Popularly advertised as the Grand Slam of Asia-Pacific, the Australian Open marks the inauguration of tennis’ “Major” season. It has been played on Plexicushion Prestige hard courts since 2008.
On the men’s side, 6-time Grand Slam champion, Novak Djokovic (Serbia), enters as the overwhelming favourite. The 3-time defending champion, who also has 4 Australian Open titles overall, finished 2013 on a high. The world #2 brushed aside the disappointment of losing the US Open title match (l. Rafael Nadal) and embarked on a 24-match winning streak, although the last two wins weren’t enough to see his country regain the Davis Cup title.
Djokovic welcomed the 2014 tennis season with a win at the cash-rich Mubadala World Tennis Championship (d. David Ferrer). Following the win, he announced his intention to take a two-week break – choosing to rest and practice and prepare himself – ahead of the season’s first Grand Slam. With fellow 6-time Grand Slam winner Boris Becker (Germany) by his side, Djokovic will be looking to make the most of his coach’s experience as he continues on his quest for further Grand Slam glory.
It won’t be easy, however, and his stiffest challenge is expected to come from his great rival – Rafael Nadal (Spain). The world #1 and 13-time Grand Slam champion endured a rusty start to 2014. He fought his way to his first title win at Doha (d. Gael Monfils), but will not be found wanting in terms of motivation. Victory at Melbourne Park would not only land Nadal a 14th Grand Slam, but would also make him the first player since legendary Rod Laver to win each Major at least two times.
David Ferrer (Spain) and Andy Murray (Great Britain) round off the top four seeds. The Scot, who is making a return from surgery, had a shaky start to the season with early exits at Doha (l. Florian Mayer) and Kooyong (l. Lleyton Hewitt). A couple of confidence-boosting wins early on could see the 2-time Grand Slam champion make a case for his third Major here in Australia.
The rest of the top 8 are seen as the best challengers to Djokovic and Nadal for the title, and the list includes ‘the other Swiss’ Stanislas Wawrinka, the powerful Tomas Berdych (Czech Republic), 2009 US Open Champion and world #5 Juan Martín del Potro (Argentina) – who routed Bernard Tomic (Australia) in the title match at Sydney – and someone who needs no introduction… Roger Federer (Switzerland).
2013 was easily the Swiss Maestro’s annus horribilis as he experienced his poorest season since 2002. He failed to reach the final at any of the four Grand Slams and hoisted all of one title – at Halle (d. Mikhail Youzhny). To add insult to injury, the 17-time Major champion saw his ridiculous streak of 36-straight Grand Slam quarterfinals come to an end at his beloved Wimbledon where he crashed out in the second round (l. Sergiy Stakhovsky).
Federer started the year on a slightly promising note, with a runner-up showing at Brisbane (l. Lleyton Hewitt). The former world #1 will have the legendary Stefan Edberg as part of his team and has spoken in glowing terms of his childhood tennis idol.
The draw for the men’s singles was done on Friday and what ensued surprised many – with Andy Murray, Juan Martín del Potro, Roger Federer and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (France) being drawn in the same half as Rafael Nadal.
It also meant Novak Djokovic would have the likes of David Ferrer, Tomas Berdych, Stanislas Wawrinka and Richard Gasquet (France) in his half. The eye-popping stat therein? Djokovic is a combined 27-0, on outdoor hard courts, against the top-10 quartet in his half.
Without further ado, we analyse the men’s singles draw and see what probably lies in store for some of the big names.
» Rafael Nadal: Bernard Tomic (R128), Igor Sijsling (R64), Gael Monfils (R32), Lleyton Hewitt/Kei Nishikori (R16), Juan Martín del Potro (QF), Andy Murray/Roger Federer (SF), Novak Djokovic (F)
» Novak Djokovic: Lukas Lacko (R128), Leonardo Mayer (R64), Dmitri Tursunov/Marcos Baghdatis (R32), Fabio Fognini/Ernests Gulbis (R16), Stanislas Wawrinka (QF), David Ferrer (SF), Rafael Nadal (F)
» David Ferrer: Alejandro Gonzalez (R128), Adrian Mannarino (R64), Alexandr Dolgopolov (R32), Jerzy Janowicz/Mikhail Youzhny (R16), Tomas Berdych (QF), Novak Djokovic (SF), Rafael Nadal (F)
» Andy Murray: Go Soeda (R128), Wayne Odesnik (R64), Feliciano Lopez (R32), John Isner/Philipp Kohlschreiber (R16), Roger Federer (QF), Rafael Nadal (SF), Novak Djokovic (F)
» Roger Federer: James Duckworth (R128), Radek Stepanek (R64), Fernando Verdasco/Sergiy Stakhovsky (R32), Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (R16), Andy Murray (QF), Rafael Nadal (SF), Novak Djokovic (F)
Ripe for the picking (Early exit possibilities):
- Between the Paris Indoors of 2012 and Wimbledon 2013, Jerzy Janowicz (Poland) was the talk of town. He still is, to some extent, but form and injuries mean the towering 20th seed hasn’t exactly been able to make “noise”. Much will depend on how good his serving shoulder is.
- As yet unheralded Jiri Vesely (Czech Republic) takes on 19th seed Kevin Anderson (South Africa). Vesely is a much touted upstart and could trouble the beanpole Anderson.
- Andy Murray’s rather unflattering start to the year means he will be on high alert. But given that the opposition he faces early on aren’t expected to trouble him, the Scot will look to make a deep run.
- [This is NOT a sure shot upset alert, but…] It isn’t without reason that scribes are saying Rafael Nadal has quite a challenging path, starting with the first round. And we agree. That said, though, we fully expect him to contest for a 14th Major crown, come January 26th.
Potential seed killers (Sleepers):
- To pick from the up and comers: Jiri Vesely.
- Among the ‘experienced’ lot: Lleyton Hewitt, Australia’s own warhorse, who will be appearing in his 18th consecutive Australian Open
Dark horse: Stanislas Wawrinka, a winner in Chennai (d. Edouard Roger-Vasselin) and the Swiss Personality of Year awardee (2013), will look to improve on his Grand Slam showings in Australia and New York from 2013.
… And what a way to get the ball rollin’! (Tasty R128’ers):
- Rafael Nadal v. Bernard Tomic
- Andreas Seppi v. Lleyton Hewitt
- Juan Monaco v. Ernests Gulbis
Predicting the Men’s Singles champion: Novak Djokovic to win an Open Era record fifth Australian Open crown.
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About the author: Karthik is a keen follower of tennis, and has followed the sport for nearly a decade and a half, despite being raised in a land that absolutely reveres the cricket! A poetry enthusiast, he also enjoys taking part in thought-provoking discussions. He is known across internet circles by his nom de plume, Kartz.