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2018 Australian Open: Draw analysis and potential matches to watch

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are two of the modern day greats. (AAP Image/Martin Philbey)
Roar Guru
11th January, 2018
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The draws for the 2018 Australian Open have been released, throwing up some cracking potential matches over the next fortnight.

In the men, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer are the top two seeds at a Major for the first time since the 2011 Australian Open, meaning they cannot face each other until the final.

The third and fourth seeds, Grigor Dimitrov and Alexander Zverev, have been assigned to those respective sides of the draw, meaning the potential is there for another blockbuster Nadal vs Dimitrov semi-final.

Fourteenth seed Novak Djokovic has been assigned to Zverev’s section of the draw, which could also mean that he and Federer could face off in the final four should the six-time champion get that far.

But first things first, we start from the top.

Nadal will start his quest for a second Australian Open title against Victor Estrella Burgos, with 28th seed Damir Dzumhur set to await as his first seeded opponent, in the third round.

Marathon man John Isner is the Spaniard’s projected fourth-round opponent, while former US Open champion Marin Cilic is expected to await in the quarter-finals.

Cilic, for his part, should not be troubled until at least the fourth round, where he could strike US Open semi-finalist Pablo Carreno Busta, whose first match is against Australian wildcard Jason Kubler.

The second quarter of the draw is anchored by Dimitrov, who will start his quest for a maiden Grand Slam title against two qualifiers before potentially striking his US Open second round conqueror, Andrey Rublev (who starts against David Ferrer), in the third round.

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Also in this section of the draw is 2008 Australian Open finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and Australia’s best hope in Nick Kyrgios, with the pair set to face off in the third round, possibly for the right to meet Dimitrov in the round of 16.

Before that, Tsonga could also face his US Open second round victor, Denis Shapovalov, at the same stage.

Whoever emerges from this section of the draw is projected to face American eighth seed Jack Sock, or US Open finalist Kevin Anderson, in the quarter-finals.

Rafael Nadal pumps his fist in win against Bernard Tomic

AAP Image/Mark Dadswell

We now move down to the third quarter of the draw, which includes Djokovic, 2014 titlist Stan Wawrinka, Zverev and two-time French Open semi-finalist Dominic Thiem.

Thiem, the fifth seed, kicks off his bid for a first Grand Slam title against Guido Pella. Should he reach the fourth round, he may have to defeat Wawrinka to reach his first Major quarter-final outside of Roland Garros.

Wawrinka starts against Ricardas Berankis, who has a protected ranking, with Spaniard Roberto Bautista-Agut (20th) looming as his first seeded obstacle in his path to a second Australian Open title.

The Lausanne native could then face off against Djokovic at Melbourne Park for the fourth time in six years in the quarter-finals.

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Djokovic, whose seeding of 14th is his lowest since the 2007 Australian Open, has his first match against American Donald Young, after which he could face flamboyant Frenchman Gael Monfils in the second round.

His first seeded obstacle should come in the form of Spain’s Albert Ramos-Vinolas, while he is expected to strike Zverev in the fourth round.

Before that, Zverev, who starts against Italian Thomas Fabbiano, could face his older brother, Mischa, in the third round.

The bottom quarter is led by defending champion and world number two Roger Federer, who will begin his bid for a record-equalling sixth title with a clash against Aljaz Bedene.

The first seed he could face is Richard Gasquet (29th), and will have some formidable opposition in the fourth round where either Sam Querrey (13th) or Milos Raonic (22nd) is expected to await.

Should he reach the quarter-finals, he could then face either seventh seed David Goffin, who upset him at the ATP Finals in London last November, or 12th seed Juan Martin del Potro, who did likewise in the quarter-finals of the 2017 US Open.

Del Potro will have his work cut out though in attempting to reach his first Australian Open quarter-final since 2012, up against rising American Frances Tiafoe in the first round and, potentially, former Wimbledon finalist Tomas Berdych (whose first match is against Australia’s Alex de Minaur) in the third.

Here is how I have predicted the quarter-finals onwards will unfold:

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Quarter-finals
[1] Rafael Nadal (ESP) vs [6] Marin Cilic (CRO)
[3] Grigor Dimitrov (BUL) vs [8] Jack Sock (USA)
[9] Stan Wawrinka vs [14] Novak Djokovic (SRB)
[17] David Goffin (BEL) vs [2] Roger Federer (SUI)

Semi-finals
[1] Rafael Nadal (ESP) vs [3] Grigor Dimitrov (BUL)
[14] Novak Djokovic (SRB) vs [2] Roger Federer (SUI)

Final
[1] Rafael Nadal (ESP) vs [2] Roger Federer (SUI)

roger-federer-rafael-nadal-tennis-australian-open-2017

AAP Image/Lukas Coch

On the women’s side, top two seeds Simona Halep and Caroline Wozniacki are on opposite sides of the draw, meaning they will be separated from each other until the final.

Halep, one of six women in with a chance of leaving Melbourne Park with the world number one ranking, must tread a potentially difficult path if she is to reach the second week of the tournament for the first time since 2015.

After facing Australian wildcard Destanee Aiava in her first match, the Romanian could face Eugenie Bouchard in the second round, two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova in the third, and Australia’s highest-ranked female tennis player, Ashleigh Barty, in the fourth.

Barty, seeded at a Major for the first time, starts against rising Belarussian Aryna Sabalenka and could then face Italy’s Camila Giorgi in the second round and then Russian veteran Elena Vesnina in the third.

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The other leading name in the top quarter of the draw is sixth seed Karolina Pliskova, whose main rivals in her section include former French Open finalist Lucie Safarova and Brittish ninth seed Johanna Konta.

Adopted Australian Ajla Tomljanovic, who inherited Victoria Azarenka’s wildcard after the two-time champion from Belarus withdrew due to the ongoing custody battle involving her one-year-old son, is the one to face Safarova in the first round.

The second quarter of the draw is led by several big names, including reigning Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza, former world number two Agnieszka Radwanska, as well as Maria Sharapova and Angelique Kerber, the only two former champions among the 128-woman field.

Muguruza, who had to withdraw from tournaments in Brisbane and Sydney due to a thigh injury, starts against French wildcard Jessika Ponchet but could then strike 26th seed Radwanska in the third round.

Sharapova and Kerber are projected to meet in the third round, meaning only one of them will have a chance of winning an unlikely second title at Melbourne Park.

Sharapova is still continuing to climb up the rankings after serving a 15-month doping suspension, while Kerber struggled with form in 2017 and dropped out of the top 20 (she has, however, started 2018 strongly, reaching the semi-finals at the ongoing Sydney International and defeating Venus Williams en route).

This means there is a 126 in 128 (98.44%) chance that there will be a brand new Australian Open champion etched on the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Trophy come around 9pm on January 27.

Maria Sharapova of Russia

AAP Image/Lukas Coch

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Down in the fourth section of the draw, Frenchwomen Kristina Mladenovic and Caroline Garcia are seeded to meet in the fourth round, but face some potentially tricky hurdles.

Mladenovic, who has lost her last 14 matches in succession, could face US Open finalist Madison Keys in the third round, while Garcia is projected to tackle last year’s semi-finalist, Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, at that stage as well.

Further down the draw, after drawing Serena Williams in the first round last year, Belinda Bencic has this year landed the elder of the Williams sisters, Venus, as her first round assignment.

The head-to-head does not make for good reading for the 20-year-old, who is still attempting to rebuild her ranking after injuries sent her plummeting into the hundreds, having lost all four of her previous matches against the American and not winning more than three games in six of the eight sets.

Potentially awaiting Venus in the third round is Ekaterina Makarova, who won the previous time they met, in the first round of the 2014 Australian Open, and also defeated Serena in the fourth round of the 2012 tournament.

Australian 23rd seed Daria Gavrilova is in this section of the draw too, and after drawing a qualifier in her first match, could face German 12th seed Julia Goerges in the third round for a potential shot at Venus in the round of 16.

Whichever of them reaches the quarter-finals could face either reigning US Open champion Sloane Stephens, or title favourite Elina Svitolina.

Stephens has drawn a potentially tricky first-up opponent, facing 2016 quarter-finalist Zhang Shuai in her first match, while Svitolina will start against a qualifier and could then strike 25th seed Peng Shuai in the third round.

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In the bottom quarter of the draw, Wozniacki has drawn against Mihaela Buzarnescu first up, with Kiki Bertens (30th) looming as her first seeded obstacle.

Fifteenth seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, former US Open quarter-finalist Kateryna Bondarenko and Wimbledon semi-finalist Magdalena Rybarikova all loom as potential fourth round opponents for the former world number one.

Seventh seed and reigning French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko is the other leading name in this quarter of the draw and could await Wozniacki in the last eight; she faces fellow former French Open champion Francesca Schiavone (in potentially her last Australian Open), in Round 1.

2014 finalist Dominika Cibulkova and Australia’s Samantha Stosur could line up a second round clash against each other, provided they get past Kaia Kanepi and Monica Puig in their respective openers.

Cibulkova caused a stir when she claimed that Stosur “played like a man” when they met at Roland Garros in 2012. Stosur, the 2011 US Open champion, is unseeded at a Major for the first time since the 2009 Australian Open.

Quarter-finals
[1] Simona Halep (ROU) vs [6] Karolina Pliskova (CZE)
[3] Garbine Muguruza (ESP) vs [8] Caroline Garcia (FRA)
[5] Venus Williams (USA) vs [4] Elina Svitolina (UKR)
[7[ Jelena Ostapenko (LAT) vs [2] Caroline Wozniacki (DEN)

Semi-finals
[6] Karolina Pliskova (CZE) vs [3] Garbine Muguruza (ESP)
[4] Elina Svitolina (UKR) vs [2] Caroline Wozniacki (DEN)

Final
[6] Karolina Pliskova (CZE) vs [4] Elina Svitolina (UKR)

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Play gets underway on Monday, 15 January.