The 2018 Australian Open – Round 1
15th - 28th January 2018 at Melbourne Park
As a bonus set of articles for the Australian Open, The Weekend Preview will present a round by round assessment of the state of play in the Men’s Singles Draw.
The predictions presented in these articles are based on an analytical model that combines short and long term statistical performance indicators, as well as considering through-tournament factors as the draw unfolds. The model was developed from assessing previous Australian Opens.
As the model is purely analytical, no subjective weighting has been applied. This could be particularly challenging this year as heavyweights like Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Stan Wawrinka are all coming into the tournament under injury clouds. Although they have been downgraded to some extent due to their lack of recent match play, a limitation of the model is that no assessment of their current fitness has been considered.
The model also rewards players who have played well at a high level over several years and are coming into the tournament in good form. Hence, lead-in tournament winners such as Kyrgios (Brisbane), Monfils (Qatar) and Bautista Agut (Auckland) have upgraded expectations.
In contrast, young players that are coming off break-through years and average lead-in form, such as 4th seed Alexander Zverev are downgraded. In the case of Zverev it is hard to deny his talent though.
Regardless, the state of play will be re-assessed after each round, capturing the effect of form/elimination of different players accordingly.
Rafael Nadal has found himself in a very favourable quarter of the draw. His biggest challengers are John Isner (potential 4th round opponent) and Marin Cilic (potential QF opponent). Isner is one of the premier servers in the sport, but he has a terrible record in Grand Slams for someone of his quality. At his best Cilic could threaten, but if Nadal is still alive by the quarter-finals and showing no signs of injury, you wouldn’t want to bet against him. For the Round 1 matches, it will be interesting to see if Australian wildcard Jason Kubler can spring an upset against the 10th seeded Pablo Carreno Busta. The unheralded Australian won a Challenger Tournament in the first week of January, winning 8 straight matches without dropping a set. In form and with a home crowd behind him, it could be a great opportunity for Kubler to take a big scalp.
On paper, Quarter 2 is the weakest as it does not contain any of the Big-3 (Nadal, Djokovic and Federer). However, the top-half of this quarter is intriguing as it is a blend of quality established players (Dimitrov, Kyrgios and Tsonga), known veterans (Baghdatis and Ferrer) and exciting youngsters (Rublev, Tsitsipas and Shapovalov). In contrast, the lower half of the quarter is difficult to get excited about. Based on form coming into the tournament, Kyrgios is the top pick to make it out of this quarter of the draw. But doubts still remain on his ability to play best-of-5-set tennis over 2 weeks, both physically and mentally.
He may be the 14th seed, but Novak Djokovic is the headline act in Quarter 3. How injured is he? We will soon find out, with some challenging early round opponents. In particular, the in-form Gael Monfils (winner of the Qatar Open in the first week of January), awaits Djokovic in the second round. Monfils has lost 14 straight matches against Djokovic, but the rusty Serbian could be there for the taking in Round 2. But if he can get through that challenge, Djokovic could easily build momentum into the tournament. The other big names in this part of the draw all have question marks hanging over them – Is Stan Wawrinka still stricken by injury? Can Dominic Thiem bring his best on a hard court? Can Alexander Zverev back-up from his break-through season? Potentially the biggest threat to Djokovic is the Auckland Classic winner last week Roberto Bautista Agut.
Federer is the favourite to come through Quarter 4 but it is not without its challenges. In particular the trio of Milos Raonic, David Goffin and Juan Martin del Potro could all pose a threat to the 19-time Grand Slam winner. The match-up between Tomas Berdych and Alex de Minaur looks like an engrossing first round matchup. Do you back the established quality player who is potentially short of match fitness or the exciting young Australian who is riding a wave of confidence from his exploits in Brisbane and Sydney?
There is much to play-out over the coming 2 weeks, but before the first ball is served, the Big-3 remain the players to beat. And a dodgy elbow not withstanding, the 6-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic will start on top.