For the men, the 2019 Australian Open is mostly about the usual suspects of Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Andy Murray However, there is a somber backdrop to this event surrounding one of those names that will lead off our first-round matches to watch.
(22) Roberto Bautista Agut vs. Andy Murray- The 31-year-old Brit announced his impending retirement from the sport due to an ongoing hip injury that has already required surgery. In an emotional press conference, the three-time major winner said he can’t put shoes on without pain and hopes to have his final farewell at Wimbledon but didn’t know if he could hang on until then. The five-time Aussie Open runner up starts his final run down under against an in-form Spaniard who has already won an event this year.
(9) John Isner vs. Reilly Opelka- John Isner is a shade under seven feet tall. He will have to look up at his opponent here. The two American big servers could be the first to test out the new final set tiebreak rules in Australia.
(13) Kyle Edmund vs Tomáš Berdych- Edmund announced his arrival to the big time by reaching the semis in Melbourne last year but has been streaky since. He faces a former Wimbledon finalist whose progress back from injury got a nice boost by taking home the runner up trophy in Doha last week.
(16) Milos Raonic vs. Nick Kyrgios- The big-serving Canadian has struggled since reaching the Wimbledon final three years ago but has returned to the top 20. He’ll face the Aussie bad boy who can beat or lose to anyone.
Top half: This half is all about Djokovic. The top-seeded Serb has accomplished so much since getting back to full health a little less than a year ago. He has lost just five matches in official tournaments since last year’s French Open and three of those have been in finals. Now, Djokovic remains healthy and returns to an event he has won six times. As if he needed any more help, his chief rivals (2) Rafael Nadal and (3) Roger Federer landed in the bottom half in Melbourne and cannot oppose him until the final.
With Djokovic so dominant at the moment and comfortable at this venue. You almost have to frame at least this half of the draw entirely through him. (4) Alexander Zverev may have the best chance at Djokovic before the final. The 21-year-old is the heir apparent once the current all-time greats retire and he is responsible for one of Djokovic’s recent losses, but he only has one major quarterfinal to his name. Bowing out to a 14-time major winner in the semis would be a huge positive step for Zverev. Anything more would be shocking.
It is a little early for other talented young players like (15) Daniil Medvedev and (25) Denis Shapovalov to really make their mark and Brisbane winner (8) Kei Nishikori is 2-15 lifetime against Djokovic.
Semifinal prediction: Djokovic d. Zverev
Everyone will no doubt be anticipating another installment of the legendary rivalry between (2) Rafael Nadal and (3) Roger Federer in the semifinals. The Federer part of that equation is almost as straightforward as the Djokovic one above. The two-time defending champion looked his age at times last year after winning this event.
However, the now 37-year-old has always started strong at the year’s first major, especially since turning 30. Federer has failed to reach at least the semis in Melbourne just once since 2010. Combine that with the sharp form he showed at the high profile Hopman Cup exhibition, and it becomes hard to see him stumbling before the final weekend. Moreover, Federer’s projected quarterfinal foe is (6) Marin Čilić. The all-time major singles titles leader has won all but one of their ten meetings.
Nadal is a risky bet to reach the semis. He failed to finish half of the majors last year and continues to deal with a slew of injuries. He also withdrew from Brisbane last week. The health issues added to the fact that he may have to deal with some tricky opponents like emerging Aussie (27) Alex de Minaur and small but mighty Argentine (18) Diego Schwartzman and an unexpected semifinalist becomes a real possibility.
Look no further than (5) Kevin Anderson. The big-serving South African picked up a title last week, uses that shot well to mask/lessen fatigue and has reached two major finals in the not too distant past. Thanks to that serve he seems to be fresher than his peers as events wear on. This would likely be especially true against a possibly dinged up baseline grinder like Nadal in the quarters.
Semifinal prediction: Federer d. Anderson
Championship match: Djokovic d. Federer
The 2019 Australian Open begins Sunday night at 6:30 ET with coverage on several ESPN platforms and Tennis Channel. This is Monday morning in Australia. Be sure to follow me on Twitter below for complete predictions and more throughout the event.