It’s the start of a new decade, I’ve just turned 50, my Yacht rock playlist is great, and the draw is out for the Australian Open, none of those things seem related but let’s go with it.
As always we’ll start with a preview of the Ladies, last season we had four different Slam winners, Osaka in Melbourne, Barty at the French, Halep won Wimbledon and Andreescu upset Serena in New York.
Andreescu won’t be in Melbourne because of a knee injury so the Canadian is out. Serena didn’t play another match after that US Open loss so was well rested coming into this season, it seemed to work as the world number 10 won Auckland last week, she should have a straight forward run to a potential 4thround against flat hitting Jo Konta or good friend Caroline Wozniacki, her Qaurter final could be last years Champion Naomi Osaka, Coco Gauff, Venus or Sloane Stephens, that section is absolutely loaded.
Gauff and Venus play each other in a blockbuster 1stround. If Serena makes the Semi’s she could face Ash Barty, Madison Keys or Petra Kvitova. It’s a tough run for Serena; I see an upset brewing along the way.
Ash Barty had a year to remember but her schedule was heavy after her 4thround loss at the US Open to Qiang Wang, semi’s in Wuhan, final in Bejing, Champion at the WTA Finals and runner up at the Fed Cup final.
That’s a lot of matches. The Queenslander lost her 2ndround match in Brisbane last week to Qualifier Jen Brady, which was surprising but could be a blessing, its not like she needs the match play but is backing up again in Adelaide this week, she is currently in the semi’s.
Her draw in Melbourne looks good through the first 3 rounds, a potential 4thround against German Julia Goerges or Petra Martic would be tough but winnable, the Quarter Final against Keys or Kvitova will say a lot, win that and its game on. Barty would have learnt a lot about competing at home as a real Grand Slam threat after the Kvitova loss in the QF’s last year.
Defending champion Naomi Osaka didn’t do much at the rest of the Slams last year after winning Melbourne, 3rd round French, 1stround Wimbledon, 4thround US Open, that’s under performing for a player of her quality but winning the China Open late in the year was big, with victories over Barty, Andreescu and Wozniacki. This season she lost a semi in Brisbane to Pliskova after having match point, in Melbourne she is in the Serena loaded section, a potential 3rdround against Venus or Gauff would say a lot about what kind of form she’s in, if Osaka makes it to the second week and gets hot she is a real chance.
Romanian Simona Halep had a suprising 2ndround loss at last year’s US Open to Taylor Townsend, especially considering the momentum she’d built up after winning Wimbledon, her Australian Open prep started this week in Adelaide where she got blown out by Sabalenka in a Quarter final 6-4,6-2, her Melbourne draw is winnable until a potential Quarter final against Swiss Belinda Bencic.
Look out for Karolina Pliskova who won Brisbane, she has a tough 1stround against Kristina Mladenovic, who played so well in the Fed Cup Final last year for France, but if Pliskova wins that she should make a Quarter Final against Svitolina.
Ok, time to choose a winner. If Barty makes a deep second week run the hype will go into overdrive as she strives to be the first Australian to win the Ladies Singles since Chris O’Neil in 1978, if Serena wins she’ll tie Margaret Court at 24 Slams or we could have a first time Slam winner, which wouldn’t come as a surprise, as we’ve had nine first up winners in the last sixteen Slams.
As always it’s so tough with the Ladies, I’m going with the best player who hasn’t won a Slam yet, Karolina Pliskova, even though I’m always cautious to pick a player who hasn’t won a Slam before, things are lining up for the Czech but she has to beat Mladenovic first in a tough opener.
Moving across to the Men, let’s look at the historical numbers, Federer is on 20 Slams, Rafa 19 and Novak 16, last season Rafa won the French and US Opens, with Novak winning Wimbledon and the Australian.
Roger is 38 years old which in this era is incredible he’s even competing at this high level, Rafa is 33 but with a lot of miles on the body, Novak is 32 and seems the most likely to have an extended career from here so whoever is winning these Slams the historical implications are enormous.
The last few seasons Federer has cut his schedule to prolong his career, only playing 15 events last season and 14 the year before that, he went an excellent 53-10 last year winning four titles but missed out at the Slams, going close at Wimbledon against Djokovic in a marathon five set final in where the Swiss had two match points, every year that passes his chances diminish further to go beyond 20 Slams.
Federer should ease through the first couple of rounds before a potentially tricky 3rdround against either John Millman or the hard hitting Czech Hubert Hurkacz, win that and he’d likely face lefty Denis Shapovalov or his US Open conquerer Grigor Dimitrov, then Djokovic probably awaits in a Semi Final. The lack of matches could hurt Federer, especially if he has to battle to get to Novak.
Novak defeated Rafa last week at the ATP Cup, any significance that has we’ll have to wait and see, the Serb has a uncomfortable 1stround against big serving German Jan-Leonard Struff, win that and he should have an easier run to the Quarter Finals against either the Greek sensation Tsitsipas or consistent Spainard Roberto Bautista Agut. I’d be shocked if Novak doesn’t get through this section.
Rafa at the top half of the draw should have an anxiety free run to the 4thround where either Nick Kyrgios or big Russian Karen Khachanov will be probably be.
If he wins that Dominic Thiem could play him in the Quarters before another Russian Dannil Medvedev may be waiting in a Semi. There are a lot of big hitters in this section; Rafa did look vulnerable at the ATP Cup so a shock could be in store.
Of the so called young generation Tsitsipas, Zverev, Medvedev, and Thiem are the most likely to disrupt the ‘big 3’ late in the tournament, as proven in the past one of them can beat any of the ‘big 3’ in a Slam but can’t back up in the following rounds and win the tournament, the last Slam winner outside the ‘big 3’ was Stan Wawrinka at the US Open in 2016.
On the local front Kyrgios should at least make that 3rdround against Khachanov but you never know, either way he’s not making the second week.
Alex De Minaur unfortunately had to withdraw yesterday with an abdominal injury, which is a shame, considering his strong performance at the ATP Cup and the fact he had a great season last year winning 3 titles and sitting at a career high 18 in the rankings, which would have put him amongst the seeded players.
It’s time to pick the Champion. Federer won’t have the stamina to win seven matches, not without match preparation, which leaves Novak or Rafa, I can’t pick any of the young generation until they prove it. Novak has proven Melbourne is his backyard, winning 7 Australian Open titles, his draw is a shade weaker than Rafa’s, I’ll pick Djokovic to win his 17thGrand Slam.