We’ll call this the Nadal/Cilic quarter.
Nadal is set to see Estrella Burgos, then maybe Leo Mayer R2, perhaps Coric (who’s beaten Nadal twice) or Dzhumer R3, and a fourth-rounder against the likes of Isner or Dogopolov. If the Spaniard can get through that bracket, he’s into the QF. Granted, his knee is still a minor story; we have no way of knowing exactly how healthy he is until play gets underway. Pulling-out of an exhibition in December and talk of the knee has to give the case for Nadal some hesitancy. But the draw here doesn’t hurt. Coric, again, is 2-2 H2H, but this is a major (the five-set Nadal is an uncomfortable date to say the least).
As for meeting Cilic in that first QF, the big Croatian needs to survive the likes of Carreno Busta, Mueller, Simon, Youzney and the American Harrison. Simon just won a 250 in India, beating (get this) Agut, Cilic and Keven Anderson on his way to that title. Then he lost to American Donaldson in R32 at the Sydney International — so who knows with Simon. Harrison has a new coach, looks a bit inspired, but overall Cilic’s QF case does not look impossible.
Not a lot of fireworks in that quarter but let me make one obvious admission: the actual tennis can take-on an entirely different story and matches can revive this kind of account of what the pen and paper say. On paper (and in my post here), the quarter looks pretty predictable, lacks creativity, if you will. But things can definitely get more interesting.
I only have the WTF as a good case in point. I beat the crap out of that draw, and things played-out quite differently. Still, my argument was quite valid 😉
Pretty basic stuff here in this first quarter. Melbourne wants Nadal to go deep (you can imagine their desire to replicate last year). The Spaniard, so long as the knee holds-up and some underdog doesn’t get completely loose here, reaches the QF likely against the Croatian. A Carreno Busta v Nadal QF, for what it’s worth, would be just as predictable — and it’s tough not to see the start to Simon’s year as a bit auspicious, which is a bit of a non-statement.
Knee holds-up, Nadal is SF bound in a cinch.
This is this the Dimitrov/Kyrgios quarter even though Sock is the second highest seed in this bracket.
This quarter is loaded. Get a load of these names: Dimitrov, Ferrer, Rublev, Kyrgios, Shapovalov, Tsonga, Anderson, Edmund (big game this kid), Istomin (kidding but what a 2017 AO, no?), Pouille, and Sock. Others include Karlovic, Tsitsipas (a Greek 19 year-old, former junior #1) and Troicki.
So, who meets Nadal in that first SF? Many eyes are on Dimitrov. We have a bit of a collision of destinies (and agenda) here for the Bulgarian (he certainly isn’t getting an easy road to his first major).
Destiny #1: a match the 3-seed will certainly be watching is that Ferrer v Rublev 1R. Dimitrov gets the winner of that in the 3R. Why so important? I am keyed to this potential Rublev v Dimitrov match because of what happened in NYC. Grigor, coming-off his fantastic first Masters win in Cincinnati (beating Kyrgios in the final), preparing for a depleted USO draw that could’ve seen him ride this Masters momentum deep, stumbled into the Russian teenager in a 2R match. The Bulgarian was routined 5 6(3) and 3. Not a good look.
The other destiny that organizers might have dreamed was a rematch of last year’s SF classic between Dimitrov v Nadal.
If Dimitrov can survive Rublev (if Rublev can survive Ferrer), he will get the winner of the little bracket containing Kyrgios, Shapovalov and Tsonga. So, Dimitrov has the likelihood of matches against Rublev 3R and a Kyrgios 4R (the draw could easily implode here, as well). The Canadian opens the tourney with the big Greek, Tsonga could get inspired and Kyrgios could get bored. But rather than bringing-up this calamity of errors at every turn, let’s just say that a Kyrgios v Dimitrov 4R is what we want to (and should) see.
That second QF to determine who plays Nadal in the first SF will pit winner of Dimitrov v Kyrgios (as long as the bracket holds) playing the winner of that Sock/Anderson section. Anderson has a potentially tough opener against the young Brit Edmund, and probably gets Pouille in 3R. Sock could be tested at any point. Look at Sock’s first round opponent’s resume (Yuichi Sugita); he can play. As can Karlovic and Kohlschreiber.
Sure Anderson v Sock seems like the numbers pick, but that second QF has all kinds of uncertainty and implosion lurking in the underbrush. A Sock v Anderson 4R would be interesting. Hopefully, the American, like his occasional doubles partner in the other eighth, Kyrgios, has on his game face.
Top half conclusion (SF #1): Nadal v Kyrgios, Cilic v Dimitrov, Rublev v Sock?
The third quarter is the Zverev/Thiem quarter by the numbers. But let’s take a closer look.
One has to account for Mannarino (solid 2017), Agut (some people’s Melbourne dark horse and always tough, especially on HC and has reached the AO 4R three times), Verdasco, Wawrinka (if he’s even playing), some guy named Djokovic, Monfils, Ramos-Vinolas, Mischa and the tough youngsters Chung, Kokkinakis, Donaldson and Medvedev.
Health is a huge factor here especially as it concerns Djokovic (and Stan to a lesser extent). If Djokovic is 100%, which can’t be the case given his “announcements” and recent schedule changes, he should make the SF here in Melbourne. There is too much game in the Serb’s legs and heart not to get him deep into this draw. But the elbow is a big question mark. I guess the lingering pain is a result of the team trying to avoid surgery, but you’d think that they, given all of the professional attention and resources, would have been able to, number 1 priority: get Novak 100% by Melbourne.
From the top, Thiem has the pesky Pella out of the gate and then American Johnson who can play. Thiem v Mannarino should be the 3R match there, the winner playing RBA or Wawrinka. RBA seems the most likely since he appears healthy and he’s a consistent guy.
Seeing Thiem emerge would be an important step for this guy, hopefully with some additional HC game/strategy to bolster his chances. Sitting back behind the BL and trying to hit through his opponent will not succeed here (though who doesn’t enjoy watching him try – kid has a lot of heart. Hopefully he’s fully recovered from an exhausting 2017).
Djokovic has the irritable Donald Young in 1R and then sees Monfils. Gael can certainly be dangerous and could catch Novak early here, I suspect, the Frenchman getting a decent result already, winning the Novak-less Qatar Open, smashing Rublev in the final. Two early opponents who can play good tennis, especially Monfils, but we have to think that with the elbow responding, the six-time AO champ gets through to a 3R match against Donaldson or Ramos-Vinolas.
The Heir apparent, Sascha, has a little work to do to find the Djoker in that steamy 4R contest. The German must eclipse survivor of the Chung/Kokkinakis/Medvedev gun show. A lot of talent in there, but Zverev will only get one of them. Of course, his older brother could ruin what I just said and we see a (likely?) Zverev squared 3R match to see who gets the Serb in the 4R.
A Thiem/RBA v Novak/Sascha QF seems likely. Does it materialize?
The last quarter is the Federer/Goffin circus. Federer is everyone’s (and I mean everyone’s) favorite. Understandably. But.
Lurking in this quarter are the likes of these fine gentlemen: Fognini, Berdych, the Aussie wunderkind De Minaur, on the verge of winning Sydney, Khachanov, Tiafoe, Del Potro, Querrey, Feli Lopez, Raonic, and Gasquet.
Goffin is set here to ride that huge 2017 season. He should do fine, but the testing begins in the fourth round (he should do fine against a guy like Fognini in the 3R). Goffin plays the winner of this very dangerous opening bracket: Del Potro v Tiafoe, Khachanov, Paire, De Minaur v Berdych. Berdych has his hands full, unless the Aussie is gassed after a bunch of warm-up play, Khachanov seems hungry and pretty poised and then you have an interesting 1R between Juan of Argentina and the uber-talented Tiafoe, who’s favorite player is Del Potro (they had an inspiring match last year in Acapulco).
I like Del Potro as a dark horse in this tournament, but that is a tough draw. Tiafoe is eager and very athletic, Khachanov is big and then the big thighs of Berdman await, likely, in a 3R match. I have to think Del Potro gets Goffin in that 4R match.
In the Federer eighth, he should be fine, getting a familiar face in Gasquet in the 3R (although the Dutchman Haase could ruin Dickie’s little vacation down-under). Federer should find the 4R and play, we suspect Raonic, but no confidence there, for me. He looks sluggish, he’s still recovering from the lay-off, nor I’m not a big fan of the giant.
Federer’s QF with Goffin or Del Potro could be quite an engagement. He’s had trouble with both quite recently.
If you’re on the Federer bandwagon here, he has to beat Del Potro (in my estimation) and then Djokovic (if tennis elbow is gone).
I haven’t seen that much tennis so far, so I’m going on 2017, suspected health and match-up history.
Remember my two “main ideas” from looking at the draw initially: Nadal has a cream-puff draw and there is no definitive favorite given all of the uncertainty.
Predicting a Nadal v Federer final has some legs given Nadal’s draw and Federer’s form and assumed health. But Nadal’s leg (along with the speed of the court) could doom his run; and Federer has a tough deep draw and he’s 36.
For me, Federer’s case has uncertainty, given his age and the difficulty it is to repeat. Not to mention his later matches.
If the early seedings hold, the winner of the Kyrgios v Dimitrov 4R match is poised to reach the final. Especially if it’s Kyrgios. The deeper he goes, with the potential of a supportive live home crowd, he will get more and more confident. If Grigor gets through that, I still think Sock can trouble the Bulgarian (if these match-ups hold).
I guess I’m saying that despite Nadal’s cream-puff draw, that Dimitrov v Kyrgios match seems huge up top.
But we all know that either one of these blokes could take a bow early in the tournament!
How’s that for uncertainty, and that’s not me: that’s Kyrgios and Dimitrov!
In the bottom, Federer v Djokovic seems like a nice little bit of television programming. But there’s a bit of trouble for both. In a perfect world, Monfils would play Djokovic tough, but most likely the Frenchman will fold. If the elbow works, I don’t see anyone troubling the Serb (he is coming back from injury — may not be all the way back — but he’s done this many many times, especially at this major) until he gets to Sascha. If the elbow is 100%, he’s probably through there; but let’s wait on that.
Federer has the golden ticket. His form and health should be enough. But that QF looks ominous, if you ask me. Does he have revenge for the Argentinian or Belgian? I will watch the Auckland final here tomorrow to see how Juan looks. He and RBA decide that title tomorrow, which is quite the pre-Melbourne tennis match.
I like Juan’s poise in these kinds of tournaments. If he has the fitness, the BH is continuing to come-back (made vast improvements all of last year — re-visit that first set of his SF USO match v Nadal. He was dictating play, won the first set, Nadal’s box looked like a bunch of nervous school kids, and then Juan waved the white flag. . .), and the serve is typically draconian, the gentle giant could be an unassailable peak.
Then again, Roger has a lot to work with here, mainly a tremendous memory of last year’s unreal run. If he can revisit that kind of tennis (that early 2017 Federer, through Miami, changed the rotation of the tennis planet), we could all be in for another mind-blowing two week stretch. Hopman Cup is bagged, he looks healthy, smiling: what’s not to like? Other than Juan and Novak standing in his path?
Oh, and for what it’s worth: Guess who the 17-seed is?