It was just a few months ago when the 2014 season ended, but tennis is a year-round sport, and as the calendar flipped to 2015, the world’s top men and women made their way to Asia and Oceania to prepare themselves for the first major of the new season in Melbourne. The Australian Open in the last decade or so has generally been the most unstable of the four majors, with players making deep runs that look more like outliers in their careers than a sign of things to come. And with good reason: the lead-up to the first major is two weeks of minor events and a series of exhibitions. There isn’t much to go by in terms of “who’s in form”. It’s more of “who prepared the best during the offseason”, and that’s a question that can’t be truly answered until the event gets started.
Here at BadManBureau, we’ll help sort out the draws of this first major so you can be prepared about just who might be ending the two weeks with the trophy in hand. Here is an analysis of the men’s side.
Seeds: (1) Novak Djokovic, (13) Roberto Bautista Agut, (19) John Isner, (31) Fernando Verdasco
Novak Djokovic is the top overall seed this year, and his draw to start looks relatively benign. He opens up against Aljaz Bedene, a Slovak who can hit the ball very hard and flat, and could get Andrey Kuznetsov, a Russian who does the same, in the second round. Djokovic, however, is able to handle players who use blistering pace as their weapon, goading them into unforced errors and redirecting their power against them.
On the other side sits the lone seeded American John Isner. By now, we all know the refrain: he’s liable to get himself into trouble if he gets into prolonged, tiebreak-filled matches in the early rounds. He’s also coming in with a bit of an injury concern: he withdrew from defending his title in Auckland to rest up for the Australian Open. He’s got a difficult third round encounter with Roberto Bautista Agut, arguably the most under-the-radar player in the Top 20.
Quarterfinalist: Novak Djokovic
Seeds: (8) Milos Raonic, (12) Feliciano Lopez, (17) Gael Monfils, (25) Julien Benneteau
When the draw first came out, everyone pointed to an exciting, combustible matchup between former US Open winner Juan Martin Del Potro and Jerzy Janowicz. Alas, Del Potro has now withdrawn from the tournament, but that doesn’t mean that the closest seed to where that potential matchup was going to happen (Gael Monfils) should sleep any easier. It’s hard to determine what Monfils will do on a point-to-point basis, much less from event-to-event, and facing off against Jerzy Janowicz in the second round could bring out the showman in Monfils, which is dangerous to those who wish to see him advance.
Milos Raonic should rest assured that his first week shouldn’t be too full of speedbumps. However, he should probably be weary of the veteran and hometown favorite Lleyton Hewitt. Hewitt’s best days are well, well behind him, but he always tries his dogged best when in Melbourne, and if he can get to the third round, he’s bound to get an electric night environment to try to pull another upset.
Quarterfinalist: Milos Raonic
Seeds: (4) Stan Wawrinka, (16) Fabio Fognini, (21) Alexandr Dolgopolov, (27) Pablo Cuevas
Unlike last year when he shocked everyone en route to a semifinal appearance and hard fought loss to Novak Djokovic in the 2013 US Open, Wawrinka doesn’t have the same momentum behind him coming into the Australian Open. He is the defending champion though and hasn’t fallen off all that much, so he is still capable of living up to his seeding. He also got gifted a dream draw: many of the players in his section are clay-courters or vacillate wildly in their form (and are more down now than up in how they’re playing).
A couple of unseeded players to keep an eye out for are all potential fourth round opponents for Wawrinka. Two of them are actually playing each other in the first round: Canadian Vasek Pospisil and American Sam Querrey. Both had pretty poor 2014 seasons—Pospisil failed to back up his breakout 2013 season, and Querrey appeared content as a .500 player (until a late winning binge on the Challenger circuit last fall). Below them on the draw is Guillermo Garcia-Lopez. The Spaniard is better on clay, but he’s capable of stringing together a couple wins. With the seeds in this part being the combustible Fabio Fognini and the erratic Alexandr Dolgopolov, it’s a safe bet to pick one of these three to make a second-week appearance.
Quarterfinalist: Stan Wawrninka
Seeds: (5) Kei Nishikori, (9) David Ferrer, (18) Gilles Simon, (30) Santiago Giraldo
The two top-ten grinders are both here, as US Open finalist Nishikori headlines this part of the bracket. He’s still in great form, and by all accounts, he’s also healthy heading into the first major of the year, so his opponents should be weary. However, the draw was not kind to Kei; he gets former top-ten player Nicolas Almagro in the first round. Almagro had to punt on 2014 after being plagued with injuries all year, but he is capable of excellent tennis with his ability to hit with pace, depth, and margin for error on both sides.
There are also some other wildcards here in this section: Thomaz Bellucci can summon the strength for a big upset, as can players like Sergiy Stakhovsky, Robin Haase, and Ivan Dodig. Marcel Granollers had a decent bounce back after getting off to a bad start in 2014 and is a threat on all surfaces. There’s also American Steve Johnson, who has been slowly but surely climbing up the rankings behind his solid all-court game. Each of these players has an opportunity for a second week run if they can be consistent enough against the top seeds, but it’s going to be tough.
Quarterfinalist: Kei Nishikori
Seeds: (7) Tomas Berdych, (11) Ernests Gulbis, (22) Philipp Kohlschreiber, (26) Leonardo Mayer
Berdych headlines this portion of the draw, and he’s somehow plugging along as a top ten player despite the fact that he hasn’t truly been a threat at a major (or any big event) in quite some time. At this point, we know what he’s going to do: he’ll live up to his seeding, maybe lose a round earlier, maybe advance a round further. He doesn’t have the most pleasant of draws here though: he starts off against Alejandro Falla, a hard-hitting Columbian in the first round, and then could get former top-ten player Jurgen Melzer (who had to go through qualifying to make the main draw, so he’s tested already) in the second round and then Viktor Troicki, who just won the event in Sydney, in the third round.
The mercurial Gulbis sits on the other end of this section. He’s got a lofty seed here, but he’s done next to nothing ever since his breakout run at the French Open last year. Under the heat of Melbourne and having to take on a promising Australian in Thanasi Kokkinakis in the first round, he could find himself an early upset victim. In fact, there are a total of three Australians here: Sam Groth, with his absolutely booming serve, could get a crack at either Gulbis or Kokkinakis in the second round; and Bernard Tomic, who appears to be back on track after wondering aimlessly in 2014, could get the tough German Kohlschreiber in the second round.
Quarterfinalist: Philipp Kohlschreiber
Seeds: (3) Rafael Nadal, (14) Kevin Anderson, (24) Richard Gasquet, (28) Lukas Rosol
Rafael Nadal is discounting his chances (What else is new? He does this all the time.), but there’s an air around his camp and tennis overall that this may be a true sign of the end of Nadal as an all-surface dominator. He’s begun to pick up baffling losses in the last year or so and continued that with a stunning first round exit in Doha to 127th-ranked Michael Berrer. But Nadal has found ways to bounce back from a surprise loss; he did lose to Horacio Zeballos in his first tournament after his last long injury-forced layoff in 2013, only to win the next major on the calendar. If Nadal is to reach the second week, he’s got a huge obstacle in the third round. The man who shocked the tennis world with his victory over Nadal at Wimbledon, Lukas Rosol, lurks as Nadal’s potential opponent in that round.
On the other side, everything appears to be set up for a head-to-head matchup against seeded players Kevin Anderson and Richard Gasquet. Both are very solid players, but neither could ever be considered to be a true threat to win seven matches in a major. And if either finds themselves across the net from Nadal, the results may not be pretty.
Quarterfinalist: Rafael Nadal
Seeds: (6) Andy Murray, (10) Grigor Dimitrov, (20) David Goffin, (32) Martin Klizan
Murray hasn’t quite returned to his peak form, when he was a contender at just about every major of the last few years, but he’s slowly getting there. Keeping Amelie Mauresmo, a player who knew how to use her excellent defensive skills and variety to win matches, was honestly a positive move for Murray, and it’s exciting to see what the two can accomplish together. As for his draw here, his first week looks quite positive. He has no true threats en route to a second-week appearance, though Martin Klizan, who can blister the ball with his groundstrokes, could give Murray a headache, Murray should be able to persevere.
The other section of this draw is incredibly interesting. Dimitrov is now a top ten player, and while he doesn’t appear to be struggling under the weight of increased pressure, he’s got a very difficult draw to stand up to his seeding. Though Grigor got past the funky stylings of Dustin Brown without a problem, he still has to take on Lukas Lacko, a hard-hitting Slovak in the second round, and then could take on the surging David Goffin, a player who has excellent all-court skills, or former Australian Open finalist Marcos Baghdatis.
Quarterfinalist: Andy Murray
Seeds: (2) Roger Federer, (15) Tommy Robredo, (23) Ivo Karlovic, (29) Jeremy Chardy
It would be okay if Federer were looking ahead to his potential second-week opponents. The fact of the matter is that he has no one in his early rounds that could trouble him. While many might have salivated at the prospect of seeing Roger Federer face off against the youngster Borna Coric, a Croat who put himself on the map after defeating Rafael Nadal in Basel last fall, Coric lost on Monday to Jeremy Chardy in the first round.
The other side of this section features another youngster that has fans watching. Nick Kyrgios, the Australian who also stunned Nadal at Wimbledon last year, should be rejuvenated after shutting down his season early last year. He’ll need to advance past the ace machine in Ivo Karlovic, who has gotten off to a good start this season but has a tendency underperform at the majors. Already out: Tommy Robredo, collecting them checks. He lasted all of five games before retiring from his first round match against Edouard Roger-Vasselin.
Quarterfinalist: Roger Federer
And your 2015 Australian Open champion is…
Though this event feels more open that it has been in the past few seasons, Djokovic appears to be the pick to win yet another title in Melbourne. It simply comes back down to the “rock-paper-scissors” that the top of the ATP tour has these days. With Federer, Nadal, and Murray all sitting on the other half of the draw, Djokovic simply needs to get past the two young stars in Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori in the quarterfinals and semifinals respectively. Both are much improved, and in fact, Nishikori did knock Djokovic out of the US Open last year; however, Novak appears to be a different kind of player down under. And while Raonic and Nishikori are certain to win majors in the future, I don’t know if they can take care of arguably the best player on tour right now who comes out like a maelstrom after the offseason. On the other side, I think the carnage eventually settles to a Nadal-Federer matchup once again. And while Nadal may not appear to be at his peak, it is not a good choice to think that that automatically means all of the years of history that these two greats have had should flip. Nadal will somehow defeat Federer again, but I don’t think he’s going to be able to replicate the form he had in recreating that absurdly long final he and Novak had back in 2012.