If the women’s Australian Open is anyone’s to win, the men’s is Novak Djokovic’s to lose. At this stage of his career, Roger Federer has already proven unable to beat Djokovic at a major. Andy Murray has faced him four of the last five years in Australia, losing all four meetings (perhaps even worse, he’s only won four sets, three of them in tiebreakers).
Rafael Nadal leads Djokovic 9-4 lifetime at majors, but with his improved form getting him no closer to a victory after a 6-1, 6-2 beatdown, he feels further away than ever in their rivalry, having lost nine of their past 10 meetings, most of them rather decisively.
This has led to Stan Wawrinka (if you’re reading this post in the first place, you don’t need me to recite their recent history) being the one trendy upset pick. The problem? The Stanimal received a hellacious draw. He might have to face Jack Sock, Milos Raonic and Nadal just to get to the semifinals…
#1 Novak Djokovic’s Quarter
Seeds: Novak Djokovic, Kei Nishikori, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Gilles Simon, Benoit Paire, Ivo Karlovic, Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, Andreas Seppi
Notable floaters: Philipp Kohlschreiber, Jiri Vesely, Hyeon Chung, Teymuraz Gabashvili
Forecast: Ivo Karlovic was one of just four players to knock off Djokovic in 2015, but he’d have to win three matches to set up a rematch. This quarter could quickly fall apart, as Nishikori and Tsonga are prone to bad days, and Nishikori has a rough opening match against Kohlschreiber. While there will be an interesting result here or there in this section, ultimately it’s all window dressing with Djokovic around.
#3 Roger Federer’s Quarter
Seeds: Roger Federer, Tomas Berdych, Marin Cilic, David Goffin, Dominic Thiem, Roberto Bautista-Agut, Grigor Dimitrov, Nick Kyrgios
Notable floaters: Alexandr Dolgopolov, Kyle Edmund, Borna Coric, Martin Klizan
Forecast: Fed is surrounded by a bunch of youngsters and disappointing veterans in his quarter. Collectively, Dolgopolov, Dimitrov, Goffin and Thiem are somewhat disappointing, but it’s likely one of them has a good night against Federer.
The question will be if Federer has enough to deny the upset, which he did not last year against Seppi. Kyrgios will get the headlines, as always, yet it’s Coric who is the one to keep an eye on. If he can find a way past Cilic in round two, his tournament could get very, very compelling.
#4 Stan Wawrinka’s Quarter
Seeds: Stan Wawrinka, Rafael Nadal, Kevin Anderson, Milos Raonic, Viktor Troicki, Gael Monfils, Jack Sock, Jeremy Chardy
Notable floaters: Fernando Verdasco, Andrey Kuznetsov, Ernests Gulbis, Tommy Robredo, Taylor Fritz, Lukas Rosol
Forecast: Poor Stan. Last year, this draw would not have been very daunting, but he drew the short straw of getting Nadal, compounded by a looming date with Raonic in the fourth round. Nadal’s opener against Verdasco is perhaps the most anticipated first round clash due to the phenomenal quality of their 2009 semifinal down under.
Don’t bet on a similar quality this time, as Nadal should advance unscathed, and barring a peak performance from Kevin Anderson, remain that way until the quarterfinals. The all-American battle between Sock and Fritz isn’t simply drawing sympathy votes for Americans, it’s a legitimately intriguing matchup between two guys who should help USA tennis reemerge.
#2 Andy Murray’s Quarter
Seeds: Andy Murray, David Ferrer, John Isner, Bernard Tomic, Feliciano Lopez, Fabio Fognini, Steve Johnson, Joao Sousa
Notable floaters: Lleyton Hewitt, Aljaz Bedene, Gilles Muller, Donald Young, Sascha Zverev
Forecast: Murray-Zverev is up there for most compelling first round matchup. The Scot has a clean draw to get to the semis, although he has been adamant that he’ll leave the tournament no matter what should his wife, Kim, go into labor with their first child.
Ferrer, Isner and Lopez comprise one of the most evenly distributed sub-sections, with any of them having a chance to reach the quarters. Hewitt, in his final tournament, faces fellow Aussie James Duckworth to start, and would then play Ferrer in a match destined to go the full five sets, with the winner being decided by which one is able to merely stand after seven hours of never-ending rallies.
Quarterfinals: Djokovic def Tsonga, Federer def Berdych, Nadal def Wawrinka, Murray def Lopez
(This would set up the first all-Big Four semifinal at an ATP event since the 2012 Australian Open.)
Semifinals: Djokovic def Federer, Nadal def Murray
Final: Djokovic def Nadal