It took a while. It took sitting through plenty of chatter between the commentators, discussions with defending champions Novak Djokovic and Naomi Osaka (which was lovely!) and video compilations. But eventually, we have the draw for the Australian Open. A pre-made draw. If you think allegations of draw rigging could be avoided, tournaments go ahead and do this! Not hard to conduct a live draw, is it, after all Wimbledon and Roland Garros do it?
After half an hour, the (rushed) draw announcement got underway with top seed Rafael Nadal and fifth seed Dominic Thiem in the first quarter. Djokovic and Roger Federer, the other members of the 'Top 3' or 'eternal-grand-slam-favourites,' feature in the bottom half of the 128-player draw.
Top-ranked Nadal lost two of his singles matches at the ATP Cup - versus David Goffin and Djokovic and was severely tested by Alex de Minaur - and the biggest concern surrounding the Spaniard would be his recovery from gruelling tennis at the start of the season. De Minaur has already become a victim of the ATP Cup and strain of continuous tennis could play a role on Nadal as well. He starts against Bolivia's Hugo Dellien but the true test could come in the form of Nick Kyrgios or Karen Khachanov in the fourth round.
In the top quarter, keep an eye out for Pablo Cuevas vs Gilles Simon in what could be a baseline marathon.
Shifting focus to the second quarter and we don't have to run our eyes along the draw at all before spotting what is a mouth-watering clash between Daniil Medvedev and Frances Tiafoe. The American reached the quarterfinals of Australian Open last year beating Prajnesh Gunneswaran, Kevin Anderson, Andreas Seppi, Grigor Dimitrov before running out of gas against Nadal. This time, though, he starts off against in-form US Open finalist Medvedev. The World No. 4 has been the biggest riser in the top echelons of men's tennis and portrayed his ability during the ATP Cup against Djokovic.
In the lower half of the quarter sits seventh seed Alexander Zverev who will open against 2018 Roland Garros semi-finalist Marco Cecchinato. The challenge for Zverev, once again, will be to go deep in a grand slam tournament. A challenge compounded by lack of practice and confidence. The German played exhibition matches alongside Federer in South America in the off-season before joining up with the rest of the team for ATP Cup. The regular activity put a dent on his recovery from a draining season. "I had like five days less than I normally have ... I didn't practice a lot of tennis," he said. "I think you can see that on the tennis court." Oh you could see it for sure! Zverev played three matches in the ATP Cup - against De Minaur, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Denis Shapovalov - and lost all three. In 31 service games, he hit a jaw dropping 31 double faults!
Moving to the bottom half of the draw. Eighth seed Matteo Berrettini will have multiple challenges ahead of him in Melbourne. He's played twice in the main draw - in 2018 and 2019 - and lost both. It looks unlikely to be a three in a row as he faces local boy 162nd ranked Andrew Harris in the opening round. But what could make things tricky is the lack of match practice for the Italian. He goes into the Australian Open with just the matches at Kooyong Classic under his belt.
Also featuring in this part of the draw is 20-time grand slam winner Federer. He gets his quest for number 21, to extend gap with Nadal and Djokovic, underway when he faces American Steve Johnson. Federer opted to skip the ATP Cup in order to give himself more time to spend with his family. Following the ATP World Tour Finals last year, he played a couple of exhibition matches and comes in fresher than his 'top 3' colleagues.
With De Minaur pulling out, Marin Cilic has been upgraded to the 32nd seed which would come as a relief to the unseeded players. The Croatian sits in the bottom quarter of the draw alongside last year's semifinalist Stefanos Tsitsipas and second seed Djokovic. Novak has a tricky opening round to get around when he takes court against Jan-Lennard Struff of Germany. Seven-time champion and overwhelming favourite, Djokovic faces Struff who reached the second week in Paris and is 37th in the world. To gauge Struff's improvement, he has picked five of seven wins over top 5 players in the last 11 months.
Interesting first round matches: Medvedev vs Tiafoe, Querrey vs Coric, Opelka vs Fognini, Lopez vs Bautista Agut, Lajovic vs Edmund, Djokovic vs Struff.
Moving to the women's draw where Ashleigh Barty is the top seed and shoulders plenty of expectations of a country which is still reeling from widespread devastation caused by bushfires. She will need to produce something special to become Australia’s first multiple Grand Slam singles winner since Lleyton Hewitt, who triumphed at Wimbledon (2002) and the US Open (2001). At the turn of the decade, Serena Williams is once again a marquee name as she chases Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slams with the 38-year-old stuck on 23.
Barty had ticked quite a few boxes last year and ended multiple spells of poor results for Australian tennis. She won the French Open and later became the World No. 1 and now has the burden, or opportunity, to end Australia's 42 year wait for a singles champion in Australia. She got a hint of the expectations of home crowd during the Fed Cup Finals in Perth last year. She lost the reverse singles and then the decisive doubles to lose to France. The Queenslander will hope for better outcome in Melbourne when she faces a stiff first rounder in Lesia Tsurenko. The Ukrainian was ranked as high as 23 last year before dropping to the present 120 due to an elbow injury.
Barty could face Petra Kvitova in the quarterfinals with last year's finalist to play Katerina Siniakova in an all Czech clash. Also watch out for Madison Keys vs Daria Kasatkina in this quarter.
The second quarter features the who's who of women's tennis with defending champion Osaka top of the list and Serena at the lower end. And yet, when the draw was announced, their potential clash didn't even attract that much attention. What did attract, however, was a Venus Williams vs Coco Gauff Part II. They faced off at Wimbledon, drew huge crowds and grabbed plenty of eyeballs. Rightfully so. The narrative hasn't changed for Melbourne either. Gauff, at 15, is the youngest player in an Australian Open main draw and Venus, 39, the oldest. The winner of this sure shot evening session match could face Osaka in the third round. Naomi could also face Sofia Kenin in the third round having already beaten her in Brisbane.
If that wasn't excitement enough, 2018 Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki, who is playing her final tournament before retiring, also finds a place in this quarter. The Dane opens her final event against Kristie Ahn. Watch out for an in-form Dayana Yastremska, who is now coached by Serena's former hitting partner Sascha Bajin.
The bottom half of the draw has Belinda Bencic, Simona Halep, Elina Svitolina and Karolina Pliskova with the bottom quarter looking fairly straightforward. Pliskova, seeking her maiden grand slam title, has a stiff first round in Kristina Mladenovic. They've split their four meetings and this will be their first meeting on the singles court since 2017. The Czech successfully defended her title in Brisbane with wins over Osaka and Keys. This section also features Svitolina, Garbine Muguruza and Angelique Kerber but the latter two are not in the form that once took them to grand slam titles.
Of the top four seeds, Halep has the toughest opposition in the opening round when the 2018 finalist gets underway against big hitting Jennifer Brady. The American came through qualifying in Brisbane before beating Maria Sharapova, Barty only to be stopped by Kvitova. The Romanian could then face Danielle Collins in the third round. The 2019 semifinalist has made a blistering start to the season once again with wins over Svitolina and Bencic. If she successfully navigates the first week, the second could be slightly easier.
Elise Mertens and Karolina Muchova are projected fourth round opponents with a quarterfinal possibility against either Bencic or Aryna Sabalenka.
Interesting first round matches: Keys vs Kasatkina, Venus vs Gauff, Sloane vs Zhang Shuai, Vekic vs Sharapova, Muchova vs Flipkens, Putintseva vs Hsieh Su-Wei, Halep vs Brady, Sevastova vs Tomljanovic, Vondrousova vs Kuznetsova, Pliskova vs Mladenovic, Kvitova vs Siniakova
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Updated Date: Jan 16, 2020 18:48:59 IST