The time before the Australian Open might be the most hectic in tennis. None of the tournaments are particularly important, meaning each player is free to start where it suits him/her best, with factors such as location and appearance fees they receive being factors in decisions. With just about every major player in action, spread out across a half-dozen tournaments going on this week, here’s a primer:
Projected semifinals: Novak Djokovic vs Tomas Berdych, Rafael Nadal vs David Ferrer
Other notables: Feliciano Lopez (lost first round), Fernando Verdasco
Last year: Stunning early upsets of Djokovic and Nadal led to Ferrer defeating Berdych in the final, which is highly unlikely to happen again. Nadal won the doubles last year (with Juan Monaco), though he and Verdasco, a probable duo for the Rio Olympics, lost a nail-biter in this year’s opening round.
Prediction: Djokovic defeats Nadal
Projected semifinals: Roger Federer vs Marin Cilic, Kei Nishikori vs Milos Raonic
Other notables: David Goffin, Grigor Dimitrov, Dominic Thiem, Hyeon Chung
Last year: Federer avenged a loss in the 2014 final (to Lleyton Hewitt) by dusting Dimitrov in the semis and taking out Raonic in a three-set final.
Prediction: Federer defeats Raonic. Dimitrov won’t win, but he’s the one to watch, as he had a strong start to last year before collapsing, and he already beat Gilles Simon. There are reasons to be skeptical, but sometimes players need the offseason to clear their head and come back refreshed.
Projected semifinals: Stan Wawrinka vs Benoit Paire, Kevin Anderson vs Roberto Bautista-Agut
Other notables: Borna Coric, Vasek Pospisil, Andrey Rublev
Last year: Wawrinka repeated as champion through a similarly weak field.
Prediction: Wawrinka defeats Anderson. Coric is a trendy pick, but a little too trendy.
Projected quarterfinals: Simona Halep/Roberta Vinci, Maria Sharapova/Belinda Bencic, Angelique Kerber/Timea Bacsinszky (lost first round), Garbine Muguruza/Carla Suarez Navarro
Other notables: Vika Azarenka, Dominika Cibulkova, Andrea Petkovic, Sam Stosur
Last year: Sharapova came from a set down to beat rival Ana Ivanovic.
Prediction: Maria Sharapova defeats Garbine Muguruza. The blockbuster here in an absolutely loaded field is a second-round matchup between Halep and Azarenka. Vika has some sort of curse when it comes to unlucky draws, and she’ll have to win some of these early clashes to get her ranking back up after a couple years derailed by injury. She finally looks ready to fully bounce back.
(NOTE: Since publishing, both Halep and Sharapova have withdrawn due to injuries. Bencic and Azarenka could really benefit from adding some ranking points here in their absences.)
Projected semifinals: Aga Radwanska vs Irina-Camelia Begu, Petra Kvitova vs Monica Niculescu
Other notables: Genie Bouchard
Last year: Halep won the title, but decided to compete in Brisbane this year.
Prediction: Radwanska defeats Bouchard. This might be a tad ambitious for Bouchard, but picking Kvitova to make it through a draw is always a risky proposition. Regardless, the Canadian is the big story here as she attempts to bounce back from a horrendous 2015 that culminated with her suffering a concussion in a freak accident at the U.S. Open, and later retiring mid-match in Beijing due to dizziness.
Projected semifinals: Venus Williams vs Svetlana Kuznetsova, Ana Ivanovic vs Caroline Wozniacki
Other notables: Sloane Stephens
Last year: Venus kicked off a resurgent 2015 with a three set win over Wozniacki.
Prediction: Ivanovic defeats Kuznetsova
Mixed: Hopman Cup
Notable players: Serena Williams, Andy Murray, Nick Kyrgios, Jack Sock, Karolina Pliskova, Lleyton Hewitt
This round robin country-based team event in Perth features a men’s singles match, a women’s singles match and a mixed doubles match in each three match series, leading to some fun mixed doubles pairings. Serena already pulled out of her first match due to knee inflammation. Radwanska and Jerzy Janowicz won it in 2015 for Poland but did not compete this year.