2018 Wimbledon Preview – Ladies’ Singles

The sight of glorious green grass, the sight of delicious strawberries and cream, the embracing of tradition and prestige, a special place with the motto “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, and treat those two imposters just the same”.

It is the All England Club, it is Wimbledon, and it is The Championships, and the ladies’ singles championship is the most wide open I have seen in years, possibly ever, with numerous players in the field capable of going deep into the second week.

So, here is a look at the ladies’ singles draw for 2018.

 

Section one

The Roland Garros champion Simona Halep has a comfortable draw in the early rounds before meeting Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the third round, and then either Johanna Konta, Dominika Cibulková, or Elise Mertens in the fourth round as Halep looks to complete the Roland Garros-Wimbledon double, which no one outside of Serena Williams (2002, 2015) has achieved since Steffi Graf in 1996, but Halep will have tremendous competition from the quarter-finals and beyond.

 

My predicted fourth round match-up: (1) Simona Halep vs. (22) Johanna Konta

 

Section two

Two former Wimbledon champions in Maria Sharapova and Petra Kvitová, and the 2017 Roland Garros champion in Jeļena Ostapenko are all in this section of the draw, with Sharapova and Ostapenko set to meet in the third round, before meeting Kvitová in the fourth round in what is a brutal draw for the 2004 champion, while the 2014 champion could face either Daria Gavrilova, Peng Shuai, or Samantha Stosur in the third round before the match-up with Sharapova, but after her title in Birmingham, Kvitová will be very hard to beat here at the All England Club.

 

My predicted fourth round match-up: (24) Maria Sharapova vs. (8) Petra Kvitová

 

Section three

The defending Wimbledon champion Garbiñe Muguruza has got a good draw in the opening three rounds before meeting Ashleigh Barty in the fourth round, but given Muguruza’s past struggles to back up to play well at the All England Club after performing brilliantly at Roland Garros, where she made the semi-finals this year, she is definitely no certainty to progress beyond the fourth round.

As for Barty, who comes into SW19 in wonderful form after winning in Nottingham, and making the quarter-finals in Eastbourne, has a difficult second round against 2014 finalist Eugenie Bouchard, before a meeting with the young and talented Daria Kasatkina in the third round before a potential “death row” of big hitters as she aims to become the first Australian female to win at Wimbledon since Evonne Goolagong Cawley won as a mother in 1980.

 

My predicted fourth round match-up: (3) Garbiñe Muguruza vs. (17) Ashleigh Barty

 

Section four

Section four of the ladies’ singles draw is quite simply full of quality, with 2016 finalist Angelique Kerber, rising Japanese star Naomi Osaka, as well as Carla Suárez Navarro, Belinda Bencic, and Caroline Garcia, but in saying this, there is the potential for plenty of upsets in this section, but I think Osaka, who made the semi-finals in Nottingham, and Garcia, who made the quarter-finals in Mallorca, are the in-form players here.

 

My predicted fourth round match-up: (18) Naomi Osaka vs. (6) Caroline Garcia

 

Section five

Talking about sections loaded with quality, there is huge amount of talent here with 2016 US Open finalist Karolína Plíšková, two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka, rising star Aryna Sabalenka, Romanian player Mihaela Buzărnescu, 2016 Roland Garros semi-finalist Kiki Bertens, and five-time Wimbledon champion and last year’s finalist Venus Williams, who has been knocked out in the opening round of the first two Grand Slams in 2018.

While I will pick Williams to go through to at least the fourth round on reputation alone, I am going to pick a Belarusian to face her in the fourth round, but not the one you would expect, and she will be arguably one of the big stories of The Championships in 2018.

 

My predicted fourth round match-up: Aryna Sabalenka vs. (9) Venus Williams

 

Section six

This section features last year’s US Open champion, and this year’s Roland Garros finalist in Sloane Stephens, and Julia Görges, who made the quarter-finals in Birmingham, and despite a tough first round encounter against Donna Vekić, who made the semi-finals in Nottingham, I am picking Stephens to make the fourth round (and probably the quarter-finals beyond that) based on reputation alone, and if she plays to her potential, anything is possible, but I think her level will be just a touch shy of that level here.

 

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

 

Section seven

23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams is in this section of the draw, and has been given a seeding from the seeding committee despite getting into Wimbledon via a protected ranking following her return after giving birth to daughter Alexis Olympia Ohanian, and has a comfortable start before meeting Elina Svitolina in the third round, and fellow American and 2017 US Open finalist Madison Keys in the Round of 16, whose toughest challenge on-route to meeting Williams will be last year’s Wimbledon semi-finalist Magdaléna Rybáriková in the third round.

Keys, in my opinion, is primed to go deep here after making the quarter-finals at the Australian Open, and the semi-finals at Roland Garros. A real contender!

 

My predicted fourth round match-up: (25) Serena Williams vs. (10) Madison Keys

 

Section eight

Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki is in the very bottom section of the draw, and has found some great form on grass, winning in Eastbourne, but has never made the quarter-finals at the All England Club, being knocked out in the fourth round on six occasions (2009, 2010, 2011, 2014, 2015, 2017), but has a good draw in the opening two rounds before meeting 2012 Wimbledon finalist Agnieszka Radwańska in the third round, who has not made a Grand Slam quarter-final since the 2016 Australian Open, when she made the semi-finals, before meeting CoCo Vandeweghe in the fourth round, who has had a disappointing year, winning 10 of her 20 matches.

 

My predicted fourth round match-up: (16) CoCo Vandeweghe vs. (2) Caroline Wozniacki

 

My predicted quarter-final match-ups

(1) Simona Halep vs. (8) Petra Kvitová

(17) Ashleigh Barty vs. (18) Naomi Osaka

Aryna Sabalenka vs. (4) Sloane Stephens

(10) Madison Keys vs. (2) Caroline Wozniacki

 

My predicted semi-final match-ups

(8) Petra Kvitová vs. (17) Ashleigh Barty

Aryna Sabalenka vs. (10) Madison Keys

 

My predicted final match-ups

(17) Ashleigh Barty vs. (10) Madison Keys

 

My predicted 2018 Wimbledon champion

(17) Ashleigh Barty

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2018 Wimbledon Preview – Gentlemen’s Singles

The sight of glorious green grass, the sight of delicious strawberries and cream, the embracing of tradition and prestige, a special place with the motto “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, and treat those two imposters just the same”.

It is the All England Club, it is Wimbledon, and it is The Championships, and the defending champion Roger Federer is going for an unprecedented ninth crown after winning his eighth without dropping a single set last year, but he has plenty of competition, with a number of contenders, including Rafael Nadal, Marin Čilić, Milos Raonic, Grigor Dimitrov, Novak Djokovic, Nick Kyrgios, Alexander Zverev, and Juan Martín del Potro, looking to dethrone the king at SW19.

So, here is a look at the gentlemen’s singles draw for 2018.

 

Section one

Roger Federer, who is looking for his 21st Grand Slam singles title, and is seemingly in better form than what he was last year after winning in Stuttgart, and making the final in Halle will be very satisfied with his draw with a couple of comfortable matches to start off with, a potentially complicated third round against either Ivo Karlović, Mikhail Youzhny, Jan-Lennard Struff, or Leonardo Mayer, but it will get tougher from the start in the second week, where he will likely meet Borna Ćorić, the man who defeated Federer in Halle, and has really come on in 2018, rising 27 spots from 48th to 21st in the ATP World Rankings. However, Federer is primed for another shot at the trophy.

 

My predicted fourth round match-up: (1) Roger Federer vs. (16) Borna Ćorić

 

Section two

This section looks weaker on paper compared to some, but it is deceptively strong, with all-French battle in the opening round between Gaël Monfils, and Richard Gasquet being the headline act, but are not the two strongest players with Sam Querrey, who made the semi-finals last year, and the 2017 US Open finalist Kevin Anderson appearing the most formidable opponents, with one of them likely to meet the king in the quarter-finals.

 

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

 

Section three

And talking about formidable opponents, there are two potential championship contenders here with both Marin Čilić and Milos Raonic, who have lost the last two Wimbledon finals to Federer (2017) and Andy Murray (2016) respectively, set to meet in the fourth round blockbuster with five sets written all over it, with perhaps the winner being the biggest threat to the No.1 seed in the top half of the draw. Only Lucas Pouille can really trouble these two at his best, but Čilić, after winning at the Queen’s Club, and Raonic, after making the final in Stuttgart and having an injury-affected year so far, look ready to peak.

 

My predicted fourth round match-up: (3) Marin Čilić vs. (13) Milos Raonic

 

Section four

John Isner and Grigor Dimitrov, who of course made the semi-finals here in 2014, have the most-suited games to the grass at Wimbledon, and should meet in the fourth round for a place in the quarter-finals, but Dimitrov has a tough one in the opening round on paper against Stan Wawrinka, but hasn’t found form on his return from a knee injury, and has slipped to 225th in the world, so really should be a comfortable one for Dimitrov, and while Pablo Carreño Busta and Stefanos Tsitsipas are very capable, it is tough to see them getting past Isner and Dimitrov to make it to the quarter-finals.

 

My predicted fourth round match-up: (9) John Isner vs. (6) Grigor Dimitrov

 

Section five

The three-time Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic is in this section of the draw, as well as Roland Garros finalist Dominic Thiem, and while Djokovic has a good draw in front of him for the first two rounds before meeting Australian Open semi-finalist Kyle Edmund in the third round, Thiem, who hasn’t made the quarter-finals at any other Grand Slam outside of Roland Garros, has a difficult draw, facing Marcos Baghdatis, who is nearing the end of his career, in the opening round, before meeting either David Ferrer or Karen Khachanov in the second round, with Fernando Verdasco or Julien Benneteau waiting in the third round before he can think about Djokovic, who should have Thiem’s measure on grass in four or five sets.

 

My predicted fourth round match-up: (7) Dominic Thiem vs. (12) Novak Djokovic

 

Section six

This is a blockbuster section of the draw with two possible championship contenders in Nick Kyrgios, who made the semi-finals in Stuttgart and at the Queen’s Club, and Alexander Zverev, and while Zverev looks to have a comfortable passage through to the fourth round, Kyrgios has couple of complicated opening round matches, facing Denis Istomin (first round), and Robin Haase (second round), before meeting either Kei Nishikori, or fellow Australian Bernard Tomic, who he was due to meet in the opening round at Roland Garros before Kyrgios pulled out due to injury.

In saying this, Kyrgios should get through this draw, including Zverev, and is a real chance of becoming the first Australian male to win at the All England Club since Lleyton Hewitt in 2002.

 

My predicted fourth round match-up: (15) Nick Kyrgios vs. (4) Alexander Zverev

 

Section seven

Juan Martín del Potro is in this section of the draw, and despite a difficult second round against Feliciano López, who makes his 66th consecutive Grand Slam main draw appearance, breaking Roger Federer’s record, and Denis Shapovalov in the third round, the Roland Garros semi-finalist should make it through to the second week, where despite the presence of Jack Sock and David Goffin, could meet a surprise packet in the form of Matthew Ebden, who made the quarter-finals in Halle, as well as the semi-finals at Stuttgart, and the challenger event in Surbiton, before the challenge gets tougher.

 

My predicted fourth round match-up: (5) Juan Martín del Potro vs. Matthew Ebden

 

Section eight

And that challenge is the man who he lost to in the semi-finals at Roland Garros, Rafael Nadal, and the 11-time Roland Garros champion, who hasn’t made the quarter-finals at SW19 since 2011, has a favourable draw to make it through to the final eight. Only Vasek Pospisil appears to have the game to bring Nadal down on grass, and while there are numerous good players in this section, including Australian young gun Alex De Minaur, who won the challenger event in Nottingham, they don’t have the game at this stage to create problems for the two-time Wimbledon champion before he faces del Potro in the quarter-finals, whose game matches up better to Nadal on grass compared to the clay of Roland Garros.

 

My predicted fourth round match-up: (14) Diego Schwartman vs. (2) Rafael Nadal

 

My predicted quarter-final match-ups

(1) Roger Federer vs. (11) Sam Querrey

(6) Grigor Dimitrov vs. (13) Milos Raonic

(12) Novak Djokovic vs. (15) Nick Kyrgios

(5) Juan Martín del Potro vs. (2) Rafael Nadal

 

My predicted semi-final match-ups

(1) Roger Federer vs. (13) Milos Raonic

(15) Nick Kyrgios vs. (5) Juan Martín del Potro

 

My predicted final match-ups

(1) Roger Federer vs. (5) Juan Martín del Potro

 

My predicted 2018 Wimbledon champion

(1) Roger Federer

2018 Roland Garros Preview – Men’s Singles

After a clay court season where one man, that man, has dominated, winning 17 of his 18 matches on-route to claiming his 11th title in Monte-Carlo, his 11th title in Barcelona, and his eighth title in Rome, with his only blemish being a loss in the quarter-finals in Madrid to Dominic Thiem.

And with his great rival in Roger Federer sitting out the clay court season for a second-straight year, can anyone stop Rafael Nadal from claiming an astonishing 11th title at Roland Garros, and a 17th Grand Slam title overall to move to within three of Federer’s record of 20?

So, let’s have a look at the men’s singles draw for Roland Garros 2018!

Section one

Of course this section of the draw features Nadal, who needs to defend his crown to retain the No.1 ranking, and while there are a couple of potential dangers that at their best could give Nadal trouble, most notably Denis Shapovalov, who made the semi-finals in Madrid, and perhaps Jack Sock, who has had a poor start to the year with just five wins from 15 matches. However, I cannot see either of them, let alone anyone else in this draw defeating him this year at Roland Garros.

 

My predicted fourth round match-up: (1) Rafael Nadal vs. (24) Denis Shapovalov

 

Section two

Section Two is a wide-open section featuring Diego Schwartzman, Borna Ćorić, Philipp Kohlschreiber, Feliciano López, who will equal Roger Federer’s record of 65-consecutive Grand Slam appearances, and Kevin Anderson, who are all capable of going deep here, but none of whom have reached the quarter-finals before at Roland Garros, with the best results being fourth rounds from Kohlschreiber (2009, 2013), López (2004), and Anderson (2014, 2015, 2017)!

However, in terms of form, Schwartzman (18 wins from 30 matches) and Anderson (20 wins from 28 matches) are clearly to two most in-form players in 2018 from this section, and without any truly obvious selections, one of these two will meet Nadal in the quarter-finals!

 

My predicted fourth round match-up: (11) Diego Schwartzman vs. (6) Kevin Anderson

 

Section three

This section of the draw is also an interesting section, but one that contains a clear three standouts in Marin Čilić, who made the quarter-finals in Monte-Carlo and the semi-finals in Rome, Fabio Fognini, who made the quarter-finals in Rome, and Kyle Edmund, who made the quarter-finals in Madrid, as well as the final in Marrakesh, and the quarter-finals in Estoril before that.

While I expect Čilić to make the fourth round, it will be a tough third round battle to decide who will meet him in the round of 16, one that the Italian will be favoured to win over the Brit.

 

My predicted fourth round match-up: (3) Marin Čilić vs. (18) Fabio Fognini

 

Section four

If Juan Martín del Potro is fit and healthy, he can go deep into this French Open, but has only played four matches during the clay court season as he struggles to overcome a groin injury, but as long as he is right, he will at least make the fourth round where he will meet either John Isner, who made the quarter-finals in Madrid, or Tomáš Berdych, who lost in the first round in Monte-Carlo, Madrid, and Rome, but is capable of producing on the big stage.

 

My predicted fourth round match-up: (9) John Isner vs. (5) Juan Martín del Potro

 

Section five

In section five of the draw, David Goffin is the clear favourite to at least make the fourth round, if not the quarter-finals, after quarter-final appearances in Monte-Carlo and Rome, as well as making the semi-finals in Barcelona, but who he could meet in the fourth round is an interesting prospect! He could meet either Nick Kyrgios, who hasn’t played for over a month as he attempts to overcome an elbow injury, but is capable of finding form at short notice, or Pablo Carreño Busta, who made the semi-finals in Barcelona, as well as in Estoril, and looks to be in good form!

Kyrgios will face fellow Australian Bernard Tomic in the opening round in what could be an encounter full of tension!

 

My predicted fourth round match-up: (8) David Goffin vs. (10) Pablo Carreño Busta

 

Section six

Section six contains the 2016 champion Novak Djokovic, who seems to be finding some form after a poor start to the season in his troubles from coming back from an elbow injury (10 wins from 17 matches) after making the semi-finals in Madrid, but faces a tough draw here, potentially facing David Ferrer in the second round, Roberto Bautista Agut in the third round, and Grigor Dimitrov or Fernando Verdasco in the fourth round, but in saying that, other than Dimitrov, who made the semi-finals in Monte-Carlo and the quarter-finals in Barcelona, looks the most in-form player here!

 

My predicted fourth round match-up: (20) Novak Djokovic vs. (4) Grigor Dimitrov

 

Section seven

Dominic Thiem is in this section of the draw, the only man to defeat Nadal during this clay court season, and has made the semi-finals here for the last two years, but while he is the favoured player in this section, he faces a tough second round match-up with the Greek teenage sensation Stefanos Tsitsipas, who made the final in Barcelona, and the semi-finals in Estoril, before he can make a smooth passage through to the fourth round to probably face Kei Nishikori, who made the final in Monte-Carlo, and the quarter-finals in Rome on his comeback from a wrist injury suffered before the US Open last year.

 

My predicted fourth round match-up: (7) Dominic Thiem vs. (19) Kei Nishikori

 

Section eight

The 2015 champion Stan Wawrinka is in this section of the draw, but comes into the French Open in such poor form (three wins from eight matches), and his first round loss in Rome was his first match in just under three months in his struggles to overcome his knee problems.

The only player I can trust in this section is Alexander Zverev, who has been in amazing form, winning in Munich and Madrid, but also making the semi-finals in Monte-Carlo, and the final in Rome off the back in winning in Madrid. In my view, Zverev is the only player I truly believe can trouble (or beat) Nadal this year at Roland Garros!

 

My predicted fourth round match-up: (15) Lucas Pouille vs. (2) Alexander Zverev

 

My predicted quarter-final match-ups

(1) Rafael Nadal vs. (11) Diego Schwartzman

(3) Marin Čilić vs. (5) Juan Martín del Potro

(8) David Goffin vs. (20) Novak Djokovic

(7) Dominic Thiem vs. (2) Alexander Zverev

 

My predicted semi-final match-ups

(1) Rafael Nadal vs. (5) Juan Martín del Potro

(8) David Goffin vs. (2) Alexander Zverev

 

My predicted final match-ups

(1) Rafael Nadal vs. (2) Alexander Zverev

 

My predicted 2018 Roland Garros champion

(1) Rafael Nadal

2018 Roland Garros Preview – Women’s Singles

In a clay court season that has been wide open, we head now to Roland Garros for the 2018 French Open with a wide open field of contenders for the title, looking to knock defending champion Jeļena Ostapenko, who won her first career title here last year against Simona Halep, off her perch!

In addition to this, six players (Simona Halep, Caroline Wozniacki, Garbiñe Muguruza, Elina Svitolina, Karolína Plíšková and Caroline Garcia) are in contention to either retain or gain the world No.1 ranking by the end of the championship.

So, who will win at Roland Garros in 2018? Let’s have a look at the women’s singles draw!

Section one

Section One contains last year’s finalist and the No.1 seed Simona Halep, and given her consistent form, quarter-finals in Stuttgart and Madrid, as well as making the final in Rome, she is certainly the one to beat in this section, and will most likely meet either Daria Gavrilova or Elise Mertens in the fourth round.

 

My predicted fourth round match-up: (1) Simona Halep vs. (24) Daria Gavrilova

 

Section two

Caroline Garcia has been arguably the most consistent player during the clay-court season, making the semi-finals in both Stuttgart and Madrid, as well as the quarter-finals in Rome, and should make it through to the fourth round for a likely meeting with Angelique Kerber, despite Kerber going out of the opening round at Roland Garros the last two years!

 

My predicted fourth round match-up: (12) Angelique Kerber vs. (7) Caroline Garcia

 

Section three

Garbiñe Muguruza has struggled for form during the clay-court season (two wins from four matches), but I can’t see anyone stopping her from making the fourth round where she will likely meet CoCo Vandeweghe, who made the final in Stuttgart, and is capable of doing some damage if she gets on a roll!

 

My predicted fourth round match-up: (3) Garbiñe Muguruza vs. (15) CoCo Vandeweghe

 

Section four

This is a really interesting section with 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams returning to play her first grand slam after the birth of her first child, five-time Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova continuing her redemption story from a drugs suspension, and with other standout players in Karolína Plíšková, Ashleigh Barty, and Julia Görges.

Both Sharapova and Plíšková should meet in the third round in what will be a blockbuster match-up, and while I respect her record, I don’t think Williams is in good shape at the moment, and I think either Barty or Görges will meet either Sharapova or Plíšková in the fourth round.

 

My predicted fourth round match-up: (17) Ashleigh Barty vs. (28) Maria Sharapova

 

Section five

The defending champion Jeļena Ostapenko is in this section of the draw, and after making the quarter-finals in Stuttgart and Rome, looks like a strong tip to go through to the fourth round after a difficult second round match against two-time Grand Slam champion Victoria Azarenka.

Johanna Konta is also in this section of the draw, along with seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams, with the winner of their third round encounter to meet the defending champion in the round of 16.

 

My predicted fourth round match-up: (5) Jeļena Ostapenko vs. (9) Venus Williams

 

Section six

After making the quarter-finals in Stuttgart and winning in Rome, Elina Svitolina is a strong chance of going deep at Roland Garros, and will likely meet either Madison Keys, who won two matches in Rome, or Naomi Osaka, who won a match in Rome, in the fourth round.

 

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

 

Section seven

Petra Kvitová has been in strong form during the clay-court season, winning in Prague and Madrid, and while she isn’t renowned for being strong on clay, making the semi-finals at Roland Garros just once (2012), you sense she has the right draw to go deep here, and will likely face last year’s US Open champion Sloane Stephens, or Anastasija Sevastova in the round of 16.

 

My predicted fourth round match-up: (8) Petra Kvitová vs. (10) Sloane Stephens

 

Section eight

The 2018 Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki is the strongest player in the final section of the draw, and despite some underwhelming performances during the clay-court season, with best results being quarter-finals in Istanbul and Rome, I think she can go deep at Roland Garros, where she has made the quarter-finals twice (2010, 2017).

Wozniacki will likely meet either Russian youngster Daria Kasatkina, or Spanish veteran Carla Suárez Navarro, who both made the quarter-finals in Madrid.

 

My predicted fourth round match-up: (14) Daria Kasatkina vs. (2) Caroline Wozniacki

 

My predicted quarter-final match-ups

(1) Simona Halep vs. (7) Caroline Garcia

(3) Garbiñe Muguruza vs. (28) Maria Sharapova

(5) Jeļena Ostapenko vs. (4) Elina Svitolina

(8) Petra Kvitová vs. (2) Caroline Wozniacki

 

My predicted semi-final match-ups

(1) Simona Halep vs. (28) Maria Sharapova

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

 

My predicted final match-ups

(1) Simona Halep vs. (4) Elina Svitolina

 

My predicted 2018 Roland Garros champion

(1) Simona Halep

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

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

A look at some of the upcoming rule changes in Grand Slam tennis

The start of the 2018 season of tennis is not too far away from beginning with the world’s best players busily training and preparing themselves for the start of the 2018 ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) World Tour and the 2018 WTA (Women’s Tennis Association) Tour seasons, and the first big event of the year, the first Grand Slam of the year, the 2018 Australian Open down in Melbourne at Melbourne Park.

However, there have been five major rule changes that have been announced recently by the Grand Slam Committee, one which will come into affect for Grand Slam tournaments beginning in 2019, four coming into affect for Grand Slam tournaments beginning in 2018, with one of those rule changes coming into affect for qualifying at the 2018 Australian Open.

So, here are the major rule changes for Grand Slam tennis from 2018 and/or beyond!

 

Rule 1: A 25-SECOND SHOT CLOCK BETWEEN POINTS.

This new rule will come into affect for qualifying at the 2018 Australian Open, and is something which has been discussed numerous times among tennis commentators around the world, and in fact the International Tennis Federation (ITF) has had a rule for many years with a time limit of just 20 seconds in-between points, but this has been leniently policed to say the least, and the ATP World Tour and the WTA Tour introduced a much more policed time limit of 25 seconds back in 2012 for 2013. If the server breached the time limit, they would receive a warning for the first violation of the rule, and then on subsequent breaches of the rule, they would lose a first serve. If the returner breached the time limit, they would receive a warning for the first violation of the rule, and then on subsequent breaches of the rule, they would lose the point.

It is going to be intriguing to see how this is policed, perhaps in a similar way to the way they police it right now, but it may get the crowd or spectators more involved into the match, which in actual fact could cause more problems for both the chair umpires and players alike, which would extend the length of matches, rather than reduce the length of matches due to the supposed “unsportsmanlike behaviour” of the crowd.

The only potential benefit I can see with this rule is to punish a player(s) who are in poor, physical condition, especially after a long rally or point, to get back to playing the next point within 25 seconds, which could break matches wide open in favour of the fitter player over the unfit player relatively speaking. Whether this outweighs the potential negatives of this rule that I mentioned in the previous paragraph remains to be seen! However, would the chair umpire, who is just as engrossed in a match as the players and crowd, show common sense to the players to give them more time to get ready for the next point after a long rally, or would the chair umpire show no discretion to the players involved, and perhaps lose control of a match like some officials in other sports which have problems with officiating standards, and unintentionally destroying the fabric of the game?

I know the game of tennis has created this new rule with good intentions, but I am not sure it will work, in part due to the lack of “perceived” tennis education of the people (in some parts of the world) who attend these big events just for the social experience of watching tennis, rather than for the love of the game! Maybe they can use the money raised from the next rule change to improve the education of the fans of the game.

Rule 2: PLAYERS WILL BE FINED UP TO $20,000 FOR EXCEEDING THE PRE-MATCH WARM-UP TIME LIMIT. PLAYERS GET ONE MINUTE TO BE READY FOR THE PRE-MATCH MEETING, FIVE MINUTES FOR AN ON-COURT WARM-UP AND ONE MINUTE TO BE READY FOR THE FIRST POINT.

This rule change, which will come into affect at the 2018 Australian Open, where players will be fined up to $20,000 for exceeding the time limit for the pre-match warm-up will have little effect on players who are already wealthy in world tennis in my opinion. Men’s world number one Rafael Nadal is an unbackable favourite to be fined the most for breaching this new rule, assuming that he plays in all four grand slams, and plays a good number of matches, while other wealthy players on both the ATP World Tour and WTA Tour will be happy to sacrifice some of their prizemoney if it helps them win a Grand Slam title.

However, it will penalise the players who aren’t wealthy, and make them change to conform to the rules! However, like with Rule 1, many of the young players, often less wealthy than their older counterparts, who have come onto the various tours in recent years are quick in getting ready, and quick in their time of getting ready for the next point.

I see no beneficial impact with this rule change that comes to mind and that I truly believe in, and I believe instead of narrowing the gap between the “rich” and the “poor”, it will do exactly the opposite, making the game less attractive to people and children to take up and play!

Rule 3: A MAIN DRAW SINGLES PLAYER WHO IS UNFIT TO PLAY AND WHO WITHDRAWS ON-SITE AFTER 12PM ON THURSDAY BEFORE THE START OF THE MAIN DRAW WILL RECEIVE 50 PER CENT OF THE FIRST-ROUND PRIZE MONEY, DESPITE NOT PLAYING. THE ‘LUCKY LOSER’ WHO REPLACES THE INJURED PLAYER WILL RECEIVE THE REMAINING 50 PER CENT.

In principal, I like this new rule, which will come into affect at the 2018 Australian Open, where by a main draw singles player can “admit” to being injured, and say that they will be unable to take their place in the particular Grand Slam singles main draw, and receive a portion of the first round prizemoney on offer before the start of the tournament, but I don’t think it will sort out the problem of players retiring in the first round of Grand Slam tournaments.

In 2017, 16 men and four women retired from first round matches in Grand Slam tournaments. In comparison to recent years, this isn’t the most since 2013, in both cases, with 19 men retiring from first round Grand Slam matches in 2014, while eight women retired from first round Grand Slam matches in 2016.

On average in the last five years, a total of 14.4 men have retired from first round Grand Slam matches across a single year, which is slightly lower than the number of male players who retired from first round Grand Slam matches in 2017. However, when you remove the seven male players who retired in the first round at the All England Club in 2017, then the number of first round retirements at the other Grand Slam events in 2017 is well below the average at the other three Grand Slam tournaments.

With the women, a total of 4.6 on average have retired in the first round of a Grand Slam per year over the last five years, which is a higher number that the four who retired from first round Grand Slam matches in 2017.

Overall, I don’t think there is a general issue with players playing with injury, and then retiring with injury early in an opening round match of a Grand Slam, and I don’t believe it will fix any “perceived” problems with players retiring from first round matches early!

Rule 4: A MAIN-DRAW SINGLES PLAYER WHO RETIRES OR PERFORMS BELOW PROFESSIONAL STANDARDS MAY BE SUBJECT TO A FINE UP TO THEIR FIRST-ROUND PRIZE MONEY IN 2018.

This rule, which will come into affect at the 2018 Australian Open, is perhaps the worst rule change out of the five, and it will be very hard to policy because if you suddenly suffer a devastating injury while you are on the court, are you going to be subject to a fine of up to your first round prizemoney when you are screaming in pain, and facing many months on the sidelines due to injury?

In addition to this, it is very difficult to interpret or see who is giving their best effort, and who is not giving their best effort, because someone could win 6-0, 6-0, 6-0 and not be giving anywhere near their best effort, while someone who lost 6-0, 6-0, 6-0 could be giving everything that they have to no avail, so I believe this new rule will do nothing other than give the ITF to punish who they see as “perceived” troublemakers on the tour.

Rule 5: THE NUMBER OF SEEDED PLAYERS IN MAIN-DRAW SINGLES WILL REDUCE FROM 32 TO 16.

This rule, which will come into affect at the 2019 Australian Open, appears to be a really good rule change on paper, giving us some big matches during the opening three rounds of a Grand Slam.

The 32-seed system in Grand Slam tennis has been in place since the start of Wimbledon back in 2001, and since then only two unseeded men (Goran Ivanišević, and Gastón Gaudio), and four unseeded women (Serena Williams, Kim Clijsters, Jeļena Ostapenko, and Sloane Stephens) have won Grand Slam singles titles in the 32-seed era to date, and only three men (Albert Costa, Pete Sampras, and Roger Federer), and three women (Venus Williams, Francesca Schiavone, and Flavia Pennetta) have won Grand Slam singles titles in the 32-seed era to date when they have been seeded 17th to 32nd.

I don’t necessarily mind cutting the seeds down from 32 to 16, but I don’t think it is going to necessarily create more even matches during the first week of a Grand Slam on its own!

The most important thing that the ATP World Tour and the WTA Tour need to change is their ranking system to a two-year ranking system, similar to the world rankings in golf, which will solve the issue of injuries and mental illness in many top-level players, giving them time to sort out their issues properly without placing pressure on them to come back too quickly. Only then will the 16-seed system seem fair to everyone!

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So, what are your thoughts on these major rule changes in Grand Slam tennis?