Pig-pourri: Australian Open Draw Preview

Djokovic sees title #6 down under
Photo: AFP

Australian Open Draw Preview
As The Pig laid out in the Seed Report, top ten seeds are normally involved in the business end of the Australian Open. Of the last 40 quarterfinalists from 2011 to 2015, 32 of them have been top ten seeds. Here is this year’s top ten and what to expect from them based on their draws.

Top Ten Seeds Breakdown

1. Novak Djokovic
Djokovic will open against a young player who many are flagging for future stardom. Hyeon Chung. This is Chung’s first main draw in Melbourne though and against the top seed, he figures to be a deer in the headlights. The second and third rounds don’t look likely to trouble the Serb with the likes of Ivan Dodig, Denis Kudla, Andreas Seppi and Temuraz Gabashvili as those who could stand in his path. The quarterfinals would hold his first real quality opponent with 7th seed Kei Nishikori or 9th seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga as a likely foe. The semis are seeded to see Federer, but a Berdych surprise could be in that spot instead. The Federer match-up would be highly anticipated as Fed’s new coach, Ivan Ljubicic, supposedly was brought on for knowing the ins and outs of the Serb’s game better than most. Could that knowledge yield an upset?

More likely for moi, the final against either Andy Murray or perhaps again Stan Wawrinka would be the biggest road block to Djokovic winning his 6th Australian Open title. Djokovic has only missed the final once since 2011 and that was when he ran into Wawrinka in the quarters in 2014.

Projection: Final
With a title already under his belt in Doha, Djokovic is off to a flying start to the season. Quite simply, there are only maybe two or three players capable of beating Djokovic over the course of five sets. I think the two most likely lie on the other side of the draw in Murray and Wawrinka.

2. Andy Murray
Murray opens play against Alexander Zverev, whom he beat earlier in the month in Hopman Cup action. That should provide him with plenty of familiarity to dissect the young Russian’s game and move on to round two. Things should not be too daunting there with Adrian Mannarino or Sam Groth waiting. Neither possesses anything close in the consistency department to wear Murray down over five sets. The Scot’s draw looks very nice for him with Bernard Tomic and Fabio Fognini as the highest seeds he could see in the fourth round. Fognini has a couple of wins against Murray, but one was on clay and the other was back in 2007. Tomic has never fared well against Murray at 0-3 without ever claiming a set. The other half of the quarter has 8th seed David Ferrer, 10th seed John Isner and 18th seed Feliciano Lopez as the highest ranked players who Murray would see in a quarterfinal. Ferrer might be the hardest out, but Murray has his number lately with five straight wins over the ultimate grinder.

Projection: Final
The only question for me with Murray was his mental state with the pending birth of his first child weighing on him as he takes part in this tournament. The draw eases my concerns there as it looks like a solid path for Murray to carve his way to his fifth Australian Open final.

3. Roger Federer
Federer looked to be in prime form in Brisbane before losing the final to Milos Raonic 6-4, 6-4. Federer said afterwards that he had been struggling with a cold during the week. That could be bad news for the competition as he looked rock solid through most of his run last week. His draw is a little tricky early on, so he will need to be in good form. He opens against Nikoloz Basilashvili who shocked Feliciano Lopez last year at Wimbledon. This likely will be different with this being his first Australian Open main draw and first match against Federer. The second round could be interesting if Alexandr Dolgopolov gets past Ricardas Berankis in the first round. Dog doesn’t own any wins against Federer, but he’s been in good form to start the season and just has that funky game that can trouble the best. The third round could give us another Federer battle against Grigor Dimitrov. Dimirov took him to three sets in Brisbane, the first set he had taken off the Swiss in four career meetings. Dimitrov seems unlikely to KO his idol, but it’s still not the easiest path for Federer.

The fourth round could actually give him a breather with the highest seeds around being #15 David Goffin and #19 Dominic Thiem. Thiem in particularly looked lost and intimidated against him in losing in straight sets in Brisbane. Fed is 3-0 vs Goffin. The real trouble seems to lie in the bottom of the quarter where he could see any one of the following in the quarterfinals: Tomas Berdych, Marin Cilic or Nick Kyrgios. All three have that grip it and rip it style that can produce lightning-in-a-bottle. The Swiss is 20-8 against those three, but both Cilic and Kyrgios won their last meetings with the third seed.

Projection: Quarterfinals
The Pig’s gut feeling here is a hot player on the opposite side of the draw is going to get the best of Federer. Certainly, it would not be a shock to see Fed get through to the semis from his quarter, but Cilic, Kyrgios or Berdych can trouble him if they’re at their best and Fed is a shade off. The latter being a more likely villain in stopping Federer from seeking another Grand Slam title.

4. Stan Wawrinka
Wawrinka will benefit from a trip to the Geriatric ward likely in his first two rounds. He opens against 33-year-old Dmitry Tursunov, who hasn’t won a tour level match since last June. He could get 37-year old Radek Stepanek in round two. Jack Sock is seeded to meet him in round three, but Sock’s health is a question heading into this week. If he does get there, Sock could test Wawrinka. The fourth round would bring a highlight anticipated match with 13th seed Milos Raonic, if all things hold as seeded. Wawrinka is 4-0 against the Candian. If the Swiss fights through, the top seeds he could see in the quarterfinals are Rafael Nadal, Kevin Anderson, Gael Monfils or Jeremy Chardy. A win there likely gets him a mouth-watering clash with Andy Murray in the semifinals.

Projection: Semifinals
Wawrinka’s draw looks conducive to a deep run in Melbourne. Raonic may be the toughest thing preventing him from another semifinal trip.

5. Rafael Nadal
The Spaniard arguably has the toughest draw of the top five seeds and most will not expect Rafa to be around late in Melbourne. He opens against friend Fernando Verdasco. Nadal owns a 16-2 mark against his fellow lefty, but the matches have seen Verdasco able to take sets off Rafa in recent years. Do expect Nadal to advance, but don’t be surprised of Verdasco makes the opening round clash go four sets at least. The second round should be smooth with either Dudi Sela or Benjamin Becker waiting. Where things could be tricky is round three with 30th seed Jeremy Chardy potentially in his path. The Frenchman hasn’t beaten Rafa in two career meetings, but quick conditions could give him a chanace. Should Nadal move on, the fourth round holds more trouble with Gael Monfils and Kevin Anderson as seeds who could be in his way. Both have had difficulties beating Nadal in the past, but again this is the present. Nadal did beat Anderson in straight sets last year in Melbourne, but Anderson should have more confidence this slam after his U.S. Open run of 2015.

Should Nadal navigate that perilous path, he could find Wawrinka or Raonic waiting in the quarterfinals. He has good numbers against them, but Wawrinka has won three of the last five meetings and Raonic might be surging on a surface that suits him better.

Projection: Quarterfinals
Nadal is on a mission this season to prove that he’s not irrelevant when talk comes of who will win Grand Slams. I do expect that mentality to carry him through some matches where he isn’t necessarily the best player on the court. In Melbourne, he’s got a tough road to travel to get into the title mix. I can see a future where he slips into the semifinals, but the gut says he’ll get caught by someone with a little better consistency before that.

6. Tomas Berdych
The Czech has been quietly consistent at the Australian Open with five straight appearances in either the quarterfinals or semifinals. The last two years, he has made the semis and knocked off the third seed (Nadal,Ferrer) in the quarters both years. Berdych should find it advantageous early with Bhambri and then either Haase or Basic in the second round. The first true test and blockbuster in this bracket could be 29th seed Nick Kyrgios in round three. It would be their first ATP meeting, although the Aussie crushed Berdych during play in the IPTL in December. That will be a difficult match-up for Berdych, but if he survives, he could find it even tougher with Marin Cilic or Roberto Bautista Agut as the seeds he could see in round four. If he passes those tests, the reward could be Roger Federer in the quarterfinals.

Projection: Third Round
While Berdych’s track record is fantastic here, he could run into an energized Nick Kyrgios in that third round. The Aussie was playing extremely well in the exhibition season at the Hopman Cup before his Kooyong meltdown, where frankly, he seemed ready to rest. A top six seed has lost in the fourth round or earlier in each of the past five years and the draws say it would either be Nadal or Berdych this year. The Pig goes with the Berd.

7. Kei Nishikori
Nishikori often isn’t great in the tournaments prior to the Australian Open and this year, he’s following that pattern with some mediocre results. It hasn’t detracted him from making some decent runs as the 7th seed has made at least the fourth round in four straight trips to Melbourne with quarterfinal showings twice. He’s got an interesting first round match against Philipp Kohlschreiber. The German veteran is no pushover, althought he’s rarely done much in Melbourne against players seeded highly. Expect a hard fought win for Nishikori. The second round should yield a better match-up with either Austin Krajicek or Di Wu on tap. Expect Nishikori to get on a roll into the fourth round where he could battle one of two Frenchman, Tsonga or Paire. Paire will of course force everyone to harken back to the Frenchman’s upset win over Nishikori last year in the U.S. Open opening round. Paire also beat him in Tokyo later in the year. Tsonga won his last meeting with Nishikori at the French Open last season in a five set war.

Projection: Fourth Round
Either Frenchman who could get to the spot opposite of Nishikori in the fourth round will be confident of victory. It looks like that is where Nishikori’s trek through this draw could stop.

8. David Ferrer
Ferrer has stumbled a couple of times early this season. He lost to Marchenko in Doha and was beaten by a flu-ridden Jack Sock in Auckland. The Spaniard has been a consistent performer in Melbourne over the years with fourth round or better finishes in eight of the last ten years. This is a difficult draw however after his opening round match against Peter Gojowczyk. His second round match could be against Lleyton Hewitt. That in itself will be a spectacle, this being Hewitt’s final tournament. Should Ferrer survive to the third round, things improve with 31st seed Steve Johnson as the highest ranked player he would see. The fourth round would be seeded to see #10 John Isner or #18 Feliciano Lopez. There are also floaters like Daniel Evans and Jerzy Janowicz who could be around. If the Spaniars defies the odds once again, his road would lead him to the quarterfinals and likely the second seed, Andy Murray.

Projection: Second Round
Given his somewhat poor form, The Pig is going with an upset and some nostalgia with Hewitt to take him down in the second round. I would not be shocked as always to see Ferrer prove everyone wrong and make a deeper run.

9. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Tsonga faces a tough player in Marcos Baghdatis to open, but someone he has beaten five of six times. The 9th seeded Frenchman looked okay in Auckland, but did suffer an unexpected loss in the quarterfinals to eventual champion Roberto Bautista Agut. Baghdatis is always capable of a stunner as he took out #20 David Goffin last year and had Grigor Dimitrov on the ropes before losing in five sets. Still, it’s a good match-up for Tsonga and he should survive, albeit it could be a four or five setter. His next toughest match would come in the third round where he might see 17th seed Benoit Paire. Paire has struggled in three losses to Tsonga in his career, including a straight sets ouster in last year’s U.S. Open. If Tsonga gets through, he also gets a favorable potential match in the fourth round against Kei Nishikori. Tsonga has made the fourth round or better his last three years in Melbourne, missing 2015 due to injury.

Projection: Fourth Round
It’s an advantageous draw for the Frenchman, but his consistency is still troublesome and that is something I think that will be exploited. Nishikori or Paire are fully capable even if Tsonga has had good results against them more often than not.

10. John Isner
The big serving American hasn’t made it past the third round in Melbourne since 2010 and 2010 was the only year he went as far as the fourth round. A combination of the conditions and draw seem to get isner in this tournament. He opens with Jerzy Janowicz. It’s difficult to know what form the Pole will be in as he has yet to play a match in 2016. Janowicz has been to the third round in three straight years here, so he’s not out of his depth. This is a precarious match-up if Janowicz serves consistently. He’s got the game to match Isner, it’s just a matter of whether or not he brings a high enough level. A win gets Isner either Matthew Ebden or Marcel Granollers. That should be a simpler task. The third round likely would see him face the opening round winner of F.Lopez vs. Evans. Lopez is 3-3 vs Isner with two wins coming at slams. Should Isner find his way to the fourth round, he might be fancied to move a step further as he could face the likes of Ferrer, Hewitt or Steve Johnson.

Projection: First Round
Going with the slight shocker in this one with Isner’s margin for error lower than most due to his playing style.

MIni-Draw Preview

First Quarter: Djokovic (1)
R1 Upset Watch
Pospisil over (14) Simon
Gabashvili over (28) Seppi
(q) Brands over Estrella-Burgos

Dark Horse
Benoit Paire

QF Prediction
Djokovic def. Paire

Second Quarter: Federer (3)
R1 Upset Watch
Mayer over (19) Thiem
Lajovic over Querrey
(wc) Nishioka over Cuevas
(q) Basic over Haase

Dark Horse
Borna Coric

QF Prediction
Kyrgios def. Federer

Third Quarter: Wawrinka (4)
R1 Upset Watch
Fritz over (25) Sock
Jaziri over Robredo

Dark Horse
Jeremy Chardy/Gael Monfils

QF Prediction
Wawrinka def. Nadal

Fourth Quarter: Murray (2)
R1 Upset
Janowicz over (10) Isner
Evans over (18) F.Lopez
Muller over (20) Fognini
Bedene over (31) Johnson
Kukushkin over (32) Sousa

Dark Horse

QF Prediction
Murray def. Hewitt

Djokovic def. Kyrgios
Murray def. Wawrinka

Djokovic def. Murray


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