A new year is here and with it comes a new tennis season. Many fans will be hoping that the old Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal return to the scene, healthy and rejuvenated. Whereas Federer is fine-tuning his game at the Hopman Cup, Nadal has a chance to make an early statement in Brisbane. The recent Abu Dhabi champion headlines a stellar field that also features Milos Raonic, Stan Wawrinka, Kei Nishikori, and Dominic Thiem. Among those also in action in Week 1 are Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, Tomas Berdych, David Goffin, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and Marin Cilic.
Where: Brisbane, Australia
Prize money: $437,380
Top seed: Milos Raonic
Defending champion: Milos Raonic
Draw analysis: It’s not every week that Nadal fails to earn one of four byes at a 250-point tournament. This week is one of those weeks. At least according to the rankings, Raonic, Wawrinka, Nishikori, and Thiem are all ahead of the Spaniard on the Brisbane depth chart. Nadal, though, is coming off a title at the Abu Dhabi event and should have regained some much-needed confidence. In this week’s quarterfinals he could face Raonic, whom he defeated 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 in Abu Dhabi. Nadal will open with Alexandr Dolgopolov before potentially running into Mischa Zverev. Raonic awaits either Sam Querrey or Diego Schwartzman in the last 16.
Danger lurks throughout this bracket, but Nishikori arguably has the easiest path in the third section. Potential second-round opponent Gilles Muller can be tough, while the winner of an opener between David Ferrer and Bernard Tomic could be the Japanese star’s quarterfinal foe. Wawrinka will likely begin his 2017 against Viktor Troicki in advance of a potential date with either Lucas Pouille or Gilles Simon.
First-round upset alert: Gilles Simon over (6) Lucas Pouille. There was a changing of the guard near the upper echelons of the French rankings, with Simon falling off the pace and Pouille rising to prominence. Building on such an impressive 2016 campaign could be tough for Pouille, however, in what will be a proverbial “sophomore” season. Simon is 2-0 in the head-to-head series and has taken their last five sets 6-1, 6-2, 6-4, 6-0, and 6-1.
Hot: Milos Raonic, Lucas Pouille, Mischa Zverev, Kyle Edmund
Cold: Dominic Thiem, David Ferrer, Alexandr Dolgopolov, Sam Groth
Quarterfinal predictions: Rafael Nadal over Milos Raonic, Dominic Thiem over Grigor Dimitrov, Kei Nishikori over David Ferrer, and Gilles Simon over Stan Wawrinka
Semifinals: Nadal over Thiem and Nishikori over Simon
Final: Nishikori over Nadal
Qatar ExxonMobil Open
Where: Doha, Qatar
Prize money: $1,237,190
Top seed: Andy Murray
Defending champion: Novak Djokovic
Draw analysis: To say the Doha draw is top heavy would be a gross understatement. It features the No. 1 and No. 2 players in the world, but its depth pales in comparison to that of Brisbane. Murray may have a slightly tougher draw with both Berdych and Tsonga in the top half, but the Scot can face only one of those two challengers in the semifinals. Jeremy Chardy awaits Murray in round one, while Philipp Kohlschreiber and Nicolas Almagro are potential quarterfinal adversaries. Djokovic will open with Jan-Lennard Struff before possibly running into Florian Mayer and then Marcos Baghdatis.
A rematch of a recent Abu Dhabi semifinal in which Murray lost to Goffin cannot take place until the Doha title match. The 11th-ranked Belgian finds himself in the bottom half of the draw along with Djokovic, Ivo Karlovic, Fernando Verdasco, and Karen Khachanov. Goffin will kick off his campaign against Robin Haase and could meet Verdasco in round two. In the second section of the bracket, Berdych and Tsonga are on a collision course for the quarterfinals. Andrey Kuznetsov, Jiri Vesely, and Dustin Brown may be able to crash that party.
First-round upset alert: Malek Jaziri over (7) Philipp Kohlschreiber. Kohlschreiber is a perfect 3-0 at Jaziri’s expense and has taken all seven of their sets. But they have not squared off since 2014 and Kohlschreiber’s level has dipped just a bit in recent seasons. At 33 years old, the German has been plagued by injuries of late. Jaziri, on the other hand, won 17 ATP-level matches in 2016 and he registers just nine spots off his career-high ranking at 58th in the world.
Hot: Andy Murray, Ivo Karlovic, Paolo Lorenzi, Karen Khachanov
Cold: Tomas Berdych, Philipp Kohlschreiber
Quarterfinal predictions: Andy Murray over Nicolas Almagro, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga over Tomas Berdych, David Goffin over Ivo Karlovic, and Novak Djokovic over Marcos Baghdatis
Semifinals: Murray over Tsonga and Djokovic over Goffin
Final: Djokovic over Murray
Aircel Chennai Open
Where: Chennai, India
Prize money: $447,480
Top seed: Marin Cilic
2016 champion: Stan Wawrinka (not playing)
Draw analysis: As usual, Chennai is saddled with by far the weakest of the three opening-week fields. But Cilic is back and as a two-time champion with a 14-3 lifetime record at the tournament, he will have plenty of fan support. He should be able treat the crowd to another long week in Chennai, where his nearest seed is a relatively in-form Yen-Hsun Lu. It is hard to see either Lu or No. 3 seed Albert Ramos-Vinolas giving Cilic too much trouble. Borna Coric could pose some problems for his fellow Croat, but the 20-year-old has not played a tournament since the U.S. Open because of a knee injury.
Also no stranger to this event, Roberto Bautista Agut will be making his fifth Chennai appearance in the last six years. He finished runner-up in 2012, lost a semifinal thriller to Aljaz Bedene in 2015, and fell to Coric in last year’s quarterfinals. The 14th-ranked Spaniard should be able to take advantage of an extremely favorable draw this week. Mikhail Youzhny is his nearest seed and Martin Klizan, the other first-round bye recipient in the bottom half of the bracket, struggled mightily during the second half of 2016.
First-round upset alert: Konstantin Kravchuk over (5) Benoit Paire. The fact that this matchup could produce an upset has little to do with Kravchuk. The 31-year-old journeyman from Russia is just 8-16 lifetime at the ATP level and has never been ranked higher than No. 78. But Paire can lose to anyone on any given day and that is exactly what he did for much of 2016, when he slumped to his current position of 47th in the world.
Hot: Marin Cilic, Roberto Bautista Agut, Daniil Medvedev
Cold: Martin Klizan, Benoit Paire, Borna Coric, Dudi Sela
Quarterfinal predictions: Marin Cilic over Yen-Hsun Lu, Albert Ramos-Vinolas over Borna Coric, Aljaz Bedene over Benoit Paire, and Roberto Bautista Agut over Renzo Olivo
Semifinals: Cilic over Ramos-Vinolas and Bautista Agut over Bedene
Final: Bautista Agut over Cilic
Comments and your own predictions are appreciated!