The Australian Open is finally around the corner and with the draws being announced, the excitement that tennis brings is here once again.
Unfortunately, some of the usual stars won’t be participating in the tournament and the global pandemic has required the organisers to make swift changes. Nonetheless, the grand slam tournament will go on and I’ll break down the prospects of the men’s and women’s participants.
With the preparations for the tournament being disrupted this year, will the top seeded players become more vulnerable to upsets?
In 2020, we saw surprises in both the men’s and women’s brackets with Tennys Sandgren mixing it up with the top men’s players. Additionally, Ons Jabeur had burst onto the scene, making the quarter-finals, which was only the beginning of a career-best year for the Tunisian tennis player.
Can the Aussies have a player to make a deep run in the tournament this year? Outside of world number one Ash Barty, there are 13 men and nine women to monitor if you’re an Australian fan.
Let’s have a look at those who have the best chances to advance based on the draw.
Starting with the men, there are already some mouth-watering match-ups in the first round. Most notably, Grigor Dimitrov will be taking on the veteran Marin Cilic. Cilic has a potent serve and if he can control the game with quick points, it will work into his favour. At the age of 32, however, he will need to match Dimitrov’s work rate and athleticism. The longer the points go, the more it favours Dimitrov.
After a tough 2020, Kei Nishikori will be hoping to get back on track in 2021. His first game won’t be easy as he will have to take on 15th seed Pablo Carreno Busta. It will be interesting to see how Nishikori does physically as he usually utilises his agility to his advantage. Carreno Busta will certainly make Nishikori work hard. These two players could have some lengthy rallies as they are more defensive players than power players. Whoever has the best endurance will come out on top here.
Other games that should be entertaining include a couple of Aussies with Alexei Popyrin taking on David Goffin and Alex de Minaur facing Tennys Sandgren.
Popyrin has continued to improve his game with back-to-back third-round appearances in the Australian Open. At only 21 years of age, a lot of his shortcomings came with a lack of power to his game. While he has a strong serve, he didn’t possess the power to earn easy points. It will be interesting to see how another year has helped in terms of getting stronger physically.
Likewise, de Minaur has always needed the physicality to help complete him as a player. He does so many little things well but where he falls short is in the power department. That was made evident when he participated in the US Open where he was outmatched by Dominic Thiem in the quarter-final.
After analysing the men’s draw, this is my prediction for the final eight players who will make it to the quarter-final stage.
Barring any mishaps, Novak Djokovic should comfortably work his way into the fourth round where he could potentially play Stan Wawrinka or Milos Raonic. Although either player would make tough opposition, I would still back Djokovic to advance to the quarter-finals.
I would expect the quarter-final participants to be rounded out with Alex Zverev, Dominic Thiem, Diego Schwartzman, Andrey Rublev, Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Rafael Nadal.
Regarding the Australian men’s players based on the draw, if Alex de Minaur can overcome Tennys Sandgren in the first round, he has the best chance of advancing the furthest. There is the potential to face Fabio Fognini in the third round and then Rafael Nadal in the fourth round if he can get past the Italian.
Overall, my prediction is Dominic Thiem will win the Australian Open. His biggest kryptonite is Djokovic, who defeated him in last year’s final.
Djokovic and Thiem will be due to meet in the semi-finals and should Thiem be able to overcome the Serbian, it’s difficult to see anyone who can take down Thiem down. He is currently in his prime and is only getting better on the hard courts.
Moving over to the women’s draw, there are also plenty of intriguing first-round match-ups.
You have Kristyna Pliskova against Heather Watson, Karolina Muchova against Jelena Ostapenko, Yulia Putintseva against Sloane Stephens, Maria Sakkari against Kristina Mladenovic and Serena Williams against Laura Siegemund.
The common theme with all the names listed is that all these women are ranked in the top 70. These five first-round matches should provide competitive and entertaining action.
Women’s tennis has always been so unpredictable as there have been plenty of upsets and surprises. In the last ten years, there have been eight different Australian Open women’s singles champions compared to three for the men’s.
It creates plenty of excitement and drama as it always seems like we are witnessing the birth of a new tennis star. In 2016, Angelique Kerber began her campaign with an Australian Open win and followed it up with a 2016 US Open trophy and was runner-up at Wimbledon.
We saw similar events with Naomi Osaka, who won the 2018 US Open, and the 2019 Australian Open propelled her to become world number one for a period of time.
Moreover, Sofia Kenin – after winning the 2020 Australian Open – also was a runner up in the 2020 French Open, propelling her up the ranks. The amazing aspect is that before her championship win, her best effort in the Australian Open was a second-round appearance.
Winning the Australian Open in recent times has become the catalyst for opening a path to stardom in women’s tennis.
My picks for the eight quarter-final participants are Ash Barty, Karolina Pliskova, Sofia Kenin, Petra Kvitova, Naomi Osaka, Serena Williams, Simona Halep, and after reaching the finals of the 2020 US Open, I expect Victoria Azarenka to bounce back in 2021 after missing previous Australian Open tournaments with injury.
Overall, Ash Barty can finally win the Australian Open in 2021. Having made her debut back in 2012 as a 16-year-old, she has developed to become quite a powerhouse in women’s tennis. She lost to the eventual winner Kenin in 2020, but that should only serve as a valuable lesson to aid her in her 2021 campaign.
It’s great to have the Australian Open running as it is usually a highly anticipated event each year. Despite the pandemic and the absence of some stars, the tournament should still be entertaining for dedicated fans and casual viewers.