For many tennis fans in the US, today really marks the start of a challenging few weeks of sleep as tennis kicks into high gear Down under in Australia.
Earlier today in the wee hours, the draws were unveiled, and what a way to start the 2019 Grand Slam season. With the exception of Juan Martin Del Potro and Richard Gasquet, all the top men are back, though maybe not at full strength and full health. And ultimately, as we’ve seen in the past, those who are fit and who have put the work in during the off season, get rewarded in Australia.
So who are these few fit and fearless? Let’s break down the draw!
NOVAK DJOKOVIC QUARTER
The top seed and 6-time champion Novak Djokovic is rightfully the tournament favorite. But after tearing up the summer season, he cooled a bit at the end and fell apart in a surprise loss in Doha last week. But we are back to a best-of-5 format and Novak’s never lost as a top seed in Melbourne, so I really look for big things out of the Serb, and his draw looks manageable. He’ll open with a qualifier, then hopefully get JW Tsonga in a rematch of their 2008 final. Tsonga is returning off injury, so I don’t expect him to be in form. There’s Denis Shapovalov, who seems to be fading, while Daniil Medvedev is another proposition, though, and will be tough. And in the quarters, it’s likely the fast-improving Kei Nishikori. The Japanese, who didn’t play Australia last year because of the wrist, will have to navigate through a nice section with Ivo Karlovic, Phil Kohlschreiber and then maybe Fabio Fognini in his path to get to the quarters. That’s pretty good, but that’s probably as far as it goes as for him as Novak’s my clear choice.
The Pick: Novak Djokovic
ALEXANDER ZVEREV QUARTER
We know all about Alexander Zverev’s greatness in three sets, but when will that translate into success in five sets? Who knows. And this year, he comes into Australia with a hamstring issue and now an ailment to his foot. It might be something, it might be nothing, but the draw is there for him. He’ll have Jeremy Chardy in the second, maybe Gilles Simon in the third. He should win those over the Frenchmen. But what I see here is a now-healthy and dangerous Stan Wawrinka. The Swiss opens against Ernests Gulbis, then I expect him to beat Milos Raonic who takes oout Nick Kyrgios in his opener. From there, he knocks out last year’s surprise semifinalist Hyeon Chung and then eliminates Zverev to make the quarters. And I’m going crazy here, from a very weak bottom quarter home to Dominic Thiem (struggling), Lucas Pouille (horrible in Melbourne), Marco Cecchinato (can’t play on hard courts) and Mischa Zverev (not sold on him), I’ll go with none of them and take Borna Coric to get through, and then I’ll stick with the Croat to beat Stan to make the semifinals. That’s right, Borna baby!
The Pick: Borna Coric
ROGER FEDERER QUARTER
Two-time defending champion Roger Federer has to be pleased with the section in which he’ll officially open his 2019 season. In his later years, the 37-year-old has been putting together his best results at Melbourne. Why? He prepares for each new season better than most, the courts suit him and he is Roger Federer! And this year, I like his draw. Denis Istomin to start, maybe Gael Monfils in the third round. Gael is dangerous, but lately he’s been MIA. New star Stefanos Tsitsipas looks like the guy to emerge to meet Federer in the fourth, but the Greek Freak is still an unknown quantity in best-of-5, and he’s got a tough opener against the talented young Italian Matteo Berrettini. In the quarters, we could get a rematch of the final last year with Federer against Marin Cilic. Cilic, though, is recovering from a knee injury, so he’s a question mark. My guess is instead we’ll see someone like a Karen Khachanov power his way past Roberto Bautista Agut, who sends Andy Murray home early, and then overwhelms an ailing Cilic. And he could topple Federer, but I’ll lean on the Swiss to work some magic once more.
The Pick: Roger Federer
RAFAEL NADAL QUARTER
We really don’t expect much from Andy Murray based on his play so far this year, but with Rafael Nadal, we just don’t know because he hasn’t played! So to me, he’s the biggest unknown in the draw. And, the guy just cannot finish hard court events of late, Making matter worse, after an ankle surgery in November, he is now dealing with a thigh problem, and I just don’t know how he’s going to hold up in best-of-5. That said, he’s got a very workable draw. There’s the Hewitt clone in Alex De Minaur in the third, then I think Tomas Berdych continues his comeback to make it out to the fourth. If Rafa’s fit he goes through, if not, it’s Berdych. In the quarters, I guess I’ll go with Anderson to get out there. He’s been consistent, though he’s got a tough draw with hard-luck kid Frances Tiafoe, who, if trend holds, will probably lose in the fifth to the South African. From there, Anderson could run into either John Isner or the Agassi-led Grigor Dimitrov in the fourth. I like Anderson and with Nadal iffy, I’ll go with Kevin to finally beat his nemesis Berdych and make the Australian semifinals.
The Pick: Kevin Anderson
Djokovic d Coric: Novak too tough for mini-Novak.
Federer d Anderson: Roger gets some measure of revenge for Wimbledon.
Djokovic d Federer: Djokovic has won 9 of his last 10 sets against Federer in Melbourne, and I don’t see that run ending now.
Looking at the draw, this really comes down to a handful of guys who can win this thing: Djokovic, Federer, Nadal and I’ll go with Karen Khachanov. Seriously, I think if the big Russian can get on a roll, he has the game to run the table, especially if the courts are playing quick.
Obviously, if Nadal is healthy, he can win it, which would also be his second Career Slam. If he’s not healthy (the more likely case), he might not make week 2.
There are other hopefuls like Zverev, Dimitrov, Anderson, Coric, Nishikori, Medvedev, Wawrinka and Cilic. Those would be tier 2 guys in my mind. I guess maybe Stan would be 1a if he goes deep. But he’ll also be dealing with having to play best-of-5 and we just don’t know if he can hold up.
And there’s also the heat issue.
But this is the new normal. With Federer, Nadal and Murray giving in to age and injury, and with the NextGen still 6-18 months away, this really has become Djokovic’s time, at least until we get to the clay.
So I guess we’ll see some more upsets and surprising results, but in the end get ready for some more usual suspects.
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