Australian Open 2017 draw analysis: Djokovic and Murray on yet another collision course
What are the top 4's prospects at the Australian Open? Here's a look.
With preparations for the first Grand Slam of the year at the Australian Open in full swing, the tournament has now released draws for its players. Here's a look at how kind or otherwise the draw has been for each of the top four seeds:
Headliner: Andy Murray
World No. 1 Andy Murray, the top seed here, will open against Ilya Marchenko of Ukraine. The 29-year-old Marchenko is currently ranked 93rd, and they have played each other only once before, with Murray taking a thorough, and clinical straight sets victory.
Incidentally, that match was almost five years ago to the day and played in the Round of 64 at the 2011 Australian Open.
It looks to be a relatively easy road for Murray, especially given his consistent form this year. Following Marchenko, he will face 61st ranked Yen-hsun Lu, whom he has defeated the last four times the two faced off, most recently at Wimbledon last year.
While Lu has taken one victory, that came nearly a decade ago at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, with the Taiwanese player winning then in straight sets.
In Round 3, Murray will face the big-serving American Sam Querrey, who in the 2016 season was responsible for perhaps its biggest Grand Slam upset – the third-round, two-day, five-set dismissal of then World No. 1 and defending champion Novak Djokovic. Although Murray holds a firm upper hand here, his last win over the powerful server came at the 2014 Davis Cup, with the Scot labouring to a four-set win.
Next up, he is due to face young French sensation Lucas Pouille. Last year, Pouille impressed tennis watchers and rose quickly up the rankings. At 22-years-old, Pouille is already ranked 16th in the world and poised for great things.
The 2016 season saw Pouille match, and then outplay, Rafael Nadal perhaps stroke for stroke at the US Open, steamrolling him in the first set and eventually taking a gruelling 3-hour victory over the Spaniard.
But Pouille has never taken victory over Andy Murray before.
The two have played each other only three times before, with all three of those matches in the 2016 season. Each of those matches has been at an ATP Masters tournament, and each time, it is Murray who has either bagelled, or breadsticked his opponent.
Despite Pouille’s resurgence, Murray’s strong track record should see him easily through.
It is in the quarter-finals that Murray will begin to see proper opposition. He will likely be up against Kei Nishikori, who has never been an easy opponent for the Scot. The last time the two met at the Grand Slam level, it was Nishikori who won – at the quarter-finals of the 2016 US Open, with the Japanese ace widely lauded for a brilliant five-set effort against the consistent Scot.
Even at Murray’s last showdown against Nishikori, at the ATP World Tour Finals in London, Nishikori looked dangerously threatening, scalping a set off Murray to begin the match, although he eventually lost.
A win at the quarter-final stage could see Murray face former Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka, who, despite his patchy form, has been consistently at the top of the rankings and has the ability to fire incredibly at the Grand Slam level.
Wawrinka is fresh off a Grand Slam win himself – his third title, at the 2016 US Open, and will be high on confidence and refreshed after the off-season break – no doubt making him a force to contend with.
Should he able to navigate his opponents effectively through the tournament, he will set up the much-vaunted final against Novak Djokovic – a repeat of 2016, but Murray will doubtless want different results this time around.