The story of this tournament will be Juan Martin Del Potro, no doubt about it. Most of the bigger names played either in Doha or Brisbane last week and opt to skip this week in prep for the Australian Open. As such, Del Potro is the star among stars this week to monitor. He already had a wrist issue that delayed his return this year, but he has said he feels he is healthy enough to test it this week. Del Potro got better each match last year in Sydney en route to the title. While winning a title probably isn’t tops on his list this week, it’s not all that unlikely if he is healthy. The field is fairly weak with Fabio Fognini as the top seed, David Goffin as the 2nd seed and Kohlschreiber and Benneteau rounding out the top four seeds. Seeds five through eight include Leonardo Mayer, Pablo Cuevas, Jeremy Chardy and Martin Klizan. This looks to be a wide open tournament.
In 2014, both Sergiy Stakhovsky and Bernard Tomic made the semifinals of this tournament as non-seeded players. Stakhobsky ran all the way through qualifying into the semis. Qualifiers went 2-2 in their opening main draw matches in Sydney last year. In 2013, three of the four semifinalists were not seeded. In 2012, all four semifinalists were not seeded with two qualifiers making it. In 2011, there were two more unseeded semifinalists. See the trend?
Fognini has a horrible draw as he might face Del Potro first thing. Del Potro as a wild card entry will play in the first round against Stakhovsky. The winner gets Fognini. Cuevas is the other seed in this quarter. He has to go against Nicolas Almagro first-up as Almagro looks to get himself back into playing shape. You’ve also got Istomin and a yet-to-be determined qualifier in this quarter. I would be surprised if this quarter did not go to a non-seed. Del Potro’s health is the big X factor. If he’s okay, then this is a winnable quarter for the defending champ.
As much as we harped last week on how bad Benneteau plays in Brisbane, he really excels in Sydney. He’s the most experienced player in this tournament with 18 matches in main draws here over the years. That includes a trip to the FInals in 2012. It’s a harsh quarter though, so the Frenchman will earn anything he gets. The other seed in this quarter is #5 Leonardo Mayer. Mayer opens against Becker. Watch the unseeded players in this quarter, it’s a who’s who of potential dark horses. Nick Kyrgios battles Jerzy Janowicz in a first rounder. Seppi and Pospisil in another. Most eyes will be on Kyrgios to see how healthy he will be. A back injury kept him from the Hopman Cup, so this is his prep for the Aussie Open. I would not be surprised to see Benneteau more focused this week and again in the mix for the semis. The Kyrgios-Janowicz winner will have a lot to say about that though.
Another quarter where the unseeded players have plenty of talent to get through. Kohlschreiber has never played in Sydney, so this will be new for him. He gets Tomic or a qualifier. Tomic looked decent starting in Brisbane last week until Kei Nishikori dismantled him in the quarters. This quarter is better suited for him to work through. Chardy is the #7 seed up top against Querrey to open. Querrey leads the head-to-head, 3-1, but all their matches have been very close. Chardy nearly upset Dimitrov in Brisbane last week and Querrey played Tomic tight in losing in straights. The winner of this match will get Sam Groth or Gilles Muller. Both winners will have had good prep for seeing another big serve in the 2nd round. Chardy has the most complete game of those four, but that means little when serve alone might carry one of those four through. It’s a toss-up altogether in this quarter. Watch the Aussies here.
Goffin had a decent opening week in Chennai, winning a couple matches, but looking overmatched against Wawrinka in the semifinals. For seeds, he probably has the nicest draw. He gets Matosevic or Bollelli first-up after a bye. That’s winnable. Up top, Klizan is in good form as the 7th seed. The Slovak beat Melzer and Dolgopolov last week before losing to Dimitrov in the Brisbane quarters. He opens against a qualifier. There are a few tricky qualis who might get through like Troicki, Nieminen or Gabashvili – so monitor the match-up. The winner of that one gets Andujar or a qualifier. Definitely a weaker quarter here that Goffin could definitely make a move on.
As laid out above, this tournament as with many the week before a Grand Slam begins is open to seeing an unfamiliar face win the trophy. Among the seeds, I really like Goffin’s draw to give him a shot to make a run to the Final. Del Potro will be the bigger story and could be the story depending on how he fares this week. It’d be short sighted I think though to think Del Potro is going to come to Sydney and necessarily make a deep run. For the Argentine, I think he’d like to get a couple matches under his belt and the results won’t really matter. Health and match fitness are the bigger issue for him. Benneteau based on his good history here and Tomic are the two names I would also keep an eye on this week. Overall though, this title could go to any of about ten players.