The big reveal with the first Grand Slam draw of the season would be the resting place of a 17th seeded Roger Federer. The Swiss who hasn’t played a real match since Wimbledon avoided an early round hazard but will stil have the task of facing Andy Murray in the fourth round.
While Murray has an easy start, defending champion Novak Djokovic opens with Fernando Verdasco, the man who he had to save five match points to beat just last week in Doha and the man who beat Rafael Nadal in the first round last year in Melbourne. Speaking of Rafa, healthy, he returns with high hopes, and he has to be happy with his draw.
On to the breakdown.
Andy Murray Quarter
As a first time Grand Slam No. 1 seed, Andy Murray has to like what he seeds in his draw the first week. Potential roadblocks: None! In the fourth round he could meet Lucas Pouille or John Isner, but I don’t expect either to cause the Scot much trouble. Roger Federer and his fans should also be pleased with the prospect of opening with consecutive qualifiers – nice draw! Then things would ramp up against Tomas Berdych followed by a winnable match against Kei Nishikori, if the gimpy Japanese is fit to go! I think Roger could beat Berdych, who’s always a shaky bet against a top name, but I don’t think he gets by an in-form, match-tough Murray. And for his first event back, Roger will take that result.
The pick: Andy Murray
Stan Wawrinka Quarter
Former champion and Grand Slam standout Stan Wawrinka is the favorite in the second quarter. Martin Klizan, Viktor Troicki and Nick Kyrgios are in his 16th. Facing Kyrgios would be a massive match, and I hope that happens. JW Tsonga lurks as a potential quarterfinal foe for Stan, but I’ll lean with Marin Cilic to get through but lose to the Swiss. Stan brings his best in the Slams, and the reigning US Open winner keeps it going Down Under.
The Pick: Stan Wawrinka
Milos Raonic Quarter
The most wide-open quarter also features what I think are four potential semifinalists. There’s Gael Monfils, Milos Raonic, Alexander Zverev and Rafael Nadal. All eyes will be on Rafa who continues his comeback, and I think Team Rafa will take their draw. Florian Mayer is a tricky veteran to start, then another one in the Mikhail Youzhny/Macos Baghdatis winner. But I think Rafa’s biggest stumbling block in that quarter is the third round against the youngester Zverev who could one day win this event. Just not this year. As we saw back at Indian Wells, Zverev matches up well with Nadal, but in best-of-5 I think Rafa gets through and then beats Monfils followed by Raonic in a tight five setter. Of all the top players, though, Roanic might have the easiest path the quarters, with no threats at all. But on a slower Australian court, and maybe there’s heat, I like Rafa.
The Pick: Rafael Nadal
Novak Djokovic Quarter
Well, it’s Fernando Verdasco once again for Djokovic. Best-of-3 could be trouble, but I don’t think best-of-5. And once Novak gets through that match it should be smooth sailing. Djokovic could run into the improving Grigor Dimitrov in the fourth round, then a Dominic Thiem or David Goffin, and I can’t see either troubling the Serb over five sets. So
The Pick: Novak Djokovic
Djokovic d Nadal: Djokovic too strong for Rafa.
Murray d Wawrinka: No easy match, but Murray just a little better.
Djokovic d Murray: I do think that win over Novak over Andy in Doha makes the difference. And that win carries over to the Australian Open.
While it could end up another Djokovic-Murray final, this event is really about Roger and Rafa, and the thought that we might not see these two back here again. You never know. And I like that both have good draws.
And we’ll again have to watch for the young guys, especially Zverev. Maybe Kyrgios can get hot and beat Stan. And Raonic could also get through and Cilic figures as a sneaky darkhorse.
My other thought is I wish Del Potro was here.
Overall, it’s a good draw, nicely distributed, and should set the tone for 2017. Maybe somone – a Zverev – can surprise and really shake things up. But I still think we are a year or so away from that. The Big Four still rules.
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