2018 Australian Open draw analysis

Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka are accustomed to being the top-seeded players in their respective quarters of Grand Slam draws, but that is not the case heading into 2018. Injuries that have kept them out since Wimbledon leave Djokovic at 14th in the world and Wawrinka not much better at No. 9. They now find themselves in the same section of the Australian Open draw, which is also home to No. 4 seed Alexander Zverev and fifth-seeded Dominic Thiem.

A relatively loaded bottom half of the bracket also features Roger Federer, David Goffin, and Juan Martin Del Potro. Rafael Nadal seemingly has a friendlier path on the other side, where reigning Nitto ATP Finals champion Grigor Dimitrov also resides.

Nadal’s quarter

If Nadal wants to go one step further than he did last year, he may need all the help he can get. Not that he needs it based on some kind of lack in form; after all, the world No. 1 was the best player just about from start to finish last season. The question mark, of course, stems from his lingering knee issue that forced him out of the year-end championship and also from last week’s Brisbane event. However, the 2009 Australian Open champ got some tennis under his belt at the Kooyong Classic and the Tie Break Tens in Melbourne, so he appears to have the green light from a physical standpoint.

But if Nadal does need help, that is exactly what he got from Thursday’s draw ceremony. Not only is the top half of the bracket weaker than the bottom, but the Spaniard’s quarter is also relatively soft. Marin Cilic is the second-highest seed in this section, and the sixth-ranked Croat has underwhelmed (in part due to an injury of his own) since finishing runner-up to Federer at Wimbledon. Cilic is coming off a Pune semifinal loss to eventual champ Gilles Simon. John Isner is a potential roadblock for Nadal in the last 16, but Isner has never excelled at slams and he is 0-7 lifetime against Nadal.

Best first-round matchup — John Millman vs. Borna Coric

Millman is not like the majority of his fellow Aussies these days. He is a veteran grinder who just quietly goes about his business. The world No. 127 missed the first four months of last season due to injury, but he picked up the pace upon his return with one Challenger title, two Challenger runner-ups, and a third-round performance at the U.S. Open. He pushed Dimitrov to three sets in last week’s Brisbane second round. It will be an entertaining baseline battle against Coric, and the winner of this one will have a good chance of moving on to meet Nadal in round three.

Best potential second-round matchup – (10) Pablo Carreno Busta vs. Gilles Simon
Best potential third-round matchup – (24) Diego Schwartzman vs. (16) John Isner

Possible surprises – If he is 100 percent, Nadal will make mincemeat out of this quarter. If he is not, the door will be blown wide open and a whole host of semifinal contenders could emerge. Schwartzman was a quarterfinalist at the 2017 U.S. Open and Alexandr Dolgopolov has enjoyed some success Down Under, but either one would need some serious help from Nadal in order to get through a potential fourth-round showdown against the No. 1 seed. If Cilic can steamroll through what should be a simple first week based on the draw, he could gain confidence and parlay it into a significant run in Melbourne.

Dimitrov’s quarter

The most intriguing eighth of the entire bracket is the top part of Dimitrov’s section. Joining the ATP Finals winner is Brisbane champion Nick Kyrgios, who ousted the Bulgarian at that event and could face him again in the Australian Open fourth round. Both players, though, have a considerable amount of work to do before that potential collision comes to fruition. The world No. 3 could meet the winner of an opening showdown between Andrey Rublev and David Ferrer later in week one. Rublev was the Doha runner-up and Ferrer currently finds himself in the Auckland semifinals. Jo-WIlfried Tsonga has been dealt an especially difficult hand, as he may run into either Denis Shapovalov or Stefanos Tsitsipas in round two prior to a likely battle against Kyrgios.

The other half of this quarter is far less interesting. Jack Sock is the highest seed at No. 8, but he lost right off the bat in Auckland (as the defending champion, too) to Peter Gojowyczk. Moreover, the 2017 Paris Masters champion has never been particularly successful in extremely hot conditions. Kevin Anderson, who placed runner-up to Nadal at the 2017 U.S. Open, could be the favorite to snag a quarterfinal berth. Anderson, however, has a tough opener on his plate in the form of Kyle Edmund. Denis Istomin, who stunned Djokovic at Melbourne Park last year, potentially awaits either Anderson or Edmund in round two.

Best first-round matchup — David Ferrer vs. (30) Andrey Rublev

Even though some of the top guys have not yet played an official match in 2018, it is never too early to start talking about the year’s best players so far. Ferrer and Rublev are without question among that group. Now 35 years old, Ferrer has not dropped a single set en route to the semifinals in Auckland—where he is already a four-time champion. Rublev had been signed up for that tournament, but he pulled out after making an impressive run to the title match (lost to Gael Monfils). This should be an extremely high-quality contest between two men 15 years apart in age.

Best potential second-round matchup – Ivo Karlovic vs. (8) Jack Sock
Best potential third-round matchup – (17) Nick Kyrgios vs. (15) Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

Possible surprises — Although Anderson soared to the U.S. Open final this past summer, that was generally chalked up to a laughable draw. Nobody expects any kind of encore performance from the 6’8’’ South African. But this bracket sets up perfectly well for something similar, as nobody else in Anderson’s eighth is playing particularly strong tennis at the moment. In the other half of this quarter, meanwhile, Dimitrov, Tsonga, Kyrgios, Rublev, Ferrer and Shapovalov may beat each other up. A well-rested Anderson could then await in the quarterfinals.

Zverev’s quarter

It’s still very early in his career, but Zverev has never been a fan of Grand Slams. He’s often endured difficult draws (Andy Murray in the 2016 Australian Open first round, Thiem in the 2016 French Open third round, Nadal in the 2017 Aussie Open third round), and he has never capitalized when dealt favorable draws (lost to Coric in the 2017 U.S. Open second round, for example). The 20-year-old German must already have a disdain for the upcoming Australian Open. If both he and older brother Mischa win two matches apiece, they will go head-to-head in the last 32. Djokovic, a six-time champion Down Under, would likely await in round four.

As the presence of Djokovic indicates, Zverev and Thiem are not the real story here despite being the top two seeds in this quarter. With Djokovic and Wawrinka ranked lower than normal due to physical problems, they were left at the mercy of the draw. As luck (or lack thereof) would have it, they landed in the same section on Thursday evening. Neither man has played an official match since Wimbledon, so the Serb could have some difficulty with an in-form Monfils in round two. Wawrinka, the 2014 winner in Melbourne, has a softer draw and—if close to 100 percent—should be able to play his way into a third-round date with either Roberto Bautista Agut or Fernando Verdasco.

Best first-round matchup — (20) Roberto Bautista Agut vs. Fernando Verdasco

Verdasco is no stranger to success Down Under, nor is he unaccustomed to notable first-round draws. He won a five-setter against David Goffin in his 2013 opener, upset Nadal right off the bat in 2016 (also in round one), and had to face Djokovic last year in Melbourne (lost 6-1, 7-6(4), 6-2). These two veteran Spaniards have squared off on four previous occasions and all four matches have required deciding third sets, with Verdasco leading the head-to-head series 3-1. Bautista Agut, a current semifinalist in Auckland, has to be considered the favorite this time around.

Best potential second-round matchup – (14) Novak Djokovic vs. Gael Monfils
Best potential third-round matchup – (32) Mischa Zverev vs. (4) Alexander Zverev

Possible surprises — Watch out for the winner of the likely second-round showdown between Djokovic and Monfils. If he is healthy, that will be Djokovic. If he isn’t, Monfils could win and win big at Melbourne Park. The Frenchman captured a season-opening title in Doha and his draw in Melbourne will open up wildly if he can get past the former world No. 1. Thiem is not yet a force on hard courts and the younger Zverev brother has never done anything notable at a major. The RBA-Verdasco winner could also go a long way in this quarter.

Federer’s quarter

Even at 36 years old, Federer is really the only one of the title favorites who goes into the upcoming fortnight with no obvious question marks. He is healthy, playing well, and has lifted the trophy on five occasions in front of the Rod Laver Arena faithful. By comparison, Nadal has been plagued by yet another knee injury; Djokovic and Wawrinka are just now returning from extended layoffs; Del Potro has not won a major since 2009; Dimitrov, Zverev, Thiem, and Goffin have never reached a Grand Slam final; Cilic slumped down the stretch of his 2017 campaign; Sock is unproven at slams.

Federer will likely coast through his first three matches before things get more interesting. Milos Raonic and Sam Querrey are potential fourth-round foes for the 19-time major champion, while Goffin and Del Potro are possible quarterfinal opponents.

Best first-round matchup — (19) Tomas Berdych vs. (WC) Alex de Minaur

There has already been a breakthrough performer in 2018 and it is none other than de Minaur, an 18-year-old Australian. He reached the semifinals in Brisbane and currently finds himself at the same stage in Sydney following defeats of Verdasco, Damir Dzumhur, and Feliciano Lopez. Berdych appears to be on the downside of his career at 32 years old, now ranked 20th in the world. As such, this is a decent opportunity for de Minaur to start making an even bigger name for himself than he did—or is currently doing—at the pair of 250-point tournaments.

Best potential second-round matchup – Karen Khachanov vs. (12) Juan Martin Del Potro
Best potential third-round matchup – (13) Sam Querrey vs. (22) Milos Raonic

Possible surprises — Goffin is a trendy pick to have a massive 2018 campaign—starting at the Australian Open. The Belgian managed to take down Federer at the Nitto ATP Finals, but that is simply not happening in a best-of-five situation at a Grand Slam. The only way Federer is losing—or has a chance of losing—prior to the semis is if Del Potro advances to the quarters out of Goffin’s section. Del Potro benefited from a hobbled Swiss to win their matchup at the 2017 U.S. Open, but the Argentine has the game and the current confidence to prevail even when Federer is 100 percent.

37 Comments on 2018 Australian Open draw analysis

    • So, Rafa will have this extra day of rest this time around -if he makes the final, that is?
      Nice, but the organizers really should fix this kind of scheduling, since nobody should be favored – no matter who he is. Why can’t they schedule both semis on Friday, like at the other slams?

  1. Great summary of the draw…can’t wait for 2 weeks of incredible tennis on tv action. FedEx is the man to beat, and Dtrov better watch out for Rublev.

  2. Hey my smart guys here..hawks,augusta,Benny or anyone…Do u guys know which court Novak will play on tuesday?My friend need to know so he can book a ticket…ASAP guys!Please!Help me!

  3. Just finished watching a very impressive Bautista-Agut take down a tiring del Potro in 3 sets in the Auckland final. Court-side temp was 39 C, and Melbourne will likely be hotter. Big guys like delpo have a harder time in the heat, and it makes me downgrade his chances a bit for AO. I think Goffin is a more likely QF opponent for Fed.

    • He certainly can. But he better figured out some sort of strategy because he hasn’t been able to even get a sniff at Federer at the Majors in over 5 years now. Last year at AO, Federer hadn’t played that great in his few matches leading up to playing Berdych. But holy hell did he bring out the monster in Federer that day. He’s just not nearly as good of a player as Federer, but he is good enough so that he can win once in a while. And it has been a while, so may it’s time for that once to happen? We shall see…

      Not sure what makes you so certain that it “will” happen… But it’s obviously a possibility!

      • Wanted to pack it in for today, lol, but can’t resist: Berdych won’t win against Fed – unless Roger gets struck down by a sudden injury, too! And even if by some miracle Berdych gets past Fed, he still has to beat the finalist – most likely Cilic – but who knows??
        That said, I like Berdych as a person and would love him to win – or better still a Young Gun, but that doesn’t make it happen. I also felt terrible for Cilic at Wimby and would like him to have a chance at redeeming himself, but tennis destiny is merciless, lol!
        Maybe, in retrospect we rafafans should be just grateful for that wonderful 2017 season that was so much better than we thought possible at the end of 2016, And if Rafa’s body doesnt give in totally he will be a force again during the clay season.

  4. That’s my feeling, Kevin. Doubt that Fed at this age would win slam.

    If he does then this is not weak era, but very very weak era.

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