DISCLAIMER: As always, these predictions are very much subject to change. Enjoy my 2019 Australian Open draw preview and predictions – ATP version. (WTA version to follow at a later date)
PROJECTED QUARTERFINAL: Novak Djokovic (1) vs Kei Nishikori (8) (Djokovic leads H2H 15-2)
If 14-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic’s recent loss to Roberto Bautista Agut cast doubts over his Australian Open campaign, his draw in Melbourne may deepen them. Should the Serb fall at the tournament where he has won six titles, it is likely to happen in the early rounds, and there is tough opposition potentially lying in wait for the world no. 1. An opening clash with American qualifier Mitchell Krueger shouldn’t be troublesome, but 2008 finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga – who lost to Djokovic 11 years ago – lurks in line for the second round. The Frenchman – in the draw courtesy of a wild card after suffering from injury for much of 2018 – opens against the hot and cold Martin Klizan, who himself could be a tough draw.
Should Djokovic avoid a second stumble in three years in the round of 64, leading NextGen star Denis Shapovalov and his one-handed backhand could cause some trouble in the third round. That is, if in-form qualifier Thanasi Kokkinakis – Federer’s Indian Wells victor – doesn’t get there first. A host of players could potentially set a round four meeting with the Serb, with no. 21 seed David Goffin, Brisbane finalist Daniil Medvedev and big Czech Jiri Vesely the most likely to get that far.
Kei Nishikori – former US Open finalist and Brisbane International champion last week – is Djokovic’s projected quarterfinal opponent, and he has a strong chance of making it that far. After a first round meeting with a qualifier, Ivo Karlovic – whose big serve took him to the Tata Open final this month – or 21-year-old Hubert Hurkacz would be waiting to face the 29-year-old. His projected third and fourth rounds are incredibly dozy compared to other sections of the field. Philipp Kohlschreiber, the no. 32 seed who often pushes the elite but rarely beats them, is his projected round of 32 opponent, while one-time Grand Slam semifinalist Pablo Carreno Busta and the ever unpredictable Fabio Fognini leading the charge for round four. Should Jaume Munar – a young Rafa Nadal Academy alum – trip the Italian in round one, things could get a flavour more interesting.
PREDICTED SEMIFINALIST: Novak Djokovic
PROJECTED QUARTERFINAL: Alexander Zverev (4) vs Dominic Thiem (7) (Thiem leads H2H 5-2)
Long-time friends Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev have risen to the top of the sport virtually simultaneously – except Zverev, three years younger, has gone that bit further in terms of success to date. Similarities can be drawn between the duo, who already have a fairly established rivalry. These include the fact that both are yet to win a Slam. While this is the first major 21-year-old Zverev comes into as an ATP Finals champion, best-of-five sets is a different kettle of fish.
The German begins his campaign against Aljaz Bedene, who has previously reached an ATP final in the opening weeks of the season. Jeremy Chardy, the Frenchman on a slow decline, could await in round two, but things would probably start getting dangerous – unless his loathing for best-of-five kicks in early – in round three. If 34-year-old Gilles Simon has recovered from his semifinal run in Sydney, it’s likely his craft and consistency should pose a severe threat in the last 32, but Zverev largely has a kind draw up until the event’s halfway point.
If Germany’s top player hangs on, round four could be a high-profile affair. Nick Kyrgios gets up for the big matches, and this draw is practically baiting him to make his first decent major run in some time. Should he dismiss no. 16 seed Milos Raonic in a blockbuster first round clash, former champion Stan Wawrinka (who opens against one-time world no. 10 Ernests Gulbis) is a probable second round opponent – leaving ‘just’ Pierre-Hugues Herbert, Sam Querrey, Bradley Klahn or 2018 semifinalist Hyeon Chung between Kyrgios and a potential showdown with Zverev.
On the other side of the quarter, no. 7 seed Thiem comes into the event having fallen to Herbert in his first match of the season. The 25-year-old kicks off with a tough one against hot and cold Benoit Paire – whose unsteady rhythm is always a danger, should a player come in at less than 100 percent. The Austrian would then face the winner of former junior no. 1 Alexei Popyrin and elder Zverev brother Mischa, whose serve-and-volley game has taken another dip in recent months. If Lucas Pouille can summon some of the firey tennis that took him to a thrilling 2015 US Open defeat of Rafael Nadal, then third round could prove interesting – but the fourth round would be even more so if Shanghai Masters finalist Borna Coric can survive to meet Thiem for the fifth time in less than two years. The higher-ranked played leads their head-to-head 3-1.
PREDICTED SEMIFINALIST: Stan Wawrinka
PROJECTED QUARTERFINAL: Roger Federer (3) vs Marin Cilic (6) (Federer leads H2H 9-1)
The 2018 final could see a rematch in the last eight if defending champion Roger Federer – plunged out of the top two quarters by the resurrection of Djokovic and the consistency of Nadal – and Marin Cilic’s results match their seedings.
Due to his dominance pressure was on for Federer to win his 20th Grand Slam last season, but that pressure has heightened due to his slight backtrack this season. Still, the all-time great could have had a worse draw. The 37-year-old opens against Denis Istomin: Djokovic’s second round victor in 2017, which was by far the Uzbekistani’s biggest career win. Assuming he comes through unscathed, the 2019 Hopman Cup champion is certain to face a qualifier in either Tatsuma Ito or Dan Evans – both of whom have seen the heights of the top 50. No. 30 seed Gael Monfils – who has had Federer on the ropes at Grand Slams of the past – is the stand-out name in line for round three, although any coldness from the athletic-but-unpredictable Frenchman could be exposed by dedicated Damir Dzhumhur, former prodigy Taylor Fritz or Britain’s in-form Cameron Norrie. The round of 16 could take a step down in intensity, with the Swiss legend looking at a probable meeting with no. 14 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas – who he beat handily in their exhibition match in Perth. The Greek player, 20, is looking at a very nice opening few rounds, but keep an eye on 6’7” American qualifier Christopher Eubanks, who could face him in round three.
Marin Cilic will be less impressed with his initial rounds. An opening clash with Bernard Tomic would have looked pleasing a year or so back, but after the former teen sensation’s Chengdu Open victory in October, there is no telling how the 26-year-old might play. Young guns Andrey Rublev and Mackenzie MacDonald – both of whom have reached Grand Slam quarterfinals – will duel to take on the victor, while the USA’s Michael Mmoh and tour veteran Fernando Verdasco are the leading contenders to make round three.
Andy Murray – unseeded, and in Melbourne via a protected ranking – would usually be the obvious pick to make round four, but hints of an impending retirement as he continues to struggle with hip pain say otherwise. The five-time finalist’s first round opponent, Roberto Bautista Agut, is in form to make a splash, while gutsy Aussie John Millman, Hobart champion and 2018 quarterfinalist Tennys Sandgren and no. 10 seed Karen Khachanov are other potential fourth round match-ups for Croatia’s Cilic.
PREDICTED SEMIFINALIST: Roger Federer
PROJECTED QUARTERFINAL: Rafael Nadal (2) vs Kevin Anderson (5) (Nadal leads H2H 5-0)
Rafael Nadal’s last two outings at the Australian Open have been highly decent, but a quarterfinal retirement against Marin Cilic last season has overshadowed this fact.
Body permitting, we should be seeing another deep run from the Spaniard this coming fortnight. An opening round against Aussie Wild Card Play-Off winner James Duckworth is not the most challenging of starts, and home player Matthew Ebden or big-serving Jan-Lennard Struff in round two is very much on the Spaniard’s racquet. All eyes will be on a potential third round collision with Australian wonderkid Alex de Minaur: the speedy teenager who bagged his maiden ATP title at the Sydney International on Saturday. It’s dangerous, but Nadal handled the youngster for the loss of seven games at Wimbledon, and de Minaur could well be feeling the effects of many matches played as he engages in gruelling rallies with the no. 2 seed. Should the 17-time Grand Slam champion emerge victorious, 2018 semifinalist Kyle Edmund – who drew a ghastly opening round in Tomas Berdych, the former world no. 4 returning from injury – could take him on in the round of 16. Bar those two, pocket rocket Diego Schwartzman – whose results have been on the up over the past year or so – is the other standout man in that section of the draw.
A quarterfinal clash with Kevin Anderson is more intimidating than it would have looked three years ago. Since Nadal defeated the South African giant in the 2017 US Open final, the 32-year-old has been playing with a new lease of life and a stronger mentality, thus producing more consistent results.
The 2019 Tata Open winner looks to continue his fine form in a potentially tricky opening meeting with Adrian Mannarino: the crafty Frenchman with soft touch and years of experience. Rising young American Frances Tiafoe – who took Federer to five sets at the 2017 US Open – has the potential to provide an intriguing encounter in the second round, while long-time top players Feliciano Lopez and Andreas Seppi – the Italian who has defeated both Federer and Kyrgios in Melbourne over recent years – are both in line to face the world no. 5 in round three.
A potential marathon (as much as the new final-set-tiebreak format allows) looms in the fourth round, with defending Miami Open champion John Isner among the contenders to face Anderson in the last 16. The American opens against his 7’0” countryman Reilly Opelka, while the once-hyped Grigor Dimitrov – seeded 20, and opening against Janko Tipsarevic – lurks in this lesser-crowded quarter of the draw.
PREDICTED SEMIFINALIST: Rafael Nadal
SEMIFINAL PREDICTIONS: Novak Djokovic d. Stan Wawrinka; Roger Federer d. Rafael Nadal
FINAL PREDICTION: Novak Djokovic d. Roger Federer
(Having predicted Djokovic to win this tournament since the US Open, I’ve now practically made myself believe that he will fall by round four and open the way for a third straight Federer title. But at the end of the day, when you’re looking at a resurgent all-time great who has won the last two majors, it’s too risky a prediction.)