52. Australian Open men’s draw analysis

This post was first published by Ubitennis on 15 January 2016 at the following link: http://www.ubitennis.net/blog/2016/01/15/australian-open-mens-draw-analysis/

The Australian Open men’s draw was made on Friday morning in Melbourne and, as all grand slam draws, has heightened anticipation for the start of the event. Our analysis of the men’s draw is set out below.

The top half of the men’s draw looks marginally stronger, perhaps because it contains both Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, who contested the last two slam finals of 2015. Nick Kyrgios, Tomas Berdych and Kei Nishikori, among others, also lurk as credible semi-finalists. But the bottom half is perhaps more competitive – the third quarter especially which sees Nadal, Wawrinka and Raonic the main contenders for just one semi final spot. Murray will be happy to have avoided all of the above in the fourth quarter and, along with Djokovic, seems to have had the best of the draw. How far Murray progresses will be based on his own play and on whether his wife goes into labour thus foreshortening his participation. On such things does analysis of a grand slam draw rest.

Quarter 1

Top seeds: Djokovic (1) and Nishikori (7)

Five-time champion Novak Djokovic was given an interesting but ultimately straightforward early draw. The world number one begins on Monday with an intriguing clash with teenager Hyeon Chung. Chung’s progress in the last 12 months (currently ranked 51) and potential in the next few years ensures that this match will be watched for the form of both players. The Korean’s draw (and that of Zverev against Murray see below) is abrupt notice, should it be needed, that everything is earned in tennis. Assuming the Serb progresses, his second round opponent is likely to be Croatian veteran Ivan Dodig, against whom Djokovic holds a 3-0 head to head. Djokovic’s third round opponent is projected to be Andreas Seppi, the 28th seed who conquered Roger Federer at the same stage last year, or equally conceivably Teymuraz Gabashvili or Denis Kudla, one of potentially 15 Americans in the main draw.

In the fourth round, Djokovic is set to meet either Gilles Simon or Ivo Karlovic. The Serb surely has a preference for Simon (9-1 head to head) over Karlovic, one of the few players who has a positive head to head record against Djokovic (2-1); and in the event of quick conditions could pose some tricky questions with his almost impregnable serve. Of the players that Djokovic could have drawn in the last eight (which also included Berdych, Nadal or Ferrer), Kei Nishikori, the Japanese number one, is arguably the greatest threat to the world number one, having defeated Djokovic in the US Open semi final in 2014. Federer is Djokovic’s potential semi final opponent.

Nishikori’s draw, however, is not straightforward. He has a tough opener against Philipp Kohlschreiber, a potential third round meeting with Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, and a projected fourth round clash with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the 2008 finalist and ninth seed. Although Nishikori boasts a 4-2 head to head record against Tsonga, it is their most recent meeting, a quarter final at Roland Garros last year won by Tsonga, that will give the Frenchman confidence.

Quarter 2

Top seeds: Federer (3) and Berdych (6)

Federer will not consider himself as fortunate as Djokovic. After opening against Nikoloz Basilashvili, the world number 117, Federer’s faces a number of threats which he will need to overcome quickly to have a realistic chance of winning a fourth Australian Open. Federer’s likely second round opponent, Alexandr Dolgopolov, is mercurial but reached the quarter finals in Melbourne in 2011. From there, it’s likely to be Dimitrov, whose potential threat is understood even if he has rarely executed to date. Dominic Thiem or David Goffin could be fourth round opponents. Federer is not often short of confidence but will be buoyed by his combined head to head against Dolgopolov, Dimitrov, Thiem and Goffin of 10-0. And then it gets harder: potential quarter final opponents include Tomas Berdych, Marin Cilic and Nick Kyrgios, followed by a projected semi final against Djokovic.

Even if not the highest seed, Kyrgios headlines the other half of the second quarter. Kyrgios is some people’s pick as an outsider for the title, although the draw on Friday did him few favours. His potential path to the final includes Berdych and Cilic, and maybe both Federer and Djokovic. Kyrgios’s mix of big match temperament, belief and talent may take him some of the way and his potential third round meeting with Berdych, a semi-finalist in each of the last two years, will tell us a lot about both players. Borna Coric, the Croatian 19 year old, and last week announced as one of Forbes’ “30 under 30” in sports is a potential second round opponent for countryman Cilic.

Quarter 3

Top seeds: Wawrinka (4) and Nadal (5)

Arguably, this is the most competitive of the quarters where all three of Nadal, Wawrinka and Raonic are in form and will each be confident of making the semi finals or better. Crucially, to win the title, they would at the most only need to beat one of Federer or Djokovic. The consensus is that Nadal is playing better now than at any time in the last 12 months, although his dismantling at the hands of Djokovic in Doha last weekend may give a more sober view of the 2009 champion’s current form. Nadal faces Fernando Verdasco in the first round, which recalls their epic 5 hour semi final in 2009, and it will be an immediate test for the Mallorcan. Kevin Anderson, who made his first grand slam quarter final at the US Open last year, will look to push on and Nadal-Anderson is a potential fourth round match. Anderson will look to reverse a 3-0 head to head against Nadal that includes a defeat in the fourth round at last year’s Australian Open.

It is likely that to make the semi finals, Nadal or Anderson would have to defeat either Raonic or Wawrinka, tournament winners last week in Brisbane and Chennai respectively, and themselves favourites to meet in a titanic fourth round match. Before that however, Jack Sock’s run to the final in Auckland this week makes him a likely third round test for Wawrinka, the 2014 champion. Raonic’s first projected seeded opponent is the in-form Viktor Troicki, who plays on Saturday in the Sydney final.

Quarter 4

Top seeds: Murray (2) and Ferrer (8)

Were it not for the impending birth of Murray’s first child – and Murray’s insistence that he will leave the tournament if his wife should go into labour – the fourth quarter would not leave much to the imagination. Murray’s first round opponent, Alexander Zverev (at 18 the youngest member of the top 100), should be straightforward for the British number one and his first test may come in a projected fourth round match-up with Bernie Tomic, the Australian number one, followed by a potential quarter final with David Ferrer (against whom Murray has an 11-2 head to head away from clay courts).

Lleyton Hewitt will compete in his 20th and last Australian Open before retiring. The Australian’s best result at his home grand slam was a final appearance in 2005 and all of tennis will wish him well over the next two weeks. A potential second round match up with David Ferrer at first sight looks to be the limit of Hewitt’s progress, but the veteran Australian may have one last trick up his sleeve. Steve Johnson, Feliciano Lopez and John Isner round out the seeds that may potentially meet Ferrer in the fourth round, with Lopez-Isner a projected third round meeting. Their head to head is tied at 3 wins apiece and includes 5 tie breaks in 9 sets of grand slam play. Their match at the Australian Open in 2012 went 5 sets and 3 and a half hours: this one may need international arbitration to settle.

But it’s only what the seedings project….

The draw projects semi finals of Djokovic-Federer and Murray-Wawrinka. However, experience tells us that grand slam draws rarely work out as the seedings project. This Australian Open is no exception: with tough draws, strong outsiders, and the potential that the second seed may leave at any moment, any number of players will have the confidence to know that this is their opportunity to break through.

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