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10sBalls • Ricky’s Picks | Predictions For 2019 Australian Open Tennis ATP Men’s Singles Draw

Photo by Dusan Vemic

 

 

By Ricky Dimon

 

For the most part it’s a balanced men’s singles draw at the Australian Open. But does a fair bracket translate to a level playing field? Not necessarily. Novak Djokovic was by far the best player in the world throughout the second half of last season and he is already a six-time champion Down Under. So…is there anyone who can stop him?

 

Alexander Zverev, Kei Nishikori, Borna Coric, and Nick Kyrgios will be among those trying to prevent Djokovic from reaching the title match—a feat Hyeon Chung accomplished last season with a fourth-round upset. But assuming the top-ranked Serb does advance to the final, potential foes include Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Kevin Anderson, and Marin Cilic. A rematch of the 2018 champion match between Federer and Cilic could come in the quarters.

 

Djokovic’s section

There will be plenty of flair and perhaps even some shenanigans in this quarter, with the likes of Fabio Fognini, Daniil Medvedev, Denis Shapovalov, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and Martin Klizan on hand. Shapovalov, who is perhaps the most exciting up-and-comer in tennis, could be Djokovic’s third-round opponent. Tsonga and Klizan are going head-to-head right off the bat for the almost certain right to meet Melbourne’s No. 1 seed in round two. Fognini and Medvedev were focused long enough in 2018 to combine for six titles (three apiece).

While that’s all well and good, the top quarter is likely to be dominated by two of the most no-nonsense players around. Nowhere is Djokovic better than he is at the Aussie Open and his draw is not tough; Tsonga is no longer the same and Shapovalov isn’t quite ready yet. As for the eighth-seeded Nishikori, he has been in awesome form dating back to the 2018 U.S. Open and his hot stretch includes a season-opening title in Brisbane. Other than an always-scary matchup with Ivo Karlovic in the second round, Nishikori should coast into week two.

 

Best first-round matchup — (WC) Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs. Martin Klizan

The 2008 AO final was Djokovic vs. Tsonga. Eleven years on, it could be a second-round match. However, Klizan may have something to say about that. The 40th-ranked Slovak leads the head-to-head series 1-0, having pulled off a stunning upset of Tsonga in round two of the 2012 U.S. Open. A Klizan win would be no surprise this time around given that the 33-year-old Frenchman is slowly making his way back from various injuries. On the bright side for Tsonga, he managed to play well to begin his season in Brisbane—ousting Alex de Minaur in the QFs before falling to Medvedev.

 

Best potential second-round matchup – (32) Philipp Kohlschreiber vs. Joao Sousa
Best potential third-round matchup – (15) Daniil Medvedev vs. (21) David Goffin

 

Potential surprises – If you split this section into fourths, the two without either Djokovic or Nishikori are obviously the vulnerable spots. Although the unseeded contingent in those fourths is unspectacular, either Ryan Harrison, Malek Jaziri, or Nicolas Jarry could so some damage.

 

Zverev’s section

Alexander Zverev of Germany speaks to the media during a press conference ahead of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne, Australia, 12 January 2019. The Australian Open will run from 14 January to 27 January 2019. EPA-EFE/LYNN BO BO

Alexander Zverev of Germany speaks to the media during a press conference ahead of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne, Australia, 12 January 2019. The Australian Open will run from 14 January to 27 January 2019. EPA-EFE/LYNN BO BO

This is where everyone wants to be. Zverev is apparently questionable to even play in Melbourne due to hamstring and ankle issues. Thiem, still a significant question mark on any surface other than clay despite his quarterfinal run at last summer’s U.S. Open, dropped his first match of 2019 to Pierre-Hugues Herbert in Doha. One guy, especially, could be the beneficiary. Coric, who owns a pretty much perfect draw (easy first week, Thiem in round four, Zverev in the quarters), finished runner-up to Djokovic at the Shanghai Masters this past fall and then helped Croatia lift the Davis Cup trophy.

But it is a different part of this quarter that will steal headlines throughout the first four days of the tournament. The No. 1 marquee matchup of round one pits Kyrgios against Milos Raonic, and the winner of that battle will run into either Stan Wawrinka or Ernests Gulbis. For a pod featuring no player currently in the top 16, that is quite simply as difficult as it gets.

 

Best first-rounder — (16) Milos Raonic vs. Nick Kyrgios

There are a whole host of dangerous floaters in this AO who are accustomed to being seeded at slams—and seeded high (as high as No. 1 in fact. See: Andy Murray). The unluckiest seed who has to face one of those floaters right off the bat is Raonic, who has also slipped down the rankings due to recent injuries of his own; albeit not outside the top 32. He and Kyrgios have split their six previous encounters at three wins apiece, with the Aussie taking their only previous hard-court contest three years ago in Miami via a 6-4, 7-6(4) decision. If a motivated Kyrgios shows up (and that’s a big “if”), this will be a good one.

 

Best potential second-round matchup – Nick Kyrgios vs. Stan Wawrinka
Best potential third-round matchup – (4) Alexander Zverev vs. (29) Gilles Simon

 

Potential surprises — Can Coric be considered a surprise when he will likely be the trendiest pick to reach the semifinals out of this section? Maybe not. Whatever the case, look for Coric, Gilles Simon, and whoever emerges from the Raonic-Kyrgios-Wawrinka-Gulbis quartet to make plenty of noise.

 

Federer’s section

Like most other top players, Federer should have no trouble throughout the first week. The Swiss gets things started against Denis Istomin, would meet a qualifier in round two, and potential foes in the last 16 are Taylor Fritz, Cameron Norrie, Damir Dzumhur, and an injured/rusty Gael Monfils. They are nice players, but only a 100 percent Monfils has the firepower with which to oust Federer—and Monfils isn’t close to 100 percent. Either Stefanos Tsitsipas or Nikoloz Basilashvili will be more of a test for the 37-year-old in round four.

Is a rematch with Cilic in the cards for the quarters? Maybe not. Cilic’s relatively difficult path starts with Bernard Tomic and likely continues through the opening week with Andrey Rublev and 2009 Aussie Open semifinalist Fernando Verdasco. Nitto ATP Finals alternate Karen Khachanov or Doha champion Roberto Bautista Agut could clash with Cilic in the last 16. Bautista Agut, however, won’t be looking past the opening round….

 

Best first-rounder — (22) Roberto Bautista Agut vs. Andy Murray

The pre-Australian Open news that has rocked the tennis world is this: Andy Murray is retiring. It’s not immediate, but the end is imminent. Although the former world No. 1 hopes to play Wimbledon this summer for his swansong, he admits that the Australian Open could be his final event. What is sure to a physical demanding matchup with Bautista Agut may be a nightmare for Murray, but if he can endure the hip pain for more than a few sets this will become a war of baseline attrition. Whatever happens, it will be must-see television as potentially Murray’s last match.

 

Best potential second-round matchup – (10) Karen Khachanov vs. Yoshihito Nishioka
Best potential third-round matchup – (14) Stefanos Tsitsipas vs. (19) Nikoloz Basilashvili

 

Potential surprises — Although Khachanov and Bautista Agut are both balling right now, neither is immune to an early-round upset. Murray isn’t healthy enough to orchestrate it, but unseeded entrants John Millman and Tennys Sandgren are the ones to watch. Sandgren, for better or worse, made some memorable noise en route to last year’s QFs.

 

Nadal’s quarter

Rafael Nadal of Spain in action during a training session at the Australian Open in Melbourne, Australia, 10 January 2019. EPA-EFE/DANIEL POCKETT AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND OUT

Rafael Nadal of Spain in action during a training session at the Australian Open in Melbourne, Australia, 10 January 2019. EPA-EFE/DANIEL POCKETT

Will Nadal’s body allow him to even make it through three matches in Melbourne? If so, his road to the second week could be Aussie-Aussie-Aussie. Yes, the Spaniard’s first three opponents may end up being James Duckworth (confirmed, first round), Matthew Ebden, and de Minaur. Barring injury, Nadal will make it through the first two with no issues. Sydney champion De Minaur in the third round, however, would be a whole different beast. If the world No. 2 can make it through three stages, he will likely make mincemeat out of whatever the fourth round throws at him. But can he?

On this surface, an in-form Anderson may be the favorite to reach the semifinals out of Nadal’s section. The South African has appeared in two of the last five Grand Slam finals, qualified for the semis at the 2018 Nitto ATP Finals, and lifted the Pune trophy earlier this month. Dimitrov or a rematch with Isner in the fourth round could be tough, but Anderson would have to be the pick in either of those matchups. First, though, week one for Anderson is no foregone conclusion. Adrian Mannarino awaits on Monday, Frances Tiafoe would likely be next up, and current Sydney semifinalist Andreas Seppi does some of his best work during Australian summers.

 

Best first-rounder — (13) Kyle Edmund vs. Tomas Berdych

Two of the biggest forehands in the game will be on display here. One was a staple of the top 10 for almost a decade; the other has emerged on the scene of late and went all the way to the Australian Open semifinals in 2018. Berdych’s biggest weapon is finally working again, as a healthy Czech made a season-opening run to the Doha final before falling to Bautista Agut. Now it is Edmund who is dealing with physical problems of his own, to the extent that the Brit dropped his Brisbane opener in straight sets to Yasutaka Uchiyama and then withdrew from Sydney citing a knee problem. If Edmund has recovered, though, the hitting in this one will be huge.

 

Best potential second-round matchup – (5) Kevin Anderson vs. Frances Tiafoe
Best potential third-round matchup – (2) Rafael Nadal vs. (27) Alex de Minaur

 

Potential surprises — Interestingly, it is the Nadal side of this quarter that is the most wide open. Anderson, Isner, and Dimitrov should take care of business in the early rounds, but Nadal and Edmund are vulnerable right now. Don’t be stunned if either Berdych or de Minaur makes a run to the quarters.

 

Ricky contributes to 10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @TennGrand.

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