It is now upon us. We are two days away from the start of the first Grand Slam of the season and the tension, anticipation, and excitement are growing exponentially with each passing minute, especially since the draw was made on Friday morning in Australia.
What does it look like for the top guns? At first glance, it seems like Novak Djokovic inherited the easiest draw, whereas Andy Murray has the most difficult. As for Rafael Nadal, his first round is assuredly a test, but the rest of his path?
Let’s break it down for the top four seeds.
Good draw for Djokovic
The first glance impression of the three-time defending champion’s draw remains upon further analysis: of the top 4 seeds, Novak Djokovic has the easiest draw… until the quarter-finals.
Projected path: Lukas Lacko, Leonardo Mayer, Dmitry Tursunov (or Denis Istomin), Ernests Gulbis (more likely than Fabio Fognini, who is not the best on hard courts and whose physical status we are unsure of), Stanislas Wawrinka, David Ferrer (or Tomas Berdych), Rafael Nadal (or Juan Martín del Potro)
In the early rounds, perhaps Gulbis, his possible round-of-16 rival, could be a test for him, especially if he is not extremely challenged prior to that meeting and considering that the Latvian is capable of the best as well as the worst.
However, the biggest difficulty for the Serbian should arise if he meets Wawrinka in the quarter-finals. Who has forgotten their two Grand Slam encounters last year, first at Melbourne Park, then at the U.S. Open?
In short, if he gets through to semifinals, Novak Djokovic has a good chance of reaching a fourth consecutive final at the Australian Open.
Many question marks for Ferrer
We stay in the defending champion’s half for the quarter of number three seed David Ferrer, who surprisingly fell to Yen-Hsun Lu in the semifinals of Auckland, where he was the three-time defending champion.
The Spaniard, who changed coach just before the beginning of the season, started 2014 by playing every week since 26 December (Abu Dhabi, Doha, Auckland). At 32 years of age, he perhaps considered that he needed a bit more time to gain rhythm, but the defeat to the hands of Lu raises several questions, especially regarding his energy levels entering the first Grand Slam of the season.
Projected path: Alejandro González, Adrian Mannarino, Jérémy Chardy, Mikhail Youzhny (or Jerzy Janowicz, if his foot is fine and he has gotten back his rhythm), Tomas Berdych, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal (or Juan Martín del Potro)
Ferrer could face a tough test in round 3, if he is to meet Jérémy Chardy. The Frenchman has shown that he is in good form, having taken Roger Federer to three sets in the Brisbane semifinals, and having upset Juan Martín del Potro in Melbourne, last year.
However, considering that the Spaniard has been a bit inconsistent since the start of the season, it is difficult to see him getting further than the quarter-finals.
A difficult start for Nadal
World n°1 Rafael Nadal has a chance to make another big dent in his lead on the top of the ATP rankings, but faces a difficult task from the start, as he will meet local Bernard Tomic in the very first round.
When we know that Nadal always needs a couple of rounds to gain rhythm in a Grand Slam, this match against a very in-form young rival has all the makings for a blockbuster, as well as a long and difficult fight. Should he get through this match, the Spaniard has the coast rather clear until the quarter-finals.
Projected Path: Bernard Tomic, Igor Sijsling (although we don’t discard a win from young Aussie Thanasi Kokkinakis), Gaël Monfils, Kei Nishikori (or Lleyton Hewitt), Juan Martín del Potro, Andy Murray (or Roger Federer), Novak Djokovic
Should he meet with Juan Martín del Potro in the quarter-finals, I don’t think a Nadal triumph is guaranteed. The Argentine is healthy, and might come into the first Grand Slam of the year with a trophy, as he is into the Sydney final. Furthermore, Delpo is highly motivated and has a chance not only to become n°4 in the world, but also to enter the top 3 for the first time. Nothing guaranteed there for Nadal.
In the end, it is a booby trapped draw that awaits the best player in the world if he is to complete his second Career Grand Slam.
Murray in the “quarter of death”
There is only one expression to describe the quarter of last year’s runner-up: the quarter of death. Having, logically, a bit of a difficult comeback after a back surgery which left him sidelined for three months, Andy Murray will have a good start, with a first round against Go Soeda, but starting in the third round, things could get really complicated for the Scot, although the most difficult section of that quarter is that of Roger Federer.
Murray’s projected path: Go Soeda, Qualifier, Feliciano López (or Michaël Llodra), John Isner, Roger Federer (or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or Marin Cilic), Rafael Nadal (or Juan Martín del Potro), Novak Djokovic
Federer’s projected path: James Duckworth, Radek Stepanek, Fernando Verdasco, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (or Marin Cilic, we discard n°18 seed Gilles Simon because he sprained his ankle yesterday and has a tricky start against Daniel Brands in the first round), Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal (or Juan Martín del Potro), Novak Djokovic
Should Federer and Murray meet in the quarter-finals, there is no guarantee that the better ranked player will triumph. However, Federer’s start against Lleyton Hewitt in the Brisbane final raises a lot of questions as to his form and as to his level. Is he suffering from back issues again so early in the season or is it only a lack of confidence after such a difficult year?
As for Murray, he is likely to get to n°5 in the World following the tournament.
Our finals prediction
Juan Martín del Potro vs Novak Djokovic
Winner: Novak Djokovic
What are your Australian Open predictions?
(Photos: Getty Images)