2018 Australian Open men’s singles draw: preview and predictions

After a year in 2017 where Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer turned the clock back to their glory days of being the top two players in the world after coming back from serious injuries suffered in 2016, with Nadal winning at Roland Garros for the 10th time as well as the United States (US) Open for a third time, and Federer winning the Australian Open for the fifth time in a classic, and Wimbledon for the eighth time.

2017 was a year where their rivals, including Novak Djokovic, and Andy Murray (who sadly won’t be at the 2018 Australian Open) suffered serious injury setbacks of their own, what will the 2018 Australian Open bring?

Can Federer continue his remarkable form at 36, and win his sixth Australian Open crown to equal the records of Djokovic and Roy Emerson? He will move to within one of Lleyton Hewitt’s record of 20 Australian Open appearances.

Can Nadal back up the 2017 he had when he returned to world number one for the fourth time in his career by going one better and winning his second title at Melbourne Park?

Can Djokovic make an extraordinary comeback from a serious elbow to win a record seventh Australian Open?

Can Grigor Dimitrov, who won four titles including Cincinnati and the ATP World Tour Finals, and Alexander Zverev, who won five titles including Rome and Canada, justify their high seedings and their brilliant years in 2017 to contend for their first Grand Slam singles titles respectively?

Can Dominic Thiem make a Grand Slam quarter-final for the first time outside of Roland Garros?

Can Marin Čilić, who is of course a former semi-finalist here back in 2010, back up his performance at Wimbledon last year, and make his third Grand Slam final?

Can David Goffin or Jack Sack back up their wonderful years and be surprise contenders at the 2018 Australian Open?

Can 2014 Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka and 2016 Wimbledon finalist Milos Raonic comeback from their injury troubles to challenge for the trophy?

Can 2017 US Open finalist Kevin Anderson and 2009 US Open champion Juan Martín del Potro continue their strong comebacks from injury, and challenge for their first Australian Open crowns?

Can one of the other seeds, or a dangerous floater shock the world to contend at the first Grand Slam of the year?

And, what about Nick Kyrgios? Can he deliver Australia their first singles champion at Melbourne Park?

There are so many tantalising storylines leading into the 2018 Australian Open, so let’s have a look at the men’s singles draw, and determine who will win the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup!

 

Section one

Rafael Nadal is the clear favourite to make the quarter-finals from this section of the draw, and will likely meet big-serving American John Isner, who made the US Open quarter-finals in the fourth round in what will be his greatest challenge before the quarter-finals.

With this draw, Nadal will be perfectly placed to contend and possibly win his 17th Grand Slam singles title!

My predicted fourth round match-up: (1) Rafael Nadal vs. (16) John Isner

 

Section two

Both 2014 US Open champion Marin Čilić and Pablo Carreño Busta, who of course made the semi-finals at Flushing Meadows last year look to be the ones to beat in this section, although there a few strong players, such as two-time Grand Slam quarter-finalist Gilles Simon, Gilles Müller, who of course defeated Nadal in an epic fourth round match to make the quarter-finals at Wimbledon last year, Uruguayan Pablo Cuevas, three-time Grand Slam quarter-finalist Mikhail Youzhny, and American Ryan Harrison, who are all capable of causing serious damage!

My predicted fourth round match-up: (10) Pablo Carreño Busta vs. (6) Marin Čilić

 

Section three

Grigor Dimitrov has a good draw for the opening two rounds, meeting qualifiers, but the thing that really stands out from this section is the opening round match-up between David Ferrer, who made the Roland Garros final back in 2013, and 2017 US Open quarter-finalist Andrey Rublev, which should be one of the best first round matches, and they are both in great form with Ferrer making the semi-finals this week in Auckland and Rublev making the final in Doha the week before.

The other thing that stands out is the difficult draw that 2008 Australian Open finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has got, potentially facing either Denis Shapovalov or Stefanos Tsitsipas, both talented youngsters, in the second round before meeting Nick Kyrgios in the third round. Kyrgios has a slightly easier draw, potentially facing Viktor Troicki in the second round before meeting Tsonga, and then Dimitrov in a round of 16 blockbuster on Rod Laver Arena.

Both Dimitrov, but particularly Kyrgios are showing the right signs that they can go deep at Melbourne Park.

My predicted fourth round match-up: (3) Grigor Dimitrov vs. (17) Nick Kyrgios

 

Section four

An evenly-matched section of the draw, but one which Kevin Anderson and Jack Sock should negotiate with little trouble to make the fourth round.

However, they must be wary of the likes of British youngster Kyle Edmund, Denis Istomin, who of course defeated Novak Djokovic in the second round last year at Melbourne Park, Lucas Pouille, who made two Grand Slam quarter-finals in 2016, German veteran Philipp Kohlschreiber, who made the Wimbledon quarter-finals in 2012, Japanese youngster Yoshihito Nishioka, who is on the comeback trail from a serious knee injury, Andreas Seppi, who defeated Kyrgios in the second round at last year’s Australian Open, a match that was considered the unlosable match for Kyrgios, and 2009 Wimbledon quarter-finalist Ivo Karlović, whose big serve will always be a major threat!

My predicted fourth round match-up: (11) Kevin Anderson vs. (8) Jack Sock

 

Section five

Dominic Thiem, who has made the semi-finals at Roland Garros in the last two years, and three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka are the two best players in this section and should meet each other in the fourth round.

However, they will be wary of the likes of American journeyman Steve Johnson, Czech player Jiří Veselý, French player Adrian Mannarino, the consistent Roberto Bautista Agut, 2009 Australian Open semi-finalist Fernando Verdasco, and to a lesser extent Lithuanian player Ričardas Berankis who could make their runs to the second week difficult.

My predicted fourth round match-up: (5) Dominic Thiem vs. (9) Stan Wawrinka

 

Section six

This section contains 12-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic, who is returning to tennis after six months out due to an elbow injury, which has affected his service motion, and has received a tough draw as the 14th seed. He plays American journeyman Donald Young in the first round before playing two-time Grand Slam semi-finalist Gaël Monfils in the second round! If he can get through this, he could play either American youngster Jared Donaldson or 2016 Roland Garros quarter-finalist Albert Ramos Viñolas in the third round before playing Alexander Zverev in the round of 16.

Zverev appears to have a simpler path, but could face older brother Mischa Zverev, who of course made the quarter-finals at last year’s Australian Open after defeating Andy Murray in the fourth round, in the third round in what would be an intriguing match-up in so many ways!

My predicted fourth round match-up: Gaël Monfils vs. (4) Alexander Zverev

 

Section seven

David Goffin, who was the finalist at last year’s ATP World Tour Finals and the injury-plagued Juan Martín del Potro look like the players most likely to make it to the second week of the Australian Open.

Although Goffin could meet French veteran Julien Benneteau in the second round, and the enigma that is Italian player Fabio Fognini in the third round, he should have no problems making the fourth round, while del Potro could meet 2010 Wimbledon finalist Tomáš Berdych in the third round after meeting rising star Karen Khachanov in the second. It should also be noted that Berdych plays Australian young gun Alex de Minaur, who made the final in Sydney, in the opening round in what will be one of best first round matches of the tournament!

My predicted fourth round match-up: (7) David Goffin vs. (12) Juan Martín del Potro

 

Section eight

The 19-time Grand Slam champion, and defending Australian Open champion Roger Federer is in this section, and easy first two matches before meeting Richard Gasquet in the third round, and will likely meet 2016 Wimbledon finalist Milos Raonic in the fourth round.

Raonic also has a comfortable draw before meeting either 2017 Wimbledon semi-finalist Sam Querrey or Feliciano López, who will move to within one of Federer’s record of 65 consecutive Grand Slam singles main draw appearances, in the third round.

In my view, Federer is the championship favourite!

My predicted fourth round match-up: (22) Milos Raonic vs. (2) Roger Federer

 

My predicted quarter-final match-ups

(1) Rafael Nadal vs. (6) Marin Čilić

(17) Nick Kyrgios vs. (11) Kevin Anderson

(5) Dominic Thiem vs. (4) Alexander Zverev

(12) Juan Martín del Potro vs. (2) Roger Federer

My predicted semi-final match-ups

(1) Rafael Nadal vs. (17) Nick Kyrgios

(4) Alexander Zverev vs. (2) Roger Federer

My predicted final match-ups

(17) Nick Kyrgios vs. (2) Roger Federer

My predicted 2018 Australian Open champion

(2) Roger Federer

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2018 Australian Open women’s singles draw: preview and predictions

The first Grand Slam of the year gives hope to many players wanting to make a fresh start, or wanting to achieve something they haven’t done before, win a Grand Slam singles title, and the 2018 Australian Open will be no different!

After a 2017 which saw seven changes to the world number one position in the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) Rankings, two new Grand Slam champions in Jeļena Ostapenko winning at Roland Garros, which was incidentally her first career title, and Sloane Stephens, who made a magnificent return from a left foot stress fracture to win the United States (US) Open, as well as defending Australian Open champion Serena Williams giving birth to her first child and making herself unavailable for the first grand slam of 2018, the 2018 Australian Open is wide open!

Can either Simona Halep, who has lost in the first round of the Australian Open in the last two years, as well as in four of the last six, or Karolína Plíšková, who had a consistent 2017, win their first grand slam titles after becoming world number ones last year despite not having won a Grand Slam title?

Can Caroline Wozniacki win her first grand slam title at the 2018 Australian Open after so many years of trying? Of course, she became the world number one back in 2010, and you sense she is returning close to the form of 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and to a lesser extent 2014, where she made two Grand Slam finals, losing to Kim Clijsters and Serena Williams at the 2009 US Open and 2014 US Open respectively, as well as making a further seven quarter finals or better in her Grand Slam career.

Can Elina Svitolina claim her first grand slam title after winning five singles titles in 2017, the most by any player last year on the WTA Tour, and after starting 2018 superbly by winning convincingly in Brisbane?

Can Venus Williams, after a wonderful, yet winless year in terms of titles in 2017, in fact the first time she has finished inside the Top 10 in the WTA Rankings without winning a title, turn back the clock again, and perhaps win her first Australian Open crown, which would make her the oldest Australian Open women’s champion in history? Williams will equal Amy Frazier’s and Nicole Pratt’s record of 18 Australian Open appearances.

Will Garbiñe Muguruza overcome her physical issues to be a factor at the 2018 Australian Open after winning at Wimbledon last year?

Can Jeļena Ostapenko and Sloane Stephens handle the pressure of expectations at Melbourne Park after winning their first Grand Slam titles in 2017?

Will someone else jump out of the pack, such as a Caroline Garcia, Johanna Konta,  CoCo Vandeweghe, Kristina Mladenovic, Julia Görges, or even a Madison Keys to go deep at the first Grand Slam of 2018?

Can Angelique Kerber bounce back after a poor 2017 to contend for her second Australian Open title?

Can Petra Kvitová bounce back from her issues to contend for her first Australian Open crown?

What about a dangerous floater, such as a Belinda Bencic or a Maria Sharapova, causing some damage at Melbourne Park?

Or will an Australian, such as Ashleigh Barty, Daria Gavrilova, or Samantha Stosur, star at their home Grand Slam?

There are so many storylines, so without further adieu, here is my look at the 2018 Australian Open women’s singles draw.

 

Section one

The very top section of the draw appears to be the toughest with the likes of world number one Simona Halep, 2014 Wimbledon finalist Eugenie Bouchard, 2014 Roland Garros semi-finalist Andrea Petkovic, two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitová, number one Australian Ashleigh Barty, highly-rated Italian Camila Giorgi, Japanese rising star Naomi Osaka, and 2016 Wimbledon semi-finalist Elena Vesnina lurking within this section.

While Halep is certainly in better form heading to Melbourne Park compared to the last two years, winning in Shenzhen, you sense that the quicker surface will be better suited to the power game of Kvitová, and the all-court game of Barty.

My predicted fourth round match-up: (27) Petra Kvitová vs. (18) Ashleigh Barty

 

Section two

In this section, Great Britain’s Johanna Konta, and the Czech trio of Barbora Strýcová, Lucie Šafářová, and Karolína Plíšková, each of them making at least one Grand Slam quarter-final or better, look a class above their immediate rivals, with Konta and Plíšková having a comfortable edge on paper over Strýcová and Šafářová respectively.

My predicted fourth round match-up: (9) Johanna Konta vs. (6) Karolína Plíšková

 

Section three

Section three contains a number of big guns including 2016 Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber, who just won in Sydney, 2008 Australian Open champion Maria Sharapova, two-time Grand Slam winner Garbiñe Muguruza, as well as the likes of 2012 Wimbledon finalist Agnieszka Radwańska, and two-time US Open quarter finalist Anastasija Sevastova just to name a few.

However, you sense that Kerber is getting back to the form that took her to world number one, and two Grand Slam titles in 2016, and should be a serious title threat, with Radwańska also looking in good shape given the fitness issues for Muguruza.

My predicted fourth round match-up: (26) Agnieszka Radwańska vs. (21) Angelique Kerber

 

Section four

2017 US Open runner-up Madison Keys looks the standout player in this section of the draw with two-time Grand Slam quarter-finalist Kristina Mladenovic and 2017 Roland Garros quarter-finalist Caroline Garcia looking like the only players in this section capable of challenging Keys.

If Keys finds her best form, she can make the final, and perhaps lift her first Grand Slam singles title.

My predicted fourth round match-up: (17) Madison Keys vs. (8) Caroline Garcia

 

Section five

The first thing that stands out in section five of the women’s draw is the blockbuster first round match-up between seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams and 2014 US Open quarter-finalist Belinda Bencic, which is certainly a potential upset in the making!

Two-time Grand Slam semi-finalist Ekaterina Makarova, Australian star Daria Gavrilova, rising Belgian player Elise Mertens, who just won in Hobart, France’s Alizé Cornet, and German star Julia Görges, who recently won in Auckland, are the other strong players in this section of the draw, and you sense Gavrilova is primed for another big run at Melbourne Park.

My predicted fourth round match-up: Belinda Bencic vs. (23) Daria Gavrilova

 

Section six

2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens, and world number four Elina Svitolina are the best two players in this section, and should meet each other in the fourth round, with only Russian youngster Daria Kasatkina and 2014 US Open semi-finalist Peng Shuai capable of challenging them.

However, I believe Svitolina after winning in Brisbane is in the best position to claim the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup, and win her first Grand Slam singles title.

My predicted fourth round match-up: (13) Sloane Stephens vs. (4) Elina Svitolina

 

Section seven

This is an interesting section with 2017 Roland Garros champion Jeļena Ostapenko facing a tough first round match-up against 2010 Roland Garros champion Francesca Schiavone, who is really in the twilight of her career, and then possibly a difficult third round encounter with either the in-form Aleksandra Krunić or Estonian player Anett Kontaveit.

However, you still think Ostapenko will make the round of 16, where she will likely meet American CoCo Vandeweghe, who had a breakout year in 2017, making the semi-finals at Melbourne Park and Flushing Meadows, as well as the quarter-finals at the All England Club, but she will face tough opposition from Spaniard Carla Suárez Navarro in the second round, then either 2014 Australian Open finalist Dominika Cibulková or 2011 US Open champion Samantha Stosur in the third round before she can get to Ostapenko.

My predicted fourth round match-up: (7) Jeļena Ostapenko vs. (10) CoCo Vandeweghe

 

Section eight

In the final section of the draw, Danish superstar Caroline Wozniacki is comfortably the strongest player with only four-time Grand Slam quarter-finalist Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova capable of challenging her.

The big question is whether Wozniacki can make her third Grand Slam final, and be able to do what she hasn’t achieved before, and that is win a Grand Slam singles title?

Time will tell if she can finally achieve her dream after so many years of trying!

My predicted fourth round match-up: (15) Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova vs. (2) Caroline Wozniacki

 

My predicted quarter-final match-ups

(27) Petra Kvitová vs. (6) Karolína Plíšková

(21) Angelique Kerber vs. (17) Madison Keys

Belinda Bencic vs. (4) Elina Svitolina

(10) CoCo Vandeweghe vs. (2) Caroline Wozniacki

My predicted semi-final match-ups

(27) Petra Kvitová vs. (17) Madison Keys

(4) Elina Svitolina vs. (2) Caroline Wozniacki

My predicted final match-ups

(17) Madison Keys vs. (4) Elina Svitolina

My predicted 2018 Australian Open champion

(4) Elina Svitolina

My review of the Fifth Ashes Test

Australia have finished the 2017-18 Ashes Series in the best way possible after defeating England by an innings and 123 runs in the fifth and final test match of the series at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) to win the series four-nil.

After a rain delay which wiped out the scheduled opening session of the test match, England started off well after winning the toss and electing to bat first, reaching 3/122 at tea, and were 3/228 before Joe Root got out just 17 runs short of a 14th Test match century, and a elusive century in the series after building a 133-run partnership with Dawid Malan for the fourth wicket. After Jonny Bairstow elected to come out to bat late on Day One (instead of a nightwatchman), he got out for five caught behind thanks to some good bowling from Josh Hazlewood on what proved to be the last ball of Day One to be 5/233 after 81.4 overs.

From 3/228, England proceeded to lose 7/118 to be all out for 346, a total which proved to be nowhere near enough as Australia began to assert their authority over the test match. However, England did start well, knocking over Cameron Bancroft for a duck, but that joy was soon short lived as the next five batsmen went onto score 50 or more, with three of them making hundreds. Surprisingly, David Warner and Steve Smith weren’t one of those three.

Warner, who was looking for his fourth Test century in his last four test matches at the SCG got out caught behind by Bairstow off the bowling of James Anderson for 56 as England once again contained his normal fast rate of run-scoring.

Smith, who scored the 26 runs necessary to become the equal-second fastest batsman (111 innings) to 6,000 Test match runs, joining Sir Garfield Sobers, and with only Sir Donald Bradman ahead of those two in the record books, fell 17 runs short of a fourth century for the series, which would have equalled Bradman’s record for most centuries in a single Ashes series, and would have equalled Smith’s own tally of four centuries in any test series, which he achieved against India back in 2014-15.

Smith also fell 13 runs short of a remarkable 700 runs for the series, scoring 687 runs at an average of 137.40, which was 242 runs more than the next best batsman from either Australia or England.

For once, Warner and Smith weren’t the main stars of the show, with Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh and Mitchell Marsh all scoring centuries, important not only for Australia, but important for themselves.

Khawaja reached his sixth Test match century, which was his first since November 2016, scoring 171 as he went past 2,000 runs in his Test match career. Now, it is up to the selectors to keep faith in Khawaja in all conditions and believe that he is the best number three batsman in Australia on all pitches. However, if I did have a suggestion for Khawaja to remove the perception that he lacks a presence at the crease, I would suggest that Khawaja needs to work a lot harder at his fitness, as he has had injury troubles in the past with knees and hamstrings, which may give him more confidence within himself, and give the sense that he has a greater presence when he bats.

Shaun Marsh also reached his sixth Test match century, scoring 156 to finally fulfilling his immense talent, while younger brother Mitchell Marsh made his second Test match century, scoring 101 to cement his spot in the team going forward to South Africa in an innings that was powerful and brutal. In addition to this, Shaun and Mitchell became the fifth set of brothers to score centuries in the same innings in Test match cricket, joining Ian and Greg Chappell, who achieved this feat three times, Steve and Mark Waugh, who did this twice, while Mushtaq and Sadiq Mohammad, and Grant and Andy Flower each did this on one occasion.

As a result, Australia declared at 7/649, and from there, England were no chance of forcing any kind of result, and despite a brave, and in some ways courageous performance by England captain Joe Root, scoring 58 despite retiring ill on two occasions throughout that innings suffering from the symptoms of viral gastroenteritis, and spending some hours in hospital in an attempt to treat the condition, England were bowled out for 180 to lose the test match, and the series convincingly.

However, the summer of cricket is still far from over, with five one day internationals (ODIs) between Australia and England, as well as a Twenty20 (T20) triangular series between Australia, England, and New Zealand, with matches being played in both Australia and New Zealand, with all of these matches sure to produce exciting, entertaining cricket that will leave us on the edges of our seats, and produce some close results!

I predict Australia to win the ODI series 4-1, but for either England or New Zealand to win the T20 triangular series.

 

My review of the Fourth Ashes Test

The fourth Ashes Test match of the 2017-18 Ashes Series, the Boxing Day Test match will be a test match that won’t be remembered fondly by many people as it turned into being a dull draw due in most part to the drop-in pitch at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG)

Australia won the toss and elected to bat first, and both Cameron Bancroft and David Warner put on an opening partnership of 122 before Bancroft fell leg before wicket off the bowling of Chris Woakes for 26, before David Warner brought up his 21st Test century the ball after getting caught at mid-on on a no-ball off the bowling of debutant Tom Curran.

After Warner (103) and Usman Khawaja (17) both got out, Steve Smith and Shaun Marsh put on a 100-run stand for the fourth wicket before Curran officially got his first Test match wicket after Smith chopped-on for 76. From there, Australia lost 7/67 to be all out for 327, a score well-below what Australia was expecting with Shaun Marsh (61) being the only other player to pass 50.

From there the match changed, and Alastair Cook was the star of the show, scoring the highest score by a player who has “carried the bat” in the history of Test match cricket, 244 not out as he regained the form that has seen him approach the 12,000-run milestone in Test match cricket, and is now the sixth-highest run-scorer in the history of Test match cricket, surpassing Mahela Jayawardene, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, and Brian Lara during that wonderful innings at the MCG.

In terms of other contributions for England, Joe Root got out on 61, which is the fifth time in a row that Root has failed to go onto make a century after reaching 50, while Stuart Broad made 56, surpassing the 100-run milestone in the series as England got bowled out for 491.

From there, the chances of an Australian victory and a five-nil whitewash were all but gone. However, Australia managed to save the match comfortably in the end thanks to the Australian captain Smith (102 not out) as he surpassed 600 runs in the series, and his deputy Warner (86), who missed out becoming just the third batsman to score centuries in each innings of a Test match held at the MCG.

However, the talk towards the end of the match, and certainly afterwards, was the pitch, and the supposed lack of life in the pitch for anyone to truly succeed on, which meant neither Australia or England could make a realistic push for victory.

In my view, the pitch offered variable pace and bounce, but it was only subtle, which meant it was difficult for the bowlers to take wickets, and the batsmen to score runs. There was little encouragement for the spinners as the match progressed, which meant no team could progress the match forward to force a positive result.

Overall, when you consider the facts, it was a below average pitch, and something needs to be done to make sure drop-in pitches perform more closely to the characteristics of a normal pitch.

I don’t think the MCG needs to rip up their drop-in pitches to start again, but I think the answer to “naturalise” the drop-in pitch lies below the pitch, at the bottom of the pitch rather than on the surface of it, and I think the bottom of the pitch needs to be softened and broken-up a little bit to get the types of pitches that people are looking for.

In addition to this, the MCG drop-in pitches should be installed at a lower-level ground during the winter months to allow the traffic of different sports, such as Australian rules football, rugby league, rugby union, and/or football to run over it to make the pitches more natural and maybe a touch softer. However, getting a club(s) to agree to having these pitches installed at their ground during the winter months will take a lot of convincing, and not too many, if any, would agree to such a strong request.

So, while the drop-in pitch debate continues, Australia and England head to the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) for the final test match of the series with Steve Smith just 26 runs away from reaching 6,000 Test match runs, and if he does it in the first innings of the match, he will be the equal second-fastest (along with Sir Garfield Sobers) to reach the milestone in the history of test match cricket, in terms of innings.

David Warner will be aiming to score his fourth test match century in as many matches at the SCG, while Stuart Broad is currently two wickets away from 400 in Test match cricket.

The pitch at the SCG will be under scrutiny since it hasn’t hosted a first-class match this season, but historically, it has been a pitch that has always turned, and has also been a pitch that has been good for batting.

I think Australia will bounce-back from a difficult Boxing Day Test match to win the final test match of the series in Sydney to claim the series four-nil.