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Australian Open 2015 men's preview: Which way has the draw lottery swung this time?

Musab Abid
EXPERT COLUMNIST
2.48K   //    16 Jan 2015, 15:46 IST
Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic
Will we get a final between World No. 2 Roger Federer and World No. 1 Novak Djokovic?

A Grand Slam draw is, by all accounts, a bit of a lottery; the Friday before the start of any Major is always fraught with anxiety and palpitations, and not just from the players. The fans never get tired of bemoaning how the draw unfairly favours certain players more than others, with ‘someone’ supposedly working behind the scenes to ensure a predetermined outcome. Is there anything more entertaining than indulging in a good old conspiracy theory?

As always, the draw for the 2015 Australian Open has thrown up its share of surprises, with one member of the ‘Big 3’ being handed a supposedly easy path to the semis and the other two being made to squabble fiercely between themselves. But is this year’s draw as straightforward as it appears on the surface? Here’s a detailed look into the possibilities and the curveballs that the men’s draw offers.

(Reminder to all readers in India: the 2015 Australian Open will be shown live on Sony Liv Sports.)

Quarter 1: The potential party-spoilers

Perhaps the biggest topic of discussion before the draw was revealed was where Juan Martin del Potro would be placed. The towering Argentine, who is unseeded at the tournament because of his newest injury layoff, was destined to be every top player’s nightmare first round opponent – the perfect party-spoiler, if you will. As it turns out, the nightmare has fallen upon Jerzy Janowicz; the two giants will lock horns for a power-packed first round match that is sure to send the decibel levels in Melbourne soaring. Whoever gets out of that match alive will likely have to face Gael Monfils next, so it’s safe to say this is a properly explosive section of the draw.

Top seed Novak Djokovic has a string of fairly routine matches first up, opening with a qualifier and likely having to face Fernando Verdasco in the third round. John Isner looms as a potential fourth round opponent, but I am going to stick my neck out and predict that the American doesn’t make it that far; look for him to get drawn into a marathon five-setter (possibly against Andreas Haider-Maurer in the second round) before bowing out in straight sets in the next round.

On the other side of the quarter is seventh seed Milos Raonic, who could face Donald Young in the second round, Lleyton Hewitt in the third and Monfils/Del Potro/Janowicz in the fourth. There’s always a chance that Feliciano Lopez decides to spoil the big-hitters’ party and serve-and-volley his way to the fourth round against Raonic, but either way, I expect the Canadian, who is fresh off his fine performance in Brisbane, to come through.

Prediction: Djokovic def. Raonic

Dark horse: Dominic Thiem, who faces Roberto Bautista Agut in the first round and could face Isner in the third.

Quarter 2: The defence starts here

What is Stan Wawrinka thinking right now, as he embarks on his first-ever defence of a Grand Slam title? The Swiss did wonderfully well to defend his Chennai Open crown last week, but Chennai and Melbourne are miles apart – and not just geographically. His nerves will be helped, though, by the relatively straightforward draw he’s been dealt; he starts against Marsel Ilhan, and the highest seed he could face up to the fourth round is the fabulously flaky Fabio Fognini. 

Kei Nishikori would be wishing he could say the same about his draw, because try as you might, it seems impossible to find an ‘easy’ match for the Japanese star. He faces the unseeded but always dangerous Nicholas Almagro at the very first hurdle, followed by the tricky Ivan Dodig. Familiar foe David Ferrer lies in wait as the fourth round opponent, and if Nishikori somehow manages to come through all that, he would have to stare down the defending champion in the quarters.

If Nishikori wanted a chance to prove that his US Open final run was no fluke, this is it.

Prediction: Wawrinka def. Ferrer

Dark horse: Alexandr Dolgopolov, who usually does well in Australia (or at least produces freak classics). The Ukrainian could face Fognini in the fourth round, if both of them get that far.

Quarter 3: The wounded and the forgotten

Rafael Nadal headlines this quarter, and at this moment, both he and his fans would be hoping that he stays healthy the entire tournament; right now, winning the trophy is not the highest priority for the Spaniard. Of course, that doesn’t mean he can’t win the trophy; he has a tricky opener against Russia’s Mikhail Youzhny, but faces no other major obstacles until the quarters, where he will likely face Tomas Berdych.

Also in this section are Richard Gasquet and Ernests Gulbis, a pair of ridiculously talented players who were in the top 10 not so long ago but seem to have disappeared from everyone’s memory lately. Gasquet could face Kevin Anderson in the fourth round and Nadal in the quarters, while Gulbis plays Australian teen sensation Thanasi Kokkinakis first up.

And oh, there’s the ‘forgotten’ Aussie Bernard Tomic here too. But who knows what version of the new-age superbrat we’re going to get at this year’s edition?

Prediction: Nadal def. Berdych

Dark horse: Thanasi Kokkinakis (the fact that he faces Gulbis in his opener helps considerably in his candidature for this title).

Quarter 4: The obligatory quarter of death

Roger Federer has had his share of cupcake draws in his time, so it’s only fair that he gets the draw from hell every once in a while. He starts innocuously enough, against Yen-Hsun Lu of Taiwan, but things get increasingly knotty with each succeeding round (you might point out, though, that increasing degrees of toughness is the whole point of any draw). Juan Monaco stands as Federer’s potential second round opponent, followed by Jeremy Chardy (who defeated Federer last year) or Borna Coric. After that, there could be Ivo Karlovic or Nick Kyrgios – neither of whom is a fun opponent – and at the end of it all, Andy Murray could be waiting for a repeat of their quarterfinal last year.

Murray on his part has a comfortable-looking first couple of rounds, but the spectre of Grigor Dimitrov looms in the fourth. After their surprisingly one-sided match at Wimbledon last year, you’d have to imagine that the Scot would have apprehensions about facing the young shot-maker. Murray vs Dimitrov could well turn out to be the most entertaining match of the first week, so it might be a good idea to book your calendar for this one.

Prediction: Federer def. Dimitrov

Dark horse: Nick Kyrgios. After his exploits last year, how can we not expect the impossible when he plays in front of his home crowd?

Semifinals

Semifinal 1: Djokovic and Wawrinka have produced five-set epics in Melbourne two years in a row now, with each man winning once. If we get another epic this year, I highly doubt the Serb will crumble again at the final stretch, the way he did last year.

Prediction: Djokovic def. Wawrinka

Semifinal 2: If we get yet another version of ‘Fedal’ at this year’s Australian Open, will anybody be brave enough to bet on the underdog? I’ll bite the bullet.

Prediction: Federer def. Nadal

Final

There was little to separate Djokovic and Federer in their matches against each other last year, and there’s nothing to suggest a gulf would have opened up the next time they face off. But Federer, to me, was the slightly better player over the last couple of months of 2014, and the Swiss has certainly made a better start to 2015 than the World No. 1. All that could be thrown out of the window if Djokovic decides to display the kind of cussedness that he showed in last year’s Wimbledon final, but Federer seems a little hungrier right now, which gives him the ever-so-faint edge.

Champion: Federer

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Musab Abid
EXPERT COLUMNIST
I am an absolute tennis nut if ever there was one. I can spend hours together on tennis - watching it, talking about it, playing it, analyzing it. Other than that, I am a fairly normal guy, with a penchant for reading, writing, and trying to convince everyone around me to agree with me.
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