didn’t get a chance to play any ATP matches prior to his Melbourne debut. The one time AO champ will open with journeyman Victor Estrella, Leo Mayer/Nicolas Jarry will follow, with Borna Coric/John Millman or Paolo Lorenzi/Damir Dzumhur lurking in the third round. Nadal, presuming his knee is ok, should win his first two matches, the third round is the big question mark. Dzumhur probably isn’t fit, while Lorenzi is relatively weak on hard courts. I have Coric beating Millman and Lorenzi before falling to Rafa.
Diego Schwartzman doesn’t have a win in 2018 but he should defeat Dusan Lajovic. Young gun qualifiers Quentin Halys and Casper Ruud face off to reach round 2, and I have Schwartzman into the third round regardless. Alexandr Dolgopolov is one of my dark horse picks, he opens with Andreas Haider-Maurer, who is returning from a long injury layoff, John Isner/Matt Ebden will follow. Isner lost his match in Auckland while Dolgopolov won matches in both Brisbane and Sydney, he has the talent and presuming he’s fit he should take advantage of this open draw to beat Isner and Schwartzman and reach week 2.
Gilles Simon is another trendy dark horse pick for me. Simon won Pune and is a former AO quarterfinalist. He opens with Marius Copil, either Pablo Carreno Busta or Jason Kubler will follow. Kubler is a great story, he overcame serious knee problems that limited him to play only on clay for years, and is now posting great results on hard courts at the challenger tour level. PCB is a good player but his form seems a bit off this season, Simon is tough to break down so I’ll go with him in a second round upset. The section featuring Gilles Muller/Federico Delbonis is wide open, Muller is struggling but his serve is a threat, qualifier Sal Caruso is making his grand slam debut, while Malek Jaziri has talent but struggles for fitness. Simon over Muller is a reasonable pick for round 3.
Brisbane finalist Ryan Harrison opens with Dudi Sela, Mikhail Youzhny takes on Pablo Cuevas in round 1, Harrison should be favored to reach the third round regardless. Pune semifinalist Marin Cilic takes on qualifier Vasek Pospisil, Dustin Brown/Joao Sousa will follow. Cilic is steady enough to back him over Harrison in round 3.
Grigor Dimitrov was a semifinalist in Brisbane and finished 2017 in fantastic form. Dimitrov opens with qualifier Dennis Novak, a young gun will follow, either Mackenzie McDonald or Elias Ymer. The first big test for Dimitrov should come in the third round, the winner of David Ferrer (semifinalist in Auckland), and Andrey Rublev (finalist in Doha) should defeat the winner of the battle between former AO boys champions Yuki Bhambri and Marcos Baghdatis to face off with Dimitrov. I’ll back Ferrer’s experience to reach round 3, despite Rublev’s talent, but Dimitrov should reach the second week.
Brisbane champion Nick Kyrgios is lethal when he’s focused and fit, he should blitz past Rogerio Dutra Silva, Viktor Troicki/Alex Bolt, and either Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or Stefanos Tsitsipas/Denis Shapovalov in round 3. Tsonga has had limited warm up, Shapovalov is struggling, and Tsitsipas is still a raw talent. Kyrgiso serve should bail him out of trouble and get him past Tsonga in round 3. Tsonga’s path includes qualifier Kevin King in round 1.
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Kevin Anderson finished 2017 strong and reached the Pune final to kick off 2018 After a test against Kyle Edmund in round 1, he should serve past Pierre-Hugues Herbert/Denis Istomin, and Lucas Pouille in the third round. Pouille faces Ruben Bemelmans in round 1, then Gerald Melzer/Nikoloz Basilashvili.
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Jack Sock is the top American hope, but I’m not convinced he’s fit as he had a retirement in the Hopman Cup and lost his first match in Auckland. Sock opens with Yuichi Sugita, Ivo Karlovic/Laslo Djere will follow, with Philipp Kohlschreiber/Yoshihito Nishioka (coming back from a serious injury) or Andreas Seppi/Corentin Moutet waiting in the third round. Seppi just won a challenger and I’ll back him to beat Moutet and Kohlschreiber, and then upset Sock in the third round. I’d pick Kohli do the same but his form is also in question.
Alexander Zverev’s Quarter
A poor Hopman Cup showing has left Alexander Zverev as the forgotten man at this year’s Aussie Open. He’s also yet to make the second week in Melbourne. His path is Thomas Fabbiano, Mikhail Kukushkin or countryman Peter Gojowczyk, and then one of Thanasi Kokkinakis/Daniil Medvedev or Hyeon Chung/Mischa Zverev. Gojowczyk started the season with a pair of quarterfinals, Medvedev took the title in Sydney, while Kokkinakis is a big talent. My trendy pick is Chung though, he reached the quarters in Auckland, the elder Zverev is not the best form, and Medvedev should be out of gas even if he beats Kokkinakis. I’ll go with Zverev the younger to beat Chung in the third round.
Novak Djokovic’s section has him starting with Donald Young, then facing Doha champion Gael Monfils or qualifier Jaume Munar. I’m not sold on Djokovic’s fitness at all, and Monfils is fit and in-form, that has the makings of an upset, and I’ll back Monfils to reach round 3 opposite Jared Donaldson. The young American faces Albert Ramos, then Alexei Popyrin/Tim Smyczek. Monfils is my pick to reach the second week.
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Roberto Bautista Agut took the title in Auckland, and presuming he avoids an upset at the hands of countryman Fernando Verdasco, he should reach the third round. Neither Cedrik-Marcel Stebe or Max Marterer are tough matchups. Stan Wawrinka is also in this section, Wawrinka was a question mark about whether he would play, and although he has the edge over Ricardas Berankis and Jeremy Chardy/Tennys Sandgren, I have RBA nipping him in the third round.
Seeds Dominic Thiem and Adrian Mannarino have the inside track to meet in the third round, Thiem opens with Guido Pella, with Steve Johnson/Denis Kudla to follow. Mannarino takes on lucky loser Matteo Berrettini before facing a Czech, either Jiri Vesely or Vaclav Safranek. Pella reached the semis in Doha, but so did Thiem, Mannarino was a quarterfinalist in Sydney and had a great 2017. Thiem should take this section of the draw, with Johnson struggling.
Defending champion Roger Federer starts against Aljaz Bedene, J.L Struff or wild card Soon Woo Kwon will follow. Neither Bedene nor Struff are pushovers, but Federer remains as formidable as ever and should cruise into the third round for his first big test against Richard Gasquet. Gasquet opens with Blaz Kavcic, Robin Haase (a semifinalist in Auckland)/Lorenzo Sonego will follow. Federer didn’t lose a Hopman Cup match and should continue his strong showing by defeating Gasquet in round 3.
Sam Querrey has a great opportunity in the slot above Federer, Querrey opens with a tough contest against Sydney quarterfinalist Feliciano Lopez, Radu Albot/Marton Fucsovics will follow. Milos Raonic opens with Lukas Lacko, Nicolas Kicker/Jordan Thompson will follow. Raonic came back from an injury layoff with a loss in Brisbane, I have him beating Lacko and Thompson, then Querrey/Lopez in the third round, but Querrey, who I think will beat Lopez, has a great shot at the second week as well.
Auckland finalist Juan Martin Del Potro is formidable in his section of the draw, he should dominate Frances Tiafoe, Karen Khachanov/Peter Polansky, and then face off with either Alex De Minaur or Tomas Berdych in the third round. A finalist in Sydney and Semifinalist in Brisbane, De Minaur is 7-2 to start the season, and Berdych lost his opening match in Doha, thus I’ll go with De Minaur in the upset. Benoit Paire has a pair of ATP semifinals to start the year and should beat Guillermo Garcia-Lopz. ADM just beat him in Sydney though, while Del Potro beat Khachanov in Auckland. JMDP over ADM is my pick in round 3.
Sydney semifinalist Fabio Fognini faces Horacio Zeballos, Florian Mayer/Evgeny Donskoy will follow, with David Goffin awaiting in the third round. Goffin opens with Matthias Bachinger, Julien Benneteau/Taro Daniel will follow. Goffin should have an edge over Fognini in round 3.
Round of 16
Nadal d. Dolgopolov
Cilic d. Simon
Dimitrov d. Kyrgios
Anderson d. Seppi
Thiem d. Bautista Agut
Monfils d. A. Zverev
Del Potro d. Goffin
Federer d. Raonic
Nadal, Anderson, and Federer have relatively smooth paths to the quarters. Cilic lost to Simon in Pune but I’ll still back him in best of 5 tennis, I’ll probably be wrong but Monfils could make good on his talent and reach the quarters with a close win over Zverev. Del Potro’s form is good, and Thiem is a better shotmaker than RBA.
Nadal d. Cilic
Anderson d. Dimitrov
Thiem d. Monfils
Federer d. Del Potro
The Thiem/Monfils/Zverev/Djokovic section is quite open, but I’ll go with Thiem, the most accomplished of the young guns thus far to reach the semis. Nadal’s health is questionable but his injuries were not as serious as Wawrinka and Djokovic for example. Dimitrov is a trendy pick but Anderson’s big serve tennis is hard to get past, while Federer vs. Del Potro has much promise, with Federer the favorite to edge it.
Nadal d. Anderson
Federer d. Thiem
It’s not exactly a risky pick, but Nadal vs. Federer still remains the most sensible pick for the final in my mind, with Federer having a clear edge over Rafa in that final.
Federer d. Nadal