For those who are sports fans, not just tennis fans, I would highly recommend making the trip and checking out the #AusOpen. The cost of tickets is VERY affordable. The weather is PERFECT! The tennis action is OUTSTANDING! My first night I was watching #GOAT Roger Federer take on a personal fav of mine, Austrian Jurgen Melzer in R1 action en route to claiming another slam title.
The big questions heading into 2018 are whether Mr. Federer can collect grand slam title #20 and what to make of a WIDE open women's draw with the absence of Serena Williams?
The opening slam of the season can always be a bit of a guessing game. Many of the players have yet to play competitive tennis matches or, if they have, perhaps have only played one or two events on tour to start the year. The prep time is minimal and players may not always be able to bring their best right away, sometimes causing a few shocking upsets in the early rounds.
The other big concern the Australian Open faces is the injury bug. Players who perhaps took the second half of the previous season off usually make their return to tennis in Melbourne (see Stan Wawrinka). Are these players fully back to 100%? Sometimes yes and sometimes no. But even if they are feeling 100% they lack the competitive game experience while being off on the IR so, again, they may be prone to early upsets.
The Aussie Open draw can be shaken up early in the opening week and, usually due to the intense heat, can see injury walkover results throughout the two week event. The players who can navigate the draw, survive the temperatures and avoid the injury bug could end up taking home the winner's cheque at the end of 7 grueling rounds of competition.
Without further adieu, the nets are set, the balls are fresh and the sun is shining, time to serve up the #TwineTime preview:
2017 Champions: Roger Federer and Serena Williams
There could be two players in the section who may be able to seize the advantage of a vulnerable Nadal should the opportunity present itself. #24 Diego Schwartzmann will look to build on his outstanding QF run at the US Open last year. Unseeded Borna Coric is also an up and coming #NextGen player still looking for that breakout slam showing, although he has never won a match in Melbourne. And pay attention to qualifier Casper Rudd from Norway. If he survives another strong qualifier in Quentin Halys in R1, he could be ready to give Schwartzmann a run in R2. As for #16 John Isner? The less time on court the better for him early on. He will need to ride that serve early....but could be in trouble with a possible R2 match vs. Alexandr Dolgopolov (assuming he even survives a tough R1 battle with Ebden).
4th Round Prediction: (1) Nadal def. (24) Schwartzmann
The toughest opponent standing in PCB's way may be his possible R2 opponent Gilles Simon. It is tough to see Simon, a former #6 ranked player in the world, unranked and sitting outside the Top 50 in the world. Simon has reached R3 or better every year here since 2013 and is always a threat in early rounds of slams. He also won a tune up event in India to kick off his season a few weeks ago.
4th Round Prediction: (10) PCB def. (31) Cuevas
The 26-year old Dimitrov is considered the old man almost in this section with numerous #NextGen future ATP stars waiting to steal the spotlight here. The home crowds will be rallying behind #17 Nick Kyrgios. Kyrgios has had a strong start to the season winning the title in Brisbane. I was at the match last year when he was "upset" in R2. I say "upset" because he really seemed to tank the end of the match and looked to give up when the match was really still within his grasp. If he plays to play, he will be tough to beat. If he gets lost in his head again and turns negative, another early exit is a possibility....upsetting the Aussie fans once again!
Don't forget #NextGen stars Denis Shapovalov, qualifier Elis Ymer, #30 Andrey Rublev, WC Alex Bolt and Stefanos Tsitsipas (who faces Shapovalov in R1). All of these players could be ready to make a breakout appearance at a slam.
4th Round Prediction: (3) Dimitrov def. (17) Kyrgios
What do we make out of #18 Lucas Pouille? Can you believe he has NEVER won a match at the Australian Open? How is that possible considering his high ranking and seed? If Pouille can get over the R1 hurdle (weird to even type for a seeded player) he could make a deep run here and possibly challenge Anderson in a R3 clash.
As for #8 Jack Sock....we aren't sure what to make out of him heading into the season. He had a breakout 2017 and came into 2018 poised to be a possible slam contender. Unfortunately he started his season looking very lackluster with fitness and preparedness as well as questions swirling around injuries. Could he make a deep week two run? Yes. Could he be eliminated in R1 to a strong Yuichi Sugita? 100%! And a Sock early exit will be advantage #27 Phillip Kohlschreiber, who seems to bring out his best tennis at slam event in the early rounds.
Outside of Sugita, unseeded big server Dr. Ivo Karlovic is always a threat based on serve alone. And never count out Denis Istomin right? Istomin reached R4 last year, including knocking off defending champ and then-#2 seed Djokovic in R2. I remember sitting in Hisense Arena watching the Istomin result play out.
4th Round Prediction: Karlovic def. Istomin
Two of my fav players lead this section with #5 Domi Thiem and #9 Stan Wawrinka. Thiem is not a huge fan of the super fast courts so it does work against him in Australia. However, Domi did open the season with a SF showing in Doha and sitting as a Top 5 player should be considered a player to make the second week. As for Wawrinka, welcome back to the court #StanTheMan! The #Stanimal has been absent from tour for quite some time, recovering from a knee injury. Wawrinka is the 2014 champion here remember but the question of his health and how the knees are holding up could be the big question mark for him.
The next seed who could seize the advantage of a vulnerable Wawrinka is #20 Roberto Bautista Agut. The Spaniard reached R4 in three of four slams last season, including here. RBA may not be a threat to win the title but could be a threat to survive this section.
A few unseeded players could create havoc in this section. American Steve Johnson has become known as a grand slam giant killer. Frenchman Jeremy Chardy has lots of experience and is a former QF, although back in 2010. Richard Berankis, Wawrinka's R1 opponent, is also capable of making a few waves down under this year.
4th Round Prediction: (5) Thiem def. (20) RBA
Anyone else find is weird to see Novak Djokovic in the middle of the draw and not near the top or bottom sections? Djoker is the #14 seed and will be returning to the court after an elbow injury last season. Again, similar to Nadal and Wawrinka, how is the nagging injury and is he really ready to play 100% and be a slam threat once again? It might be too early to tell. But imagine the possible R4 match....
Against #NextGen star, breakout player of 2017 and #4 seed Alexander Zverev. This is the year for Zverev to cement himself as a top slam contender. We know he can play the Best-of-3 matches week in and week out on tour and win matches and events. But can he do it for 7 Best-of-5 matches? We just do not know yet. His best slam result is the R4 appearance at Wimbledon last year.
And if Alexander is not ready, perhaps his brother Mischa is? Mischa is ranked #32 in the draw and could face his brother in a R3 family battle. Mischa did upset Andy Murray at this event last year remember too. Another name to watch out for and shocking to see his placement in the draw is Gael Monfils. Monfils won a season opener event in Doha yet is unseeded here. Crazy right?
4th Round Prediction: (4) A. Zverev def. Monfils
But here comes Goliath....otherwise known as past US Open champ #12 seed Juan Martin del Potro. I was disappointed to not see him play here last year as he skipped the event due to injuries. If we ignore the seed and rankings though, could anyone argue his is not a Top 5 player and on the short list of title contenders here? 6'6 Del Po vs. 5'11 Goffin would be fun to watch!
Don't pencil both of these players into R4 quite yet though. A few players in this section could create a few problems for the two favourites. There are some big unseeded threats looking to make a slam breakout here. Home fav Alex de Minaur is the leader of the pack. De Minaur reached the final in Sydney this past weekend and the SF in Brisbane the week prior. I watched de Minaur's R1 5-set blockbuster W last year....an over 4-hour affair in the blistering sun that I could not move from because the action on the court was amazing. This guy is the real deal...best R1 upset special over #19 Tomas Berdych! A few Russians could make some noise here too: Karen Khachanov and Evgeny Donskoy could surprise. A Khachanov vs. delPo R2 match up would be fun.
4th Round Prediction: (12) del Potro def. (7) Goffin
So who can stop him in this section? Honestly probably nobody...and no offence to those drawn against him. #13 Sam Querry and #22 Milos Raonic are probably the best best to give Federer a pre-QF battle. Both Querry and Raonic have the big serves and have been known to make some noise at slam events in the past. Querry reached the Wimbledon SF last year...but has a TOUGH R1 battle ahead of him vs. Feliciano Lopez (who loves the fast courts more than the clay). And Raonic, he is coming back from an injury that derailed his 2017 season. But he is a former SF here too (2016).
4th Round Prediction: (2) Federer def. (22) Raonic
(1) Nadal def. (10) PCB
(3) Dimitrov def. Karlovic
(4) A. Zverev def. (5) Thiem
(2) Federer def. (12) del Potro
(3) Dimitrov def. (1) Nadal
(2) Federer def. (4) A. Zverev
Australian Open Men's Championship: (2) Roger Federer def. (3) Grigor Dimitrov - 4 sets
Australian Open Men's Doubles Championship: (2) Henri Kontinen / John Peers
The bottom section of the draw is also littered with trap opponents. Australia's Ashleigh Barty went from comeback story of the year last season to serious slam contender in 2018, plus comes here off a finals appearance in Sydney. Speaking of Sydney results, Italy's Camila Giorgi reached the SF and seems to have rejuvenated her career. And watch out for 20-year old Japanese player Naomi Osaka.
4th Round Prediction: (1) Halep def. Giorgi
The top half of this section also should be a clear advantage to #9 Johanna Konta from Great Britain. The Aussie Open has been kind to her in the past reaching a SF and QF so expect a second week run from her once again. Her toughest challenger may be #20 Stycova but she should survive.
4th Round Prediction: (9) Konta def. (6) Pliskova
Without question the focus may be Angelique Kerber in this section though. The former #1 ranked player in the world and 2016 Aussie Open champ has dipped to #16 in the world and is seeded #21....shocking to see considering last year I was there opening night watching her as the #1 seed survive a tough 3-setter to kick off the campaign. And who also happens to be in this bottom half of the section but Maria Sharapova! Everyone knows Sharapova's resume and recent comeback, the question is whether she is still a slam contender or just a second week attendee? She did reach the SF at her season opening event in China though. Worth noting, Sharapova's R1 opponent is Germany's Tatjana Maria meaning the scoreboard will actually read Maria Sharapova throughout the match....that has to be a first.
4th Round Prediction: (21) Kerber def. (3) Muguruza
Enter advantage to #8 Caroline Garcia. She recently reached the Top 10 but her best performance here is reaching the third round (2015, 2017). And she also gets the toughest R1 opponent in the section with Germany's Carina Witthoft. A few dark horse players to keep your eyes on could be Sasnovich, Putintseva, McHale and Alexandrova.
4th Round Prediction: (17) Keys def. (8) Garcia
As for the bottom part of this section, home nation fav #23 Daria Gavrilova will be looking to improve on her R4 appearance the past two years here. I saw Gavrilova compete live last year and she really rally's behind the fan support....and they do love her! She could get a tough R2 opponent in Elise Mertens though. Mertens won in Hobart only a few days before the start of this slam. Watch out for #12 Julia Gorges too. Gorges won her season opening event in Auckland a few weeks back and looks to be moving into career contender mode this season.
4th Round Prediction: (23) Gavrilova def. Bencic
A few Chinese players could wreck havoc on this section of the draw too. #25 Peng Shuai could make a deep run and pose a possible R3 threat to Svitolina. Zhang Shuai opens with a vulnerable Stephens and could offer the first upset of the tournament as they will be the first two to hit the court on opening day. Qualifier Denisa Allertova is also a player to watch out for in this section.
4th Round Prediction: (4) Svitolina def. Zhang
The bottom part of the section is chalk full of big name players who can both make deep slam runs or fizzle out in R1. #10 CoCo Vandeweghe reached the SF here last here and at the US Open. She seems to love the fast hard courts and should be considered an early QF fav here. But watch out for former Aussie Open finalist #24 Dominika Cibulkova (if she even survives always tough R1 opponent Kaia Kanepi), 2016 Olympic champ Monica Puig and always dangerous Carla Suarez Navarro. And what about past slam champ and home fav Sam #BamBam Stosur? Stosur has never played well at her home slam, losing in R1 the past two years and having a best result of being R4 back in 2010 and 2006. Her and Puig both are in desperate need for a strong slam win so that match should be interesting to watch.
4th Round Prediction: (7) Ostapenko def. Suarez Navarro
Can anyone derail her career comeback? Well watch out for #19 Magdalena Rybarikova, a Wimbledon surprise SF last season. I would also keep your eyes on qualifier Viktoija Golubic. Golubic was ranked 51 in the world last April before taking a nosedive on the season and falling outside the Top 100.
4th Round Prediction: (2) Wozniacki def. (19) Rybarikova
(1) Halep def. (9) Konta
(21) Kerber def. (17) Keys
(4) Svitolina def. (23) Gavrilova
(2) Wozniacki def. (7) Ostapenko
(21) Kerber def. (1) Halep
(4) Svitolina def. (2) Wozniacki
Australian Open Women's Championship: (4) Elina Svitolina def. (21) Angelique Kerber - 3 sets
Australian Open Women's Doubles Championship: (6) Gabby Dabrowski / Xu Yifan
Enjoy the action racquetheads and ball boys and girls. Make sure you check out the continued coverage on TSN over the two weeks. And hopefully some of you were able to participate in the Talk About Tennis Forums Australian Open #SuicidePool!