It’s not hard to guess why most of the top players in the world are resting this week. That, of course, is because the Australian Open is just eight days away. It’s also not hard to guess who is the only top 10 player in action. That, of course, is Dominic Thiem. The 23-year-old just can’t help himself; he has to play more, more, and more tennis. Thiem headlines the Sydney field as the No. 1 seed, while Roberto Bautista Agut, John Isner, and David Ferrer are among those taking the court in Auckland.
Where: Sydney, Australia
Prize money: $450,110
Top seed: Dominic Thiem
Defending champion: Viktor Troicki
Draw analysis: Grigor Dimitrov arguably did Thiem a favor by making his stay in Brisbane a short one, as the Bulgarian upended Thiem in the quarterfinals on his way to the title match. Another tough quarterfinal test could await the Austrian in Sydney, where Fernando Verdasco is looking to bounce back from a Doha loss to Novak Djokovic in which the Spaniard squandered quadruple match point—and five match points in total. Verdasco will kick off his campaign against countryman Marcel Granollers before possibly running into Dan Evans. The top half of the bracket is also home to Spaniards Pablo Carreno Busta and Nicolas Almagro.
Two-time defending champion—that’s right; two-time defending champion—Viktor Troicki has a bye along with Pablo Cuevas in the bottom half of the draw. Troicki’s path through the early rounds is a favorable one, as nobody in his quarter is playing particularly stellar tennis at the moment. Gilles Muller, Nicolas Mahut, or Kyle Edmund could present the Serb with a real challenge in the semifinals.
First-round upset alert: Andrey Kuznetsov over (7) Martin Klizan. Klizan won a pair of 500-point events in Rotterdam and Hamburg in 2016 and literally did nothing else the entire year. He ended the season on a seven-match losing streak at the ATP level. The Slovak got a bye this past week in Chennai and promptly lost his opener to Aljaz Bedene. A rock-solid baseliner like Kuznetsov will likely extend Klizan’s woes.
Hot: Pablo Carreno Busta, Mischa Zverev, Jordan Thompson, Kyle Edmund
Cold: Dominic Thiem, Philipp Kohlschreiber, Martin Klizan, Alexandr Dolgopolov, Thanasi Kokkinakis
Semifinal predictions: Pablo Carreno Busta over Fernando Verdasco and Viktor Troicki over Gilles Muller
Final: Troicki over Muller
Where: Auckland, New Zealand
Prize money: $450,110
Top seed: Roberto Bautista Agut
Defending champion: Roberto Bautista Agut
Draw analysis: Last year Bautista Agut had to go through the defending champion (Jiri Vesely), Isner, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga on his way to the title. The Spaniard, who currently finds himself in the Chennai final, could open once against with Vesely following a first-round bye. Tsonga is not in the field this time around, so Bautista Agut’s path to the final may not be as difficult as it was in 2016. Ferrer is the other bye recipient in the top half, but his slump continued with a bad Brisbane loss to Jordan Thompson.
A tougher bottom half of the draw includes Isner, 2016 runner-up Jack Sock, Steve Johnson, and Feliciano Lopez. Isner may have to get past fellow Americans Johnson and Sock in the quarterfinals and semis, respectively, if the second seed wants to reach the title match. Karen Khachanov, however, could stand in Johnson’s way and Sock is on a collision course with Lopez for the last eight.
First-round upset alert: Adrian Mannarino over (8) Marcos Baghdatis. Baghdatis went 1-4 in his last five matches during the 2016 campaign. In his Doha opener this past week he retired while one game from defeat against Radek Stepanek. Mannarino leads the head-to-head series 1-0, having prevailed on the indoor hard courts of Stockholm in 2014. Needless to say, this is a good opportunity him to make it 2-0 against Baghdatis.
Hot: Roberto Bautista Agut, Karen Khachanov
Cold: David Ferrer, Guillermo Garcia-Lopez
Semifinal predictions: David Ferrer over Dustin Brown and John Isner over Feliciano Lopez
Final: Isner over Ferrer
Comments and your own predictions are appreciated!