The Australian Open, for many, is the start of a new tennis season.. For Australians it is a festival and cricket takes a backstage for a while. The last Australian to win the Men’s singles title was Mark Edmondson in 1976. He was ranked 212 at the time and remains the lowest ranked player to win a Grand Slam till date.
The Australian Open has seen a lot of change since its inception. In 1988, the grass surface was replaced by green turf of ReboundAce and from 2008 it is has been played on blue Plexicushion. The hot and humid environment makes it very tough for players and that is why many players in the past refused to play Australian open.
2018 was a dream year for all Roger Federer as he defended his title against Marin Cilic . In the process he won his 20th grand slam title and also sixth Australian open, equaling Novak Djokovic and Roy Emerson’s tally.
2019 has been a great year for seeded players (men) and up to the completion of first week there are no upsets of note. That is unlike in women singles where defending champion, Caroline Wozniacki lost to Maria Sharapova.
It is now pre-quarters time and some of the best matches are on display. Let us assess how the matches will go.
The Top-Half (Pre-Quarters)
Marin Cilic (6) vs Roberto Bautista Agut (22)
What a match it will be. Cilic is not at his best as he had to grind out a five-set win over Fernando Verdasco. The Croat must be feeling the heat. Bautista Agut, however, had to face a resurgent Andy Murray in first round but he won it in five. His third-round win over Karen Khachanov was a breeze and the Spaniard should not be undermined.
My verdict is that Cilic has too strong a serve to be upstaged by Bautista Agut. Sets will end in tiebreakers but Cilic will prevail.
Roger Federer (3) vs Stefanos Tsitsipas(14)
Master vs new kid on the block. Tsitsipas beat four top-10 players in the Canadian open and his meteoric rise in rankings can rattle anyone but Federer. Clash of one-handed backhands will go to Federer as Tsitsipas lacks killing shots and Federer will make him run.
However, this match will tire Federer and affect his later matches. Viewers you must watch this match as it will be of high quality with long rallies on the baseline. An upset isn’t out of the cards.
Frances Tiafoe vs Grigor Dimitrov (20)
Tiafoe scalped fifth seed Anderson but his five-set win over Seppi has sapped him. Dimitrov on the other hand is also not looking as solid as when he won ATP finals in 2017. So I am of the opinion that Tiafoe will win in four sets or straight sets. His strong serve and net play is way above others so Dimitrov’s run will come to an end.
Rafael Nadal (2) vs Tomas Berdych
Berdych has scalped 13th seed Kyle Edmund in the first round. In the third round, he took care of 18th seed Diego Schwartzman. The candle is burning well in twilight of his career. Still, the Czech is no match for irrepressible Nadal, who has not lost a set so far and in his match against Alex de Minaur, he displayed power in his backhand. So, I expect it to be a straight set victory for Rafa
The four players who will make quarter finals from top half will be on the expected lines and matches will be:-
Cilic vs Federer
It is sad to witness last year’s final being played in the quarters. Do not, however, expect it to be easy runnings for the Swiss, considering the 2018 final.
In the past Federer could beat Cilic on any surface and his head to head record with Cilic Is 9-1. This shows his complete supremacy, but today Cilic is an improved player and his serves are impregnable. Federer’s understanding of the game along with his strategy overpowers opponent. Cilic can win only if Federer gets injured or fatigued as it happened during the 2015 US open.
Nadal vs Tiafoe
This is a no brainer. Nadal’s strokes cannot be mastered by Tiafoe, as all previous matches must have taken a toll. He will be a bunny to Nadal’s fire power and all spectators will feel cheated.. Nadal with his lasso forehand can pass Tiafoe in his sleep. If the American plays on baseline than Nadal will make him run from side to side to make him commit mistakes.
Federer vs Nadal
20-time champion vs 17 time champion.
It is a pity that they are meeting in semis. Watching Nadal at his best in this Australian open where he is fluid in his stroke play, has tilted the balance in favor of Nadal. In head to head Federer has the worst record against Nadal. Federer is not able to counter the over spin by staying in the court so he has to go back and his strength of finding angles is diminished. Nadal should be the Australian Open finalist from the top half.
The Bottom-Half (Pre-Quarters)
Novak Djokovic (1) vs Daniil Medvedev (15)
Djokovic is in fine forn and the way he disposed of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Denis Shapovalov in earlier rounds has shown that the old Djokovic is back. Djokovic won the US open playing at 80% of his game so now if he is 100% fit then Medvedev is no match.
Nonetheless, the match will be full of long rallies and it will be a treat to watch. Medvedev has crafted victories over David Goffin and Ryan Harrison in straight sets and that is commendable.
Pablo Carreno Busta (23) vs Kei Nishikori (8)
I salute Nishikori for pulling off two five-setters against Ivo Karlovic and Kamil Majchrzak. He took on the might of strong servers and showed his resilience. His opponent is a player who has decent serve, good net game and good court coverage. However, Busta lacks the arsenal to beat top players. If Nishikori does not succumb to fatigue, I see no reason to not see him as winner in this Australian Open clash.
Alexander Zverev (4) vs Milos Raonic (16)
This doesn’t deserve to be a pre-quarters match. Zverev is in on quest to win his first major. His victory in ATP finals has confirmed to the pundits that he is the one to be the future of Men’s Tennis. On the other hand, the tall Canadian has been in Grand Slam finals. Raonic’s serve is a wall and no one can break him, therefore, Raonic loses in tiebreakers only. His backhand, however, is suspect and expect Zverev to target it.
Zverev has shown cracks in his game. His five-set victory over Dominic Chardy displayed chinks in his preparation. Coach Ivan Lendl has improved his ground strokes by adding little loop but power is gone so Alex Bolt also engaged him in long rallies. His serves have been broken many times and if Raonic is able to break his serve then game, set and match to Raonic. It will be a good contest as Raonic has displayed comfort in disposing Stan Wawrinka in four sets along with beating Nick Kyrgios in straight sets.
My verdict goes to Zverev on the basis of his victory in the ATP finals. Raonic is still on recovery mode from his injury. A Raonic win though, will not be a surprise.
Borna Coric (11) Vs Lucas Pouille (28)
The clash of unknowns. Coric, after winning Davis Cup, went into oblivion but last year he reached fourth-round in the Grand Slams and also won his first title. On the other hand, Pouille reached quarterfinals of two Grand Slams in 2016. He has won five titles till date but his ground strokes are on decline.
The battle will be a long-drawn baseline battle and one who will commit mistakes will lose. Both the players are counter punchers and Coric should win in four. The reason for the same is due to the five-setter played by Pouille against Alexei Popyrin .
Quarter finals (Bottom-Half)
Djokovic Vs Nishikori
For all his counter punching Nishikori ca not break the defense of Djokovic. Nishikori can change the angle with his deft wrist but here he is against the master of down-the-line stroke and cross court rallies. Head to Head Djokovic leads 15-2. So, game, set and match to Djokovic.
Coric vs Zverev
The big serving German will overpower Coric with his powerful backhand. Only on grass does Coric have a chance as his net play is better. In all other departments, Zverev holds the edge. My clear winner is Zverev winning in four sets. Only an injury can spoil the German’s chances.
Djokovic Vs. Zverev
It is only a semifinal but modern great is playing with a future star. Lendl as a coach has added new dimensions to the game play of Zverev. He is only 21, but a veteran of many memorable matches. Who can forget his annihilation of Djokovic in the ATP finals in straight sets. Not once, but twice.
The great Djokovic has a positive head to head record with each player including Federer and Nadal but with Zverev it is equal.
This is a must watch match. Balls will be simmering under the power of ground strokes. The backhand battles will be a treat to remember. I visualize Zverev tumbling under the pressure and wilting due to his exhaustion. This Australian Open semi-final will end in favor of Djokovic in four or five.
The Dream Final
Nadal vs Djokovic
The purist’s dream. The rivalry heads a decade back when they were competing to wrest the crown from Federer. Nadal has 17 grand slams, whereas Djokovic has 14.
Head to Head the Serb leads Nadal by 27-25. Last year he won two grand slams when Federer and Nadal split the other two. Rafa, however, is playing his free-flowing tennis after ages and it is difficult to imagine him losing at his peak.
I hope to see a five-setter duel. Ball will transcend from one line to another, a little error and other player will go for the jugular. I am at sea to predict the winner as no one is clear favorite. If I have to choose then it will be Nadal.