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Australian Open Men's Preview: It’s time to start talking about players not named Novak Djokovic
One obvious question about the field still needs to be cleared up. With that said, here’s a look ahead at who has landed where in the draw, and what their paths forward look like.
Published Jan 15, 2022
Tennis Channel Live: Djokovic's visa canceled for a second time—but could he still play?
After more than a week of waiting, we still don’t know the answer to the only question that anyone has been asking about this year’s men’s Australian Open: Will Novak Djokovic play or not? Since we won’t find out until Sunday—at the earliest—and the tournament begins on Monday, this seems like the right time to take a look ahead and get an idea of where everyone else has ended up in the draw, and who looks like they might have a path to the title.
For now, we’ll assume that Djokovic is going to play. If he’s forced to withdraw, a Lucky Loser will replace him. And a lot of players will feel better about their chances of winning a Grand Slam title.
Djokovic is scheduled to play face countryman Miomir Kecmanovic in the first round. He would also presumably be facing a hostile Australian crowd that will fill half the seats in Rod Laver Arena (the Australian Open will run at half-capacity). If Craig Tiley hoped Djokovic would help with TV ratings, he’ll get his wish. His matches are going to deliver sky-high viewership all over the world.
Will the Aussie hostility fuel Djokovic’s defiance, or will it unnerve him? We can only wait and see. As far as his competition across the net goes, he has a manageable road ahead. The other seeds near him are Lorenzo Sonego, Gael Monfils, and Cristian Garin; and his projected quarterfinal opponent is Matteo Berrettini—Djokovic is 4-0 against the Italian.
- Also here, on Berrettini’s side: Carlos Alcaraz
- Wild card for U.S. fans to watch: Stefan Kozlov. Once a sure-shot prospect, he’s 23 now and trying to work his way out of the Challenger circuit. He plays Jiri Vesely to start.
- First-round matches to watch: Cam Norrie vs. Sebastian Korda; Sonego vs. Sam Querrey; Dusan Lajovic vs. Marton Fucsovics; Berrettini vs. Brandon Nakashima
Rafael Nadal has been chasing a second Australian Open crown since 2009. A Djokovic deportation—which could conceivably keep him out of Melbourne Park until 2025—might give Rafa his best shot at title number two in years. But he’ll still have to get out of his own quarter, something he hasn’t done since 2019, on his own.
Actually, this quarter isn’t Rafa’s. Seeding-wise, it belongs to Alexander Zverev, who is two spots ahead of Nadal at No. 4. Like Rafa, Zverev would benefit greatly from a Djokovic withdrawal; it would make the German the second favorite to win the tournament, after Daniil Medvedev.
Is there anyone who can stop a Zverev-Nadal quarterfinal? No one jumps out of the brackets. The other seeds here are Hubert Hurkacz, Denis Shapovalov, 2021 semifinalist Aslan Karatsev, Reilly Opelka, Karen Khachanov, and Lloyd Harris. In the second round, Nadal might get some trouble from Thanasi Kokkinakis, who is making his obligatory, probably temporary early-year return to high-level form at home Down Under. The Aussie made the semis in Adelaide last week, and the final this week. Last year he pushed Stefanos Tsitsipas to five sets in Rod Laver Arena.
If Zverev and Nadal do play in the quarterfinals, Rafa will come in with with a 6-3 head-to-head record, though Zverev has won their last two meetings on hard courts.
- Servebot Showdown: The 6’11” Opelka will open against 6’8” Kevin Anderson
The “new Big 3” of the ATP, according to Zverev, are Djokovic, Daniil Medvedev, and (naturally) Zverev himself. Where does that leave Stefanos Tsitsipas? The No. 4 seed has excelled in Australia in the past, knocking off both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. But after declining a bit over the second half of 2021, the Greek is slightly out of the contender loop Down Under.
Tsitsipas’s draw should by itself might put him back in that loop. The other seeds near him are No. 20 Taylor Fritz, No. 26 Grigor Dimitrov, and, in the other half of this section, No. 8 Casper Ruud and No. 11 Jannik Sinner. Of those players, Sinner would seem to be the most dangerous. He took the momentum he had from last year’s ATP Finals in Turin and put it to good use at the ATP Cup, where he went 3-0 in singles.
- Wild card to watch: Andy Murray. His game appears to be rounding into shape, but he won’t have an easy first-round against Nikoloz Basilashvili, a player he edged in three sets in Sydney this week.
- Sleeper: Frances Tiafoe. The American is 0-2 to start the new year, but he has been to the quarterfinals in Melbourne. He could face countryman and friend Taylor Fritz in the second round.
Whether Djokovic plays or not, this would seem to be Medvedev’s moment. He made the final here last year, went one step farther at the US Open, and seems to believe he belongs at No. 1 now. Can anyone put a dent in the Russian's confidence over the next two weeks?
Medvedev probably didn’t love seeing Nick Kyrgios as his potential second-round opponent. While Kyrgios had Covid this past week and is ranked outside the Top 100 now, he’s 2-0 against Medvedev. Even a win over Kyrgios in front of his home fans can be a draining experience. Just ask Nadal and Dominic Thiem, each of whom survived a long bout with Kyrgios in 2020 and 2021 only to fall a few days later—Thiem still hasn’t recovered, it seems.
So Medvedev will have to be ready for the Kyrgios experience. If he makes it through that, he should be OK. The second-highest-seed in this section, Andrey Rublev, is also coming off a case of off-season Covid, and didn’t play last week.If he’s not in form, that leaves ninth-seeded Felix Auger-Aliassime as Medvedev’s toughest potential competition; but they wouldn’t meet until the quarters.
- First-round match to watch: David Goffin vs. Dan Evans
- Potential second-round match to watch: Medvedev vs. Kyrgios
Make your picks, and you could win big
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Semifinals: Zverev d. Djokovic; Medvedev d. Sinner
Final: Medvedev d. Zverev