Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic dictated the 2016 men’s season over two very different halves. While the Serb soared till the French Open, the Scot strung together a 24-match unbeaten run to close out 2016. The ultimate match of the year was a showdown for the number one ranking between the two, with Murray coming out on top. The first final of the 2017 turned out to be no different with both of them battling it out for almost three hours at Doha, with Djokovic winning this one.
Between them, Djokovic and Murray have played 19 finals, which include four of the last five played at the Australian Open. So as they gear up for the first Grand Slam of 2017, the question is: can anyone in the men’s draw prevent another Murray-Djokovic final?
After every draw at a major, tennis fandoms will scream themselves hoarse, trying to convince other fans that their player has the toughest draw. However in Melbourne this year, all roads that lead to the Australian Open crown are treacherous and thorny. Here’s a preview of the men’s draw and predictions for how it could play out.
Sir Murray is not only carrying the burden of being the knight of the realm, but also reigning over the men’s tour at the top of the rankings. However, all his five previous attempts of lifting the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup have been thwarted convincingly. Will it be a case of sixth time lucky for the Scot?
The only seeds in his section of the quarter, along with big-serving John Isner, are Djokovic-slayer Sam Querrey and Rafael Nadal-slayer Lucas Pouille. But unlike his fellow Big Four brethren, Murray shouldn’t have much trouble disposing them off.
Murray’s first tricky match would possibly be the quarter-final, where he could face one of Roger Federer, Kei Nishikori or Tomas Berdych. Federer, seeded 17th, has as easy a start that he could have asked for, with two qualifiers in his first two matches. However, his next two potential opponents are Berdych and Nishikori.
While the 17-time Grand Slam champion has a winning record against both, it’s his fitness and form on that given day which will decide his fate. At his best, Federer should easily get through to the last eight but beating Murray might be a task too daunting for the 35-year-old.
First round match to watch out for: Pouille vs Alexander Bublik
Fourth seed and former champion Stan Wawrinka headlines the second quarter of the men’s draw and could set up a popcorn round of 16 match with Australian Nick Kyrgios. This is definitely the most erratic and unpredictable section, primarily because you never know when these two players can bring their A-game, if at all. If they are both on song and make the second week, which remains a big if considering their tumultuous styles of play and personality, we could see firecrackers go off in their clash.
To get there, the Swiss will have to overcome Martin Klizan in the first, potentially Steve Johnson in the second, and 29th seed Viktor Troicki in the third round respectively. The potential seed standing in Kyrgios’ way is Pablo Cuevas. The enigmatic Aussie is generally very motivated in front of his home crowd but his biggest opponent will still be he himself. Conquer that, and he could easily make the quarters.
Meanwhile, on the other end is another former Slam champion – Marin Cilic. He is seeded seventh, and starts off against struggling Jerzy Janowicz. Bernard Tomic, another seeded opponent, could face Cilic in the third round, while Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or Jack Sock may be waiting in the Round of 16.
First round match to watch out for: Tsonga vs Thiago Monterio
From this part of the draw, third seed Milos Raonic and sixth seed Gael Monfils are the projected quarter-finalists. Raonic had a breakthrough Australian Open in 2016, reaching the semi-finals with a commanding win over Wawrinka.
To repeat that feat, Raonic will have to defeat showman Dustin Brown in his opener, Next Gen’s Taylor Fritz or Sydney champion Gilles Muller and potentially baseliner Gilles Simon and Chennai Open winner Robeto Bautista Agut. His path to the quarter-finals seems untroubled, but the opposite half of the section assures that he will have a laborious task in the last-eight match.
Along with Monfils, veteran Philipp Kohlschreiber, upcoming star Alexander Zverev and comeback man Rafael Nadal are the seeds that could pose a threat. Injury-plagued Monfils may not be able to replicate his quarter-final result from last year and we can fully expect one of Nadal or Zverev to take advantage.
The 14-time major titlist is seeded ninth and has looked physically fit since his return from injury, but will still find it difficult to defeat a big-serving flat-hitter. Zverev, whose stock has been consistently rising since last year, has the confidence and talent to beat to beat top-10 players. In fact, this Australian Open could turn out to be his springboard into the top-10.
First round match to watch out for: Raonic vs Brown
Djokovic may have relinquished his hold on the number one ranking, but he isn’t ready to give up his winning streak at the Australian Open just yet. He has never lost a final at the Melbourne Park and is aiming to become the first man with seven trophies Down Under. He also has an opportunity to regain the World No 1 rank if Murray slips before the semi-finals. If the first week of 2017 was any indication, Djokovic has rediscovered his drive and hunger and will need to hit the ground running from the very first round.
Fernando Verdasco has been drawn to face the defending champion in the opener. The same guy who had five match points against him at Doha a week ago, the same guy who knocked out Nadal in the first round last year and the very same guy who once reached the semi-finals on these hard courts. Yup.
Also looming in the quarter is the resurgent Grigor Dimitrov. The Bulgarian knocked out three top-10 players on his way to the Brisbane title and is playing with new-found self-belief and conviction. Dimitrov has a 1-5 losing record against potential third round for Richard Gasquet, but given his current form, he should be able to win this time around.
Dominic Thiem lurks at the top end of this quarter but he has slumped to a 12-12 record since Stuttgart last year. David Goffin, seeded 12th, got the better of Thiem last year at Melbourne as well and we might see a similar result if they clash again.
First round match to watch out for: Djokovic vs Verdasco
Updated Date: Jan 15, 2017 15:31:52 IST