As has been the case at most majors for the last decade, the number of men who can realistically win the 2018 Australian Open is much smaller than the number of women who can do so. Here are some interesting first-round matches to watch in Melbourne.
(14) Novak Djokovic vs. Donald Young – With Andy Murray finally deciding to undergo hip surgery and on the shelf until who knows when, it sure is nice to have a 12-time major winner like Djokovic in Australia, who is apparently healthy enough to answer the bell.
Donald Young was once a child prodigy. At 28, the left-handed American will likely never live up to the massive expectations once placed on him. Even so, he has turned himself into a serviceable pro who is always ranked in the 40-80 range.
Djokovic could have drawn much simpler opponents for his first official match since Wimbledon. He is still quick to point out that he is not fully healthy, but the Serb at 85 percent is better than most guys at 100 percent.
(12) Juan Martín del Potro vs. Frances Tiafoe – The big Argentine is playing his best ball since winning the U.S. Open in 2009 and will return to the top 10 on Monday. He is even hitting a non-sliced backhand for the first time since multiple wrist surgeries cost him almost two years.
Tiafoe is arguably the most promising American male prospect in tennis. He made a name for himself by pushing Roger Federer to five sets at the U.S. Open last year. In just his seventh Grand Slam main draw, this is probably above his current weight class, but this should still be a fun watch.
(19) Tomáš Berdych vs. Alex De Minaur – Three weeks ago, this matchup would not have caught anyone’s eye, but de Minaur made a semifinal in Brisbane followed by a final in Sydney playing as a home country Wild Card. The 19-year-old beat some good players in the process too, including former Wimbledon finalist Milos Raonic. He will take on another Wimbledon runner-up here.
While still a very good player, Berdych is on the down side of his career. De Minaur’s speed and somewhat unorthodox style will make the veteran work hard at the very least.
Doing predictions for the men’s Grand Slams requires much less analysis than the women at the moment. The tennis media gets a lot of heat for focusing on the “Big Four” too much. However, the fact is Djokovic, Murray, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal all missed large portions of 2017. Yet, they all managed to win at least one event. Federer and Nadal split the four majors.
For that reason, there is no indication that this Grand Slam will be any different, even with Murray missing altogether and Djokovic and Nadal still recovering from knee and elbow injuries. Whatever combination of those guys shows up at a Grand Slam are the favorites until someone proves they aren’t.
However, there are a few players that have a shot at upsetting the norm. Here is a look at that small group.
The young guns – If none of the younger players could lift a Grand Slam trophy last year, it is tough to believe they will do it this year. Despite that, No. 5 Dominic Thiem, No. 4 Alexander Zverev and No. 17 Nick Kyrgios have all had flashes of brilliance in the recent past, but have just two trips to major semifinals between them.
Kyrgios is particularly maddening. You will be hard-pressed to find anyone with more natural talent. Yet, he is still more known for his off-court antics and on-court tantrums than his game. The Aussie won in Brisbane to start the year, but it is so hard to trust him. Tennis is dying for more personalities. If Kyrgios ever “gets it,” he can help with that.
Thiem and Zverev stand in Djokovic’s way before a semifinal with Federer. However, they have a grand total of two wins against Djokovic between them.
Juan Martin del Potro – Injuries are the only thing that has kept del Potro from creating a “Big Five” over the years. His forehand may be one of the greatest shots ever. He has beaten Federer and Nadal at the business end of majors as well as Djokovic twice at the Olympics. As noted above, his opener is intriguing. It is his possible quarterfinal matchup with Federer that might be the defending champion’s toughest hurdle.
Grigor Dimitrov – The third seeded Bulgarian is a few years older than the young guns, and he was able to take advantage of last year’s high profile injuries. He won the Masters event in Cincinnati and the year-end championships in London. While he is still looking for his first Grand Slam title, he seems to be a little further along in terms of week in week out consistency than the youngsters.
Semifinal predictions: Federer d. Djokovic. Dimitrov d. Nadal
Championship match: Federer d. Dimitrov to defend his title
The Australian Open begins Sunday night at 7 p.m. ET across the ESPN family of networks and Tennis Channel. I will tweet out my complete picks for both singles draws before play starts. You can follow me on Twitter below and check out my ladies preview here!
Featured image from expresstribune.com
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