The 2019 Australian Open is just about here, and we have got an exciting fortnight coming up from Melbourne Park, potentially an historic one with both Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer looking to become the first player to win the Australian Open seven times.
Federer is also looking to claim his third-straight crown at Melbourne Park after defeating Rafael Nadal in 2017 and Marin Čilić in 2018 (both in five sets), and with that become the first male player, and the third player overall across both sexes (Serena Williams and Helen Wills Moody) to win two separate Grand Slam singles events at least seven times.
While Djokovic, who after Madrid in 2018, when he had just six wins and six losses for the season, and struggling to find his way after having elbow surgery after the 2018 Australian Open, won 47 of his last 53 matches in 2018 to reclaim the World No.1 ranking after slipping to 22nd in the world just before Roland Garros, returning to the top 10 after winning for the fourth time at the All England Club, and became the first end of year World No.1 not have won a title before Wimbledon in the same year. He will be looking to return to the form of his past glories at Melbourne Park after failing to make the quarter-finals in the last two years.
However, the 2019 Australian Open is not just about Roger and Novak, with Rafael Nadal, who had surgery to remove a floating piece of bone in his ankle after pulling out of 2018 ATP World Tour Finals due to an abdominal strain, looking to win his second Australian Open, and become just the third male player to win each Grand Slam singles event at least twice. Nadal has retired or withdraw from 17 of his last 18 official hard court tournaments (which included Davis Cup) that he was entered in, including withdrawing from his last seven.
Then we have the comebacks of Andy Murray from his hip problems, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga from a knee injury, and then the potential challengers to Novak, Rafa, and Roger in Alexander Zverev, Kevin Anderson, Marin Čilić, Dominic Thiem, and Kei Nishikori among others who could challenge for the first Grand Slam title of 2019.
However, will there be a twist or two during the next fortnight? Let’s analyse the men’s singles draw.
Djokovic will face a qualifier in the opening round before facing either Tsonga, who he defeated to win his first Australian Open back in 2008, or Martin Kližan in the second round. Djokovic is slated to face the promising and talented Denis Shapovalov in the third round, before facing David Goffin or Daniil Medvedev, who had the most hard court wins in 2018 with 32, compared to Djokovic with 31, at the start of the second week, but assuming he is fit and healthy, no one is going to stop Djokovic going deep into the second week here.
My fourth round match-up: (1) Novak Djokovic vs. (15) Daniil Medvedev
Nishikori is the clear favourite to make it through this section, and meet Djokovic in the quarter-finals after climbing from 22nd to 9th in the world in 2018, but faces an awkward second round against big serving veteran Ivo Karlović, before facing Philipp Kohlschreiber in the third round, and then either Fabio Fognini or Pablo Carreño Busta in the fourth round. In saying this, this section is easier on paper than Section One, and should pose no issues for the 2014 US Open finalist.
My fourth round match-up: (23) Pablo Carreño Busta vs. (8) Kei Nishikori
Zverev, who won four titles in 2018, including the ATP World Tour Finals, should make it through at least to the fourth round, where he will have a shot of making just his second grand slam quarter-final, but the first round match-ups which stand out are the ones between Stan Wawrinka and Ernests Gulbis, and Nick Kyrgios and Milos Raonic, with the winners of each playing each other in the second round, with the winner of that to play last year’s Australian Open semi-finalist Hyeon Chung, who missed both Roland Garros and Wimbledon due to an ankle injury, who could face Sam Querrey in the second round, potentially the only roadblock to a blockbuster third round, and then potential Round of 16 with Zverev.
My fourth round match-up: (4) Alexander Zverev vs. (24) Hyeon Chung
On paper, it looks like a comfortable section for the 2018 Roland Garros finalist Thiem, who made his first Grand Slam quarter-final outside of Roland Garros at the US Open, where he was beaten by Nadal in a epic five set match on Arthur Ashe Stadium, but faces Benoît Paire in the opening round before facing 2017 Australian Open quarter-finalist Mischa Zverev, who defeated Murray in the fourth round as Murray’s physical issues started to become evident on-route to being subsequently smashed by Federer in the quarter-final, and then Lucas Pouille in the third round before a fourth round encounter with Borna Ćorić. The only real obstacle for Ćorić will be Marco Cecchinato in the third round, who became the first Italian to make a Grand Slam semi-final in 40 years at Roland Garros last year after defeating Djokovic in what was a huge upset.
My fourth round match-up: (11) Borna Ćorić vs. (7) Dominic Thiem
This is a really intriguing section of the draw with a big first round match-up between last year’s Australian Open finalist Čilić, and 2011 Wimbledon quarter-finalist Bernard Tomic, who has made the fourth round at Melbourne Park, and according to former Australian tennis player Paul McNamee believes Tomic is in best form for five years, around the time when Čilić and Tomic last met back in 2015 at Montreal, a match which Tomic won in the lead up to the 2015 US Open, where Čilić made the semi-finals in the defence of his 2014 crown. And, although Čilić made the final here last year, he has only made the quarter-finals or better here twice, making the semi-finals back in 2010, where Čilić defeated Tomic in a five set struggle in the second round. If there was to be a big upset in the opening round, this is the match where it could happen.
Regardless, the winner of this match-up could make it through to the third round to face Fernando Verdasco before a fourth round meeting with either Karen Khachanov, last year’s quarter-finalist Tennys Sandgren, Roberto Bautista Agut, or Murray. Both Bautista Agut and Murray face each other in the opening round in what is going to be a tough match for Murray, who has only played 14 matches in his comeback so far, and has announced his intention to retire from the sport at some point in 2019 due to his ongoing hip problems. I think patience is going to be the better part of valour over the next couple of months if Murray is to make a truly successful comeback.
My fourth round match-up: Bernard Tomic vs. (10) Karen Khachanov
Federer, although he faces Denis Istomin in the opening round, who of course defeated Djokovic in the second round two years ago, and Gaël Monfils in the third round, should have no problems making it to the Round of 16 to meet Greek youngster Stefanos Tsitsipas, who gave Federer some trouble over at the Hopman Cup in Perth. In saying this though, Federer is certainly a strong chance of going deep into the second week, and perhaps winning his 21st Grand Slam title.
My fourth round match-up: (14) Stefanos Tsitsipas vs. (3) Roger Federer
This is one of the more stronger sections of the draw with Anderson a chance of reuniting with John Isner in the fourth round in what would be re-match of the 2018 Wimbledon semi-final, which was the second-longest match in Wimbledon history, but has to get past Adrian Mannarino in the opening round, Frances Tiafoe in the second round, and either Steve Johnson, Andreas Seppi, or Feliciano López in the third round.
However, Isner has obstacles of his own to overcome as well, facing his fellow giant American Reilly Opelka in the first round, and then Grigor Dimitrov in third round, who looks to be returning close to his best after making the quarter-finals in Brisbane.
My fourth round match-up: (5) Kevin Anderson vs. (20) Grigor Dimitrov
Nadal, despite his fitness clouds, should have no problems making it through to the third round to play Alex de Minaur, who won his first ATP title in Sydney, and could meet either last year’s semi finalist Kyle Edmund, 2011 Wimbledon finalist Tomáš Berdych, or Diego Schwartzman in the fourth round. Both Edmund and Berdych will face each other in a blockbuster opening round, while Schwartzman should have little trouble in making the third round.
In any case, I can’t see anyone in this section right now capable of denying Nadal a passage through to the second week, and a shot at a second Australian Open crown.
My fourth round match-up: (18) Diego Schwartzman vs. (2) Rafael Nadal
My predicted quarter-final match-ups
(1) Novak Djokovic vs. (8) Kei Nishikori
(4) Alexander Zverev vs. (7) Dominic Thiem
(10) Karen Khachanov vs. (3) Roger Federer
(20) Grigor Dimitrov vs. (2) Rafael Nadal
My predicted semi-final match-ups
(1) Novak Djokovic vs. (4) Alexander Zverev
(3) Roger Federer vs. (2) Rafael Nadal
My predicted final
(1) Novak Djokovic vs. (3) Roger Federer
2019 Australian Open champion prediction
(3) Roger Federer