If you don’t think tennis isn’t nutz, just go back a year when many so-called experts wondered if Roger Federer’s career was over after a lengthy recovery from knee surgery. Well, fast forward to today and at 36, improbably the Swiss is the healthiest guy in the game while his peers are all fighting injury, and some fighting for their career!
It’s incredible this sport. As I’ve said before, just when you think you have it figured out, you don’t! And that’s the problem going into this first Grand Slam of 2018.
Looking at the draw, it’s hard not to pick another Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal final. That’s the easy, obvious pick. We have it figured out! But it’s not going to happen. It just can’t, right?
So if not that, then what? To the draw, and to my picks…
Rafael Nadal Quarter
Rafa of course hasn’t played since his withdrawal from the ATP Finals two months ago, but as long as his right knee is OK, he’ll be fine in this section. In fact, even with a bum knee I think he could get through. Hell, he could do it right handed. Point is, this is one of the weakest sections in a Grand Slam draw you will see. There’s Burgos and Leo Mayer who are both clay courters, then his first seed would be Damir Dzumhur followed by John Isner, Alexandr Dolgopolov or Diego Schwartzman. Isner’s probably the pick, but if it gets hot he’s cooked. So Isner is a concern but the only two guys who should really worry Nadal are Borna Coric and The Dog. In best-of-3 yes, but not best-of-5. That is if Nadal is healthy. In the quarter I have to go with Marin Cilic. He’s a former Australian semifinalist and someone who also has a cush draw. Normally I’d give Cilic a shot, but the guy has just fallen apart since that Wimbledon final. But again, if Rafa feels anything in his knee, then that quarter is wide open for the taking. Though I’m taking…
The Pick: Rafael Nadal
Grigor Dimitrov Quarter
This quarter is one to file away and look back on in five years. Yes, there’s Grigor Dimitrov, US Open finalist Kevin Anderson and JW Tsonga, but what piques my interest are the young guys like Nick Kyrgios, Lucas Pouille, Yoshihito Nishioka, Andrey Rublev and Denis Shapovalov who faces Stefanos Tsitsipas. Among that crop, somebody (or bodies) is going to win some Slams. And maybe even this month. Kyrgios would be that guy and I like his draw enough to think he even takes out Tsonga who’s coming off a knee problem. But in the match I feel puts the winner in the final, he stumbles against Dimitrov and then the Bulgarian chops down Kevin Anderson. That said, I could see as many as six different guys getting through. And Dimitrov is 100% due for a letdown here after his big ATP Finals title.
The Pick: Grigor Dimitrov
Alexander Zverev Quarter
The third quarter is where we find our two damaged former champions, Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka. Both haven’t played since Wimbledon and neither is going to add to their Australian Open trophy collection this week. In fact, they might not even finish the event. Ricardis Berankis is going to make Stan work on that knee – clearly Stan is not 100%. Djokovic isn’t fully fit either. His elbow is still screwed up and to compensate he’s now screwed up his serve (again). And if he can’t serve he can’t win this event. So, that leaves Dominic Thiem, Alexander Zverev, Gael Monfils or maybe Roberto Bautista Agut as my frontrunners in this section. Zverev just hasn’t impressed me in Slams and he hasn’t impressed me since the summer. But he’s due. RBA is solid but just doesn’t have the firepower to matter on a final weekend at a Slam and Monfils can’t be trusted. So I’m going to lean on Thiem for some inexplicable reason. It’s early in the year so he’s fairly fresh, he has a decent draw and he has the experience over Zverev. And while the courts may be slick, I think he can handle the heat and we know he’s fit. And being fit is part of doing well Down Under.
The Pick: Dominic Thiem
Roger Federer Quarter
With Milos Raonic, Tomas Berdych, Sam Querrey, Juan Martin Del Potro, Karen Khachanov, this is truly a big man section. And toss in Roger Federer, Richard Gasquet, David Goffin and youngsters Frances Tiafoe and Alex De Minaur, and the quarter becomes a powder keg. But Federer still has a decent draw, avoiding many of the landmines I mentioned early on. He’ll still have a Gasquet in the third, then maybe Lopez or Querrey in the fourth with Del Potro in a tasty quarter rematch from the US Open. Raonic is also lurking but I don’t think he’s up to par. Goffin, who has a great draw himself, could spoil Delpo’s return to Melbourne, but in the end I think we get the rematch and Roger has his revenge on the big man from Argentina.
The Pick: Roger Federer
Dimitrov d Nadal: Dimitrov somehow avenges loss from last year and denies Rafa that second Career Grand Slam.
Federer d Thiem: Federer keeps chugging along.
Federer d Dimitrov: Federer is beating Father Time.
My gut tells me Federer won’t win this. Nor Nadal. But among Dimitrov, Del Potro, Goffin, Kyrgios, Thiem, Zverev and Cilic, it’s tough to pick some else with any conviction. They all have flaws. Federer’s flaw is his age, and he keep overcoming that.
And the X-Factors are Djokovic and Wawrinka, and to some degree Nadal (though Rafa seems to be in good shape now). But I just don’t think Stan and Novak are going to be able to duplicate what Roger did last year. Obivously, they are hoping they can, and they are inspired by Federer, but there’s only one Federer…
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