With World No. 1 Novak Djokovic’s dominance at the Australian Open in the recent few years, he is always a safe bet in any prediction for the year’s first Slam. But a Grand Slam does not always follow a pre-determined path as 2014 has shown. Are there more Stan Wawrinkas lurking somewhere or will Roger Federer make a return to the Winner’s circle at a Grand Slam? Also, Rafael Nadal can never to be counted out even though he is coming back from an injury. Here is our Australian Open preview
Breaking up the Australian Open Men’s draw
Four-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic is chasing history in this part of the draw. The Serb who is bidding to become the second man in the Open Era to win five Grand Slam crowns in Australia, and has a relatively smoother route till the Round of 16. It is at the pre-quarter-final stage that things could get tricky with the big-serving John Isner looming as his potential opponent.
Novak should cross this hurdle despite the tough opposition only to face another big server, Milos Raonic. The Canadian evidently has done some serious training in the off-season. A recent final appearance at Brisbane shows that Raonic is ready to challenge the top stars.
A couple of other players who have the potential to create upsets are the 12th seed Feliciano Lopez and the ever-unpredictable Gael Monfils. Former US Open champion Juan Martin Del Potro announced a late withdrawal on Sunday and his place is to be taken by lucky loser Hiroki Moriya of Japan.
First round matches to watch: Dominic Thiem v Roberto Bautista Agut, Gilles Muller v Pablo Carreno Busta.
Everyone is looking forward to a sizzling quarter-final between defending champion Stan Wawrinka and US Open runner-up Kei Nishikori. But for that to hold up, both Wawrinka and Nishikori have to first surmount a few challenges. The highest seed that the Chennai Open champion Stan Wawrinka can face here is the 16th seed Fabio Fognini. However the Italian’s recent form has left a lot to be desired and Wawrinka should pass that test with consummate ease.
The fast-rising Kei Nishikori, though, has a more dangerous rival to contend with – David Ferrer. The Spaniard started the season with a title at Doha and is arriving at Melbourne with supreme confidence. Even though Nishikori has won their last four clashes, they have all gone the distance. Look for Nishikori to win a close match again. Should Nishikori v Ferrer and Nishikori v Wawrinka both happen, it would make this quarter the most exciting to watch.
First round match to watch: Kei Nishikori v Nicolas Almagro
This quarter is headed by the 2009 champion Rafael Nadal. With his second half of 2014 being marred by a wrist injury and an appendectomy, a dodgy Rafa will be hoping he has recovered sufficiently from his injuries.
Nadal succumbed to a qualifier in Doha in his first match of the competitive season and is hence short on match play. The circumstances make his first round encounter against Mikhail Youzhny a tricky one especially because the Russian has beaten him four times. But if the World No. 3 can overcome Youzhny, there’s no doubt that Nadal will gain in confidence with every round.
The next highest seed in this quarter is Tomas Bedych, a player Rafa has beaten 18 times! Surely the Czech will not be a cause of worry for the Majorcan.
A very interesting first round match to watch is the one between Sydney titlist Victor Troicki and Auckland champion Jiri Vesely.
Pick: Rafael Nadal
First round matches to watch: Jiri Vesely v Victor Troicki, Ernests Gulbis v Thanasi Kokkinakis, Rafael Nadal v Mikhail Youzhny.
Roger Federer’s progress in this part of the draw will get most of the attention. Federer’s recent form has been imperious as he claimed the Brisbane title and entered the record books with his 1000th career victory. That makes him the one to bet on from this quarter.
In spite of that, Andy Murray could have a thing or two to say if the three-time Australian Open runner-up can show glimpses of the form with which he beat Nadal at Abu Dhabi recently. Murray starts his campaign against Indian qualifier Yuki Bhambri and could run into the very talented Grigor Dimitrov in the fourth round.
As for Federer, there are a few players who could potentially stretch the maestro – youngsters Borna Coric, Nick Kyrgios and veterans Tommy Robredo and Ivo Karlovic are in his quarter of the draw. But with the poise that the Swiss maestro currently has, he should come through with flying colours.
Pick: Roger Federer
First round matches to watch: Andy Murray v Yuki Bhambri, Dustin Brown v Grigor Dimitrov, Jeremy Chardy v Borna Coric.
Semi-final Predictions: Djokovic def Nishikori, Federer def Nadal
Final Prediction: Djokovic def Federer
So all bets are on Novak Djokovic getting back to winning the Australian Open ! We shall know the answer in a fortnight’s time. Till then let’s sit back and enjoy action at the year’s first Grand Slam.