2018 Australian Open – Men’s Preview

Australian Open – Men’s Winner

January 15 – 29

The 2017 Australian Open provided one of the sporting highlights of the year as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal turned back the clocks to provide one of the great finals. Federer would add a 19th Slam title at Wimbledon to that triumph while Nadal mopped up the other two majors. However, with injuries decimating the field the talk this time is more about player burnout than the possibility of a 20th crown for Federer.

Heading into last year’s Australian Open, Roberto Bautista Agut had won Chennai, Grigor Dimitrov had won Brisbane and Novak Djokovic Doha, as the big guns looked to be warming up in style. Those tournaments have traditionally given a good indicator of early season form, with Wawrinka, Raonic and Djokovic winning them the year before and Wawrinka, Federer and Ferrer the champions in 2015. This year’s honours have gone to Gilles Simon (Pune), Nick Kyrgios (Brisbane) and Gael Monfils (Doha), with market favourites Federer, Nadal and Djokovic avoiding any warm-up events (though Federer did play in the Hopman Cup). That leaves us with plenty of questions, so let’s take a look through what promises to be a wide open draw.


Quarter One

Rafael Nadal’s stellar 2017 has him installed at the top of the draw but with his knees creaking once more can he replicate that form in 2018? Leo Mayer took a set off him at the second round in the US Open and could give the Spaniard an early test at the same stage here. However, a potential third round against Borna Coric looks capable of pushing him to the limits. Coric beat Alexander Zverev in the last Slam in New York and also has career wins over Murray, Thiem and Nadal himself.

In terms of a fourth round opponent John Isner is nominally expected to come through as the 16th seed but hasn’t shown a lot of form away from the US hard court swing in recent years and has lost to unseeded players at each of the last five Slams. He plays Aussie Matt Ebden in his opener and having shot up the rankings since returning from injury a year ago his confidence should be high. Ebden took Kyrgios to a deciding set in Brisbane a couple of weeks ago and he could well make the Last 16 here.

The bottom half of this quarter has a few players of interest. Marin Cilic shouldn’t have many problems in reaching the fourth round, but he’s done little of significance since reaching the Wimbledon final. He lost in the semis in Pune earlier this month and his conqueror there, Gilles Simon, could meet him in the Last 16. To do so the Frenchman will probably have to beat Pablo Carreno Busta in round two but the Spaniard arrives having lost 12 of 13 matches back to his US Open semi-final loss. 23rd seed Gilles Muller also has no form to talk of and looks ripe for an early exit. Simon ended a near-three year title drought in Pune, as he also beat Kevin Anderson and Bautista Agut, and has made the third or fourth round here in each of the last five years.

With a 6-1 record over Cilic, Simon looks to have every chance of making the Last 16 but we struggle to see the 33 year old going any further without a fair amount of luck. Instead we fancy the long shot of Coric finally proving some of his undoubted talent and reaching the semis.

Q1 Pick: Borna Coric


Quarter Two

After Grigor Dimitrov pushed Nadal to the very limit in the semis here last year it looked like he was finally ready to regularly contend for the Grand Slams. Third, fourth and second round exits at the other majors in 2017 registered as a massive disappointment in that regard, but by claiming the ATP Finals title in November he rose to third in the world and is the fourth favourite here. However, while he stormed to the Brisbane title warming up for last year’s Aussie Open, with wins over three top 10 players, this time around he looked pretty rusty as he lost in the semis there. He faces qualifiers in the opening two rounds before a difficult looking clash with Andrey Rublev, who reached the Doha final and also beat both Dimitrov and Goffin on his way to the quarters at the US Open.

The Bulgarian is seeded to meet Nick Kyrgios, who beat him in Brisbane, or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the Last 16. With Tsonga struggling with a wrist injury Kyrgios would seem the most likely, though it’s hard to predict anything with much confidence when it comes to the Aussie. At some point, however, the fiery 22 year old is bound to improve on his best Slam performance of the quarters here in 2015 and Wimbledon in 2014, and with so many big names struggling in the buildup he might just have sharpened his focus.

The bottom half of this quarter looks an easier spot and the two top seeds within it, Kevin Anderson and Jack Sock, can feel delighted with their draws. Sock struggled at the Hopman Cup before being dumped out in his opener in Brisbane, where he was the defending champion, but he arguably had an eye on saving himself. He should still come through, as should Anderson, who has looked sharp at the start of 2018 as he looks to back up his run to the US Open final. We fancy him to come through ahead of Sock to make the quarters but we think its Kyrgios’s time and he’ll be advancing to his first semi-final.

Q2 Pick: Nick Kyrgios


Quarter Three

Dominic Thiem and Alex Zverev might be the two top eight seeds in this quarter but Stan Wawrinka and Novak Djokovic are the names none of the top eight wanted to see in their section. Add in dangerous youngsters Daniil Medvedev and Hyeon Chung, as well as Doha champion Gael Monfils, and this looks the most exciting quarter.

Thiem has failed to justify his seeding at all of his 14 events since the French Open last year and was thrashed by Djokovic in an exhibition last week so looks a long shot at best. His first round opponent, Guido Pella, beat him in that time, while Adrian Mannarino or Jiri Vesely have the potential to upset him in the first week. Wawrinka should be Thiem’s fourth round opponent according to the seedings but he’s struggling to be fit enough to even start. Instead, Roberto Bautista Agut’s consistency should see him come through to make the quarters for the first time having fallen at the Last 16 in seven of the last 10 Slams.

Djokovic will expect to meet him there, and while Gael Monfils would be a dangerous floater for most seeds, as a second round opponent for Djokovic he shouldn’t pose a threat given a record of 15 consecutive defeats against the Serb. Instead, Djokovic’s big test looks likely to come in the fourth round against Alex Zverev. The Zverev brothers are due to meet in round three but Mischa looks set for a first round exit against Chung. Alex shouldn’t have any such problems, nevertheless his form at the end of last season and then this month at the Hopman Cup was far from stellar and the fact he’s bettered the third round just once at the Slams puts us off.

Much will boil down to the state of his body, which is sure to be tested to the limits over a best of five format but everything might just fall into place for Djokovic to advance to the semis in pursuit of a record seventh Aussie Open title.

Q3 Pick: Novak Djokovic


Quarter Four

Finally we arrive at Federer’s section, and there don’t look to be any banana skins in the opening rounds. A fourth round against Sam Querrey or Milos Raonic might sound like a tricky test against a big server but form and fitness suggests neither are likely to make it that far and Federer should advance to the quarters in double quick time.

The seeds from the other side of this quarter are Goffin, Fognini, Berdych and Del Potro. Goffin was brilliant last autumn as he claimed two titles and even beat Federer in the ATP Finals. A quarter-finalist here a year ago his consistency should see him through to the Last 16 safely enough, where Berdych or Del Potro appear his most likely opponents.

Despite occasional flashes of brilliance Del Potro has never quite recaptured the brilliance that took him to the 2009 US Open. Nevertheless, he’s consistently challenged for titles in the last six months and even beat Federer at the US Open. We certainly fancy him over Berdych, who looks unable to beat the best these days and is coming off a three month layoff with a back injury.

We’d struggle to split Goffin and Del Potro, as do the bookies, but a fourth round meeting between the pair probably just plays into Federer’s hands as they tire themselves out before facing the Swiss maestro. Federer looked as good as ever at the Hopman Cup and we see him carrying on his 2017 form.

Q4 Pick: Roger Federer


Overall

A Federer versus Djokovic semi-final would be an epic occasion but the Serb has a far harder route and while we think he’ll make it through we’d still be concerned about his elbow holding up the whole way through the tournament. It’s been two years since they last met – in the semis here in fact – but a lot has changed since then and Federer starts this tournament a couple of levels above Djokovic in our mind. At about 2/1 versus 7/1 we’d certainly rather be on Fed given the draw, health and greater consistency of his game.


Betting Strategy

Back on Betfair BACK – Roger Federer at $3 for 3 units

Back on Betfair BACK – Nick Kyrgios at $19 for 1 unit

Back on Betfair BACK – Novak Djokovic at $8.8 for 0.5 units

Back on Betfair BACK – Borna Coric at $520 for 0.5 units


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