The Novak Djokovic nightmare is behind us. Agree or disagree with the decision, he’s on a flight home. His 2022 Grand Slam season won’t start before the French at the earliest, and that means Rafael Nadal can get the steal in Melbourne where Djokovic had won nine times before.
Nadal along with Daniil Medvedev and Alexander Zverev are the three outright favorites.
The next tier would be Matteo Berrettini, Jannik Sinner, Carlos Alcaraz, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Andrey Rublev. Maybe the Canadians Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime are in there, as well.
But with no Novak, the tournament offers a rare opportunity: either Nadal makes history or we get a new Australian Open champion! What will it be?
Let’s look at the draw.
MATTEO BERRETTINI QUARTER
This was to be Novak Djokovic’s home the next two weeks. He would have been the top seed for a seventh time, but now that first line belongs to lucky loser Salvatore Caruso. While he might not factor, his countryman and Wimbledon finalist Matteo Berrettini might and should. Djokovic’s section is open with maybe Tommy Paul coming out of that 16 to face Gael Monfils, then below it’s Berrettini, Carlos Alcaraz, Pablo Carreno Busta or the Cameron Norrie vs Sebastian Korda winner. If Korda didn’t get hit with COVID, I might take him to follow in his father’s footsteps, but here I’m leaning Carreno Busta to beat Berrettini and then Monfils to make the semifinals. Berrettini should be the guy, but his injury woes give me pause.
The Pick: Pablo Carreno Busta
ALEXANDER ZVEREV QUARTER
A tough quarter with both Zverev and Nadal, two guys who would figure on the final weekend. But now only one can. I really like Zverev’s draw early with Lloyd Harris in the third round and likely Shapovalov it the fourth. Nadal should be okay with Thanasi Kokkinakis in the second round Wednesday night in Melbourne, and then Karen Khachanov in the third, with maybe Aslan Karatsev in the fourth. Either Russian, if playing well, could knock off Rafa, but I’ll go with the lone former Australian Open champion in the field to rise to the challenge. In the quarters, though, I’ll go youth with Zverev. I think this is the year he gets his first Slam. This might not be the place, though.
The Pick: Alexander Zverev
STEFANOS TSITSIPAS QUARTER
This section is up for grabs. Tsitsipas would be the favorite but I don’t think his elbow is ready for best-of-5, so he’s not getting through this. And he hasn’t been the same player since that soul crushing French Open loss to Djokovic. So that leaves Casper Ruud, Jannik Sinner, Roberto Bautista Agut, Taylor Fritz and Nikolaz Basilashvili who meets Andy Murray in the first round. Ruud is more of a clay guy, Bautista Agut is up there in age, Murray could upset Basilashvili but in best-of-5 I don’t see a big run there, Fritz could take advantage so too could Sinner. This section could go a number of ways. Ruud does his best work on clay, but is improving on the hard courts so I like him to meet Sinner in the fourth round after the Italian eliminates Murray. Sinner beat Ruud last year in Vienna so I’ll take him here to make the quarters and then beat Fritz to make his first Slam semifinal. That’s all assuming Tsitsipas isn’t 100%!
The Pick: Jannik Sinner
DANIIL MEDVEDEV QUARTER
So Daniil Medvedev goes into his first Grand Slam as a champion and as a favorite! It’s new territory for the Russian, but he knows how to win. He’s been doing that for a while. And I think he’ll get through a sneaky-tough draw with Nick Kyrgios, who always shines in Melbourne, the Frenchman he’s 0-2 against in Ugo Humbert, John Isner and then I’ll go with Felix Auger-Aliassime in the quarters after he upsets Andrey Rublev. Rublev, who lost to Medvedev in the quarters last year, also missed some practice time due to COVID, so I’ll take the Canadian. But Medvedev in best-of-5 is going to be awfully hard to beat.
The Pick: Daniil Medvedev
Zverev d Carreno Busta: Rings a bell? They played a few years ago in a wild US Open semifinal. Same result, just not as wild.
Medvedev d Sinner: Medvedev too smart, too experienced for the youngster.
Medvedev d Zverev: The tallest Australian Open final goes to the Russian who all but assures a No. 1 ranking in the very, very near future.
With no Djokovic, there’s great opportunity here, but Nadal and Medvedev are the only ones who have recently shown they can handle the pressure. I think Zverev and some of the others get there, but for now I put Medvedev — and his ranking shows — as the man to beat here.
I do think we’ll get some new names in the semifinals. Last year that was Karatsev and we’ve seen players like Lucas Pouille, Kyle Edmund and Hyeon Chung all make surprising runs, so I expect no less this year, especially with the virus still an issue and the Djokovic turmoil.
After a chaotic start the year of the court, at least we are back to tennis in less than an hour!
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