2017 Australian Open Men’s Preview and Predictions
Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
January 16-29, 2017
Prize Money: A$22,624,000
Top 8 seeds (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Andy Murray (1)
2: Novak Djokovic (2)
3: Milos Raonic (3)
4: Stan Wawrinka (4)
5: Kei Nishikori (5)
6: Gael Monfils (6)
7: Marin Cilic (7)
8: Dominic Thiem (8)
Juan Martin Del Potro, Thanasi Kokkinakis, and Kevin Anderson are the only notable players absent from the season’s opening Grand Slam contest.
First round matches to watch:
(Q)Alexander Bublik vs. (16)Lucas Pouille
19 year old Russian/Kazakh Alexander Bublik has an entertaining style of play, and is making his grand slam debut after qualifying against French young gun Lucas Pouille. Despite Pouille being just 22, he has significantly more tour experience than Bublik, and that alone should give him an edge in this matchup that should feature entertaining shotmaking. Pouille retired in his last match though, so Bublik may have a shot if the Frenchman is unfit.
(5)Kei Nishikori vs. Andrey Kuznetsov
A three time and defending quarterfinalist in Melbourne, Nishikori has two previous wins over Kuznetsov, and they both came in slams last season. Kuznetsov continues to improve though and coming off of the semifinals in Sydney, perhaps he can take his first set in a slam against Nishikori. Kei dropped the final in Brisbane as his pre-AO warm-up.
(14)Nick Kyrgios vs. Gastao Elias
Kyrgios has made the quarters in Melbourne before, but knee problems have prevented him from playing any warm-up matches. Expectations are down for this controversial home favorite, while Elias pushed Dominic Thiem to a third set in Sydney, and perhaps could trouble Kyrgios in this one if he’s unfit. More than likely Kyrgios will dictate play with his serve.
(27)Bernard Tomic vs. Thomaz Bellucci
Tomic is defending fourth round points after a miserable run in his Australian summer. He’s lost twice previously to the big hitter Bellucci, and is in danger of losing this match after unexpected losses in his warm-ups. Tomic is apparently struggling with his diet, and while Bellucci isn’t in great form, I see Bernie crashing out in round 1 to Bellucci, who has never made it past the second round in Melbourne.
(7)Marin Cilic vs. Jerzy Janowicz
Both players are big hitters, and their careers have taken drastically different turns. Cilic has cemented himself in the top 10 and is a former AO semifinalist and slam champion. Janowicz, once in the top 15, has fallen from the top 200 and didn’t post a tour level win last season. Janowicz has the talent to pressure Cilic with aggressive play. Despite his poor start to the season, Cilic should win though.
(6)Gael Monfils vs. Jiri Vesely
A defending AO quarterfinalist, Monfils has a loss to Vesely in their only slam meeting and didn’t opt to play warm-ups before his first round match. That said, Monfils remains an athletic and talented threat, while Vesely, a quarterfinalist in Auckland, has power, but probably lacks the movement to get past Monfils in this match.
Alexandr Dolgopolov vs. Borna Coric
Dolgo is a one time AO quarterfinalist who continues to play well below his potential and is outside of the top 50 in the rankings. Coric won their last h2h meeting, but after knee problems, and then knee surgery, he’s been struggling to get himself back to his talent level. At age 20, Coric still has a long career ahead, but Dolgopolov will probably win this encounter.
Mikhail Youzhny vs. Marcos Baghdatis
These over 30 veterans have met seven times in their careers, with Youzhny holding a 4-3 edge in the h2h. Youzhny made the quarters in Chennai, while Baghdatis made the semis in Auckland, showing they are in good form heading into this matchup. Baghdatis is a fan favorite and former finalist here, while Youzhny once made the quarters. Baghdatis attacking style likely gives him a slight edge in this one.
Daniil Medvedev vs. (Q)Ernesto Escobedo
The first meeting between this pair of 20 year old talents. Neither have much tour level experience, but Medvedev is coming off of his first ever tour final in Chennai, while Escobedo came through qualifying. Escobedo has enough power to win this, but Medvedev should be the better, and fresher player right now.
(21)David Ferrer vs. (WC)Omar Jasika
A two-time semifinalist in Melbourne, Ferrer has fallen on hard times at 34, and after a rough 2016, has had a miserable 1-2 start to 2017. The 19 year old Jasika, a wild card, is one of the most promising young players in tennis. He just reached a challenger final and very well could made a match of this against Ferrer. I still can’t count against Ferrer’s grinding though, despite his decline in shotmaking ability and fitness.
Gilles Muller vs. Taylor Fritz
Muller comes off of his first ATP title in Sydney, while Fritz is still seeking his first Grand Slam win after taking part in all four Grand Slams last year. The 19 year old will likely struggle with Muller’s effective serve, but if the veteran is fatigued, Fritz could gain a confidence boosting win.
Jordan Thompson vs. Joao Sousa
Sousa dispatched Thompson in the 2015 AO when they last met, and he comes off a run to the final in Auckland. Fatigue should play a part in this match though, and with Thompson garnering home support, he’ll have a punchers chance in this one. Thompson reached the quarters in Brisbane, and after a 3-2 warm-up record, I don’t count him out in this match as the underdog.
(28)Feliciano Lopez vs. Fabio Fognini
Lopez has won both of their meetings, which happened to take place in Slams. These veterans play entertaining tennis, and this match is a bit of a toss-up. Neither are in great form, but Fognini is probably a bit worse off, and presuming Lopez is fit he should serve and volley his way to a third victory in this matchup.
(11)David Goffin vs. (Q)Reilly Opelka
The big serving Opelka, who plays like a younger version of John Isner, will make his slam debut against the talented David Goffin. Opelka towers over Goffin on the court, but Goffin has crisper groundstrokes, and will probably win this match. The Belgian is defending fourth round points, and I doubt he’s happy to get this first round matchup.
(2)Novak Djokovic vs. Fernando Verdasco
A one time semifinalist, Verdasco once again gets the misfortune of a brutal early round matchup in Melbourne. Djokovic leads the h2h 9-4 and just saved multiple match points to defeat Verdasco in a Doha three setter to start the season. I don’t see Djokovic losing this one, but Verdasco can still make for a difficult, and entertaining matchup.
For the first time, the new world #1 (Sir) Andy Murray gets the #1 seed slot in a Grand Slam. Murray will start his campaign against journeyman Illya Marchenko, and in round 2 he’ll either get the steady ball striking of Yen-Hsun Lu, or the more aggressive approach of qualifier Andrey Rublev, a hot shot young gun. Rublev could be a bit more troublesome, but either way Murray should slide into the third round, and then the fourth, as none of Sam Querrey/Quentin Halys/Gerald Melzer/Alex De Minaur is a threat to him. The 17 year old De Minaur has three wins already in 2017 and has a great shot at his first slam win against Melzer. Querrey should snap a six match tour losing streak against Halys, who isn’t as sharp on hard courts. I don’t count De Minaur to find form and reach the third round, but the veteran Querrey, who won a pair of exo matches, should fall to Murray at that stage.
John Isner is in a bit of a career decline but he still has a favorable draw early on. Isner faces Konstantin Kravchuk, who at 31, has just one tour level win in the last 3+ seasons. Mischa Zverev and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez face off below Isner, a loser of eight straight matches, GGL looks to be in no form to challenge Zverev, who should serve and volley his way into round 2, before falling to Isner. Pouille/Bublik will face Malek Jaziri or qualifier Go Soeda in round 2. This isn’t a strong section, but Pouille vs. Isner isn’t a bad third round match. Isner should have a slight edge to reach the second week due to his serve.
Tomas Berdych and Roger Federer look set for a star studded third round clash on Rod Laver, presuming Berdych handles qualifier Lucas Vanni, and serve and volleyer Nicolas Mahut or Ryan Harrison. Federer faces fellow veteran, Jurgen Melzer, a qualifier, then an American qualifier, either Bjorn Fratangelo or Noah Rubin. Federer isn’t the player he once was, especially after injury, but it can’t be discounted that the maestro has won his last five matches against the Czech. It’s not the biggest upset in the world, but I’ll go with Berdych’s form to reach round 4.
Nishikori/Kuznetsov look to be favorites to reach the second week as well, Jeremy Chardy or Nicolas Almagro await in round 2. Almagro leads the h2h 5-0, so I have him falling to Nishikori in round 2. Albert Ramos isn’t in great form, and could be troubled by qualifier Lukas Lacko, but I don’t trust Lacko at this point to make a run, and I have Ramos winning in round 1, before falling to the in-form veteran Dudi Sela in round 2. Sela opens with fellow veteran Marcel Granollers, and regardless, Nishikori should win in round 3. Sela is 8-1 to start the year with a challenger title.
Former champion Stan Wawrinka has a h2h win against his first round opponent Martin Klizan, and Klizan is in terrible form, having lost nine straight matches. Klizan is normally a tough matchup, but Wawrinka should beat him, and defeat Auckland semifinalist Steve Johnson in round 2, presuming Johnson eases past Federico Delbonis. Wawrinka faces Viktor Troicki, a Sydney semifinalist, most likely in round 3, as Troicki opens with journeyman Damir Dzhumur, with James Duckworth or Paolo Lorenzi to follow. At home I give Duckworth an edge in round 1, with Wawrinka beating Troicki in the third round for the eight time, in eight meetings (7-0 h2h).
Kyrgios or Elias will get a veteran, either Andreas Seppi or Paul-Henri Mathieu in round 2. PHM is in miserable form, so Seppi should win for the third straight time, with Kyrgios a favorite for the third round. Steve Darcis or Sam Groth are his likely third round opponent, Pablo Cuevas or Diego Schwartzman are also in this section. It’s hard to pick between Cuevas or Schwartzman, but I have Darcis serve and volleying past a struggling Groth, and then beating Schwartzman to reach round 3, before falling to Kyrgios. Darcis has been in good form as of late, and could be a dark horse if Kyrgios knee fails him.
Cilic or Janowicz will battle either Facundo Bagnis, or more likely Sydney finalist Dan Evans in round 2. Tomic or Bellucci likely await in round 3, unless Aljaz Bedene beats Victor Estrella, and then Tomic/Bellucci. This is a weak section, but I have Bedene over Bellucci, and then Cilic reaching the fourth round, despite his poor form.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has an easy early path, Thiago Monteiro, who is poor on hard courts, and neither Dusan Lajovic or Stephane Robert are likely to trouble him through the first two rounds. Both Lajovic and Robert are in poor form. The former Australian Open finalist looks set to face Jack Sock, the Auckland champion, in round 3. Sock opens with doubles specialist Pierre-Hugues Herbert in round 1, with Karen Khachanov or Adrian Mannarino to follow in round 2. Khachanov beat Mannarino at the end of last season, but either way, Sock should be the one to face Tsonga in round 3. Given the fatigue factor, I have Tsonga advancing into week 2.
The Canadian #1 Milos Raonic gets his own quarter of the draw after reaching the semifinals for the first time last year. Raonic will face fan favorite Dustin Brown to start, with Muller/Fritz to follow, and a struggling Gilles Simon most likely in round 3. Simon opens with Michael Mmoh, and Jared Donaldson or Rogerio Dutra Silva will follow. Simon is the seed, but his form hasn’t been great, I see Donaldson having a bright future,but I’m not quite sure he’s ready to beat Simon yet. Raonic should beat Simon in round 3.
Roberto Bautista Agut is a solid favorite in his own part of the draw. The Chennai champion opens with Guido Pella, with Yoshihito Nishioka or qualifier Alex Bolt to follow. RBA is defending fourth round points and will likely face a third round contest with his countryman Ferrer. I’m going with an upset though, and I have RBA facing Daniil Medvedev the third round, with Medvedev upsetting Ferrer. RBA should reach the second week.
One-time champion Rafael Nadal opens with Florian Mayer, Nadal’s form is a little shaky, but he should beat the veteran Mayer, and the Baghdatis/Youzhny winner, before facing off with talented young gun Alexander Zverev in round 3. Zverev opens with journeyman Robin Haase, and either Frances Tiafoe or Mikhail Kukushkin will follow. Nadal won his only meeting against Zverev, and the veteran should reach the fourth round. Zverev has the ability to beat Rafa, but Nadal’s quality should have an edge in best of 5.
Monfils/Vesely will face Dolgopolov/Coric, with Monfils likely to be opposite Philipp Kohlschreiber in the third round. The veteran German faces Nikoloz Basilashvili, with Thomas Fabbiano or Donald Young to follow. Presuming Kohlschreiber is fit, he could test Monfils, but a healthy Monfils is the best player in his section. Monfils leads the h2h 12-2 over Kohli.
Six-time and defending AO champion Novak Djokovic will do battle with Verdasco, then will face Denis Istomin or qualifier Ivan Dodig in round 2. Djokovic should ease past Dodig with Kyle Edmund likely waiting in round 3. Edmund opens with Santiago Giraldo, with Pablo Carreno Busta or Peter Polansky to follow. Edmund continues to improve, and although I see him defeating PCB in round 2, Djokovic should be a bridge too far.
Brisbane champion Grigor Dimitrov opens with wild card Christopher O’Connell, who is making his Slam debut. Dimitrov has been playing great tennis as of late, and should ease into the third round over Hyeon Chung, after Chung beats Renzo Olivo. Richard Gasquet, who opens with qualifier Blake Mott, looks to be fit, and should beat Mott and Radu Albot or Carlos Berlocq to setup a third round clash of the one handed backhands. Gasquet leads the h2h 5-1, but Dimitrov won their last meeting, and I back the Bulgarian to reach week 2.
Goffin faces Opelka, then the oft-injured Dmitry Tursunov or more likely 38 year old qualifier Radek Stepanek in round 2. Goffin could be tripped up, but I have him reaching round 3, and then dispatching Ivo Karlovic, who opens with Horacio Zeballos. Adam Pavlasek or wild card Andrew Whittington waits in round 2. Karlovic has reached Melbourne’s second week once before, but Goffin seems reliable enough.
Dominic Thiem opens with J.L. Struff, who reached a challenger final in his last outing. Thiem has struggled a bit to open the season, but he should beat Thompson/Sousa in round 2 before running into Lopez in round 3. Chennai semifinalist Benoit Paire is also in this section, opening with the ageless Tommy Haas. Lopez should beat Fognini and Paire before falling to Thiem.
Dark Horses (one for each quarter of the draw): Mischa Zverev, Steve Darcis, Daniil Medvedev, Feliciano Lopez
Zverev could upset Isner and Pouille to reach the second week of a slam for the first time. His brother Alex could also upset Nadal for a big result for the whole family. Darcis, another veteran, has reached the third round of a slam once before, he has a great shot at making it at least that far, and with Kyrgios knee in question he could reach the second week for the first time.
The young Medvedev needs to upset Ferrer and RBA to reach the second week, it’s a tough task, but doable given his talent. Lopez has reached the second week of slams before, and with Thiem and Paire a bit shaky in terms of form, he could well do so again.
Round of 16
Murray d. Isner (8-0 h2h)
Nishikori d. Berdych (4-1 h2h)
Wawrinka d. Kyrgios (2-2 h2h)
Tsonga d. Cilic (3-5 h2h)
Nadal d. Monfils (12-2 h2h)
Raonic d. Bautista Agut (4-0 h2h)
Goffin d. Thiem (5-3 h2h)
Djokovic d. Dimitrov (6-1 h2h)
Murray, Djokovic, and Raonic should be pretty safe to advance into the final stages, Nishikori, Wawrinka, and Nadal should be tested, but I see them surviving. Tsonga should be in better form than Cilic, and Goffin is probably fresher than Thiem.
Murray d. Nishikori (9-2 h2h)
Wawrinka d. Tsonga (4-3 h2h)
Raonic d. Nadal (2-6 h2h)
Djokovic d. Goffin (5-0 h2h)
These four quarterfinals, if they come to fruition, should be quality matchups. Murray and Djokovic remain clear favorites, Wawrinka vs. Tsonga and Raonic vs. Nadal should be quality and tightly contested matches. Raonic and Wawrinka have had an edge in the past year, and that should continue.
Murray d. Wawrinka (10-7 h2h)
Djokovic d. Raonic (8-0 h2h)
It’s hard to pick against the world’s top 2 players to reach a hard court Grand Slam final.
Djokovic d. Murray (25-11 h2h)
Djokovic won in Doha, Murray may be the world #1 for the time being, but Novak still has a clear edge in the h2h, and until Murray can beat him in Melbourne, I have to go with Djokovic over the five time AO finalist Murray.