By: Mike McIntyre
The Australian Open draw was released on Thursday for both the men's and women's singles draws in Melbourne. For the men, 36 year old Roger Federer is the defending champion and will be considered the favorite among many with the match-status and conditioning of Djokovic, Nadal and Wawrinka all unknown as they return from injuries.
Let's take a look at the main contenders on the ATP side of things. Have a glance at your leisure at LeoVegas Sports as well for their take on the favorites in the first Grand Slam of the year.
Isn't it something that this year a 36 year old Roger Federer is considered the favorite for the first Grand Slam of the season. A year ago he was almost five years removed from his last major triumph. Then he went on a rampage winning in Melbourne, the two Masters 1000 titles in Indian Wells and Miami as well as Wimbledon after having skipped the entire clay court season.
This year he is the only stable one amongst the "Big Four" with Andy Murray having withdrawn after surgery on his troublesome hip and with Novak Djokovic, Rafa Nadal and Stan Wawrinka still having yet to prove themselves as 100% fit after injury issues.
Nadal holds the top seed and has the easiest draw of the big names mentioned above. He opens against Victor Estrella Burgos and doesn't seem to have any noticeable threats until a potential fourth round match with American John Isner and Marin Cilic as his projected quarterfinal opponent. The top quarter is really wide open aside from those players and we should see several surprising names still alive into the third round.
The second quarter gets a little more tricky with third seed Grigor Dimitrov having to likely face either Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or Nick Kyrgios in the fourth round. A Dimitrov/Kyrgios affair would be a re-match of their recent semifinal at the Brisbane International that Kyrgios emerged victorious from en route to the title. Kyrgios is going to win Grand Slams at some point in his career I have almost no-doubt. With the established talents on the ATP World Tour still getting over their injuries, could this be the Slam for Kyrgios to have his breakthrough? Kevin Anderson and Jack Sock are my picks for the final quarterfinalist spot in this section of the draw but neither is expected to make-it much further. Anderson took advantage (and good for him) of a nice draw at the final Slam of 2017 in New York, but I don't see that story playing out again here for the South African.
In the third quarter of the draw, Novak Djokovic would normally be considered the overwhelming favorite to advance. However, the former World No. 1 and 12 time Slam champion has not played a competitive match since Wimbledon due to an elbow injury that shelved the rest of his season in 2017. Djokovic was back on the court this past week at the Kooyong Classic exhibition event and displayed a new service motion that clearly is the result of his recovery from surgery. How this will impact his ability to hold serve remains to be seen and he could just as easily win the tournament or bow out early due to his inactivity. Let's not forget though that the Aussie Open accounts for half of Djokovic's Grand Slam career totals.
The Serb opens against American Donald Young and has a potentially tricky second round match against Gael Monfils looming. Monfils started his 2018 campaign in the best possible way as he picked up the title in Qatar. That being said, Monfils has come up a discouraging 0-14 against Djokovic in ATP sanctioned events during his career. A fourth round match against Alexander Zverev would be fun to watch, although Zverev might first have to get past his older brother Mischa the 32nd seed. Also in this quadrant is 5th seeded Dominic Thiem - whom Djokovic just defeated in Kooyong - as well as another former Slam winner in Melbourne, Stan Wawrinka. Currently seeded 9th due to his own injury absence from the tour since Wimbledon, Wawrinka has been very low-key in the days ahead of the tournament and it still remains to be seen whether or not he will be fit enough to play.
Federer meanwhile is the No. 2 seed and the defending champ finds himself with a decent starting draw in the final quarter of the tournament but things will quickly get intense for the 36 year old legend. He went 4-0 in singles play and 4-0 in mixed doubles with Belinda Bencic at the Hopman Cup to start the year. The only set he lost in singles was the opener in his final match against Alexander Zverev that he recovered to win 6-7(4), 6-0, 6-2. In terms of seeded players at the Aussie Open, Federer could run into Richard Gasquet in the third round and then 2016 Wimbledon foe Milos Raonic in the fourth. Gasquet has not challenged Fed in the past 8 matches they have played and the Swiss star leads their head-to-head by a staggering margin of 16-2. While Raonic did indeed deny Federer the chance to face Andy Murray in the 2016 Wimbledon finals, the Canadian has struggled with injuries since then and did not look sharp in his opening round loss to Alex de Minaur in Brisbane a week ago. In terms of quarterfinal opposition, Federer has the likes of David Goffin, Juan Martin Del Potro and Tomas Berdych as likely candidates to challenge him. Goffin has a nice draw until the fourth round while Del Potro is likely the player Federer would least choose to face in this section given their past history. Federer narrowly leads their past nine encounters by a margin of 5-4.
Check back with us throughout the two week even that begins Monday January 15th for recaps, analysis and plenty of pictures as well. You can also follow us on Twitter for more timely updates. Regardless of who wins it is certainly an entertaining period for the sport as we get to see all the big names kick-off the first Grand Slam of the year.