(6)Rafael Nadal d. (2)Daniil Medvedev 2-6, 6-7(5), 6-4, 6-4, 7-5
2, 4, 6, 7
SEEDS: ONE & DONE (1st Match Loss)
5 out of 32
AUSTRALIAN OPEN NEWS & NOTES
*The Australian Open kicks off the 2023 Grand Slam slate with the return of Novak Djokovic as the biggest story after the nine time AO champion missed out on the 2022 stop. The Serb carries a 21 match win streak in Melbourne into this year’s tournament where defending champion Rafael Nadal looks to join Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andre Agassi as the only players to successfully win back-to-back titles at this event. All eyes are squarely on him, not just because of last year’s drama and the chance for another Slam title, but because he has a chance early on to chase down current #1 Carlos Alacaraz who is out of this tournament due to injury.
*The Big Four are now really the Big Two, Djokovic and Nadal, and Andy Murray not having won a Slam title since 2016 as more of an afterthought at this stage of their careers. The Big Three of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic are responsible for 16 of the last 17 titles in Melbourne with Stan Wawrinka’s stunner in 2014 as the outlier. It’s still very tough to break through and with world number one Carlos Alcaraz sitting this one out, it may still be tough even if it’s Djokovic and Nadal against the field. Betting against Djokovic in Australia has become hazardous to your digital wallet with 33 straight match wins in all Australian-based tournaments. And Nadal? There are always questions, but 2022 showed that he can still take advantage of most even if it seems improbable.
*2022 saw just five seeds drop their opener to continue a recent trend of seeds mostly getting through the first round unscathed. Over the last four runs in Melbourne only 19 seeded players out of 128 have gone one and done. That’s a low scalp rate of just under 15%. The one constant however has been that at least one top 13 seed has been out in round one in each five seasons and nine of the last eleven overall. That includes a top ten seed four times with (5)Rafael Nadal’s famous five set defeat to Fernando Verdasco in 2016 as the biggest in that stretch. Verdasco hit as an 8.15 (+715) dog in that match.
*The largest dog scalp of 2022 came via Adrian Mannarino’s second round win over (10)Hubert Hurkacz at 6.63 (+563). The second round was home to the three biggest underdog scores of last season’s Australian Open with the Mannarino hit joining Benoit Paire’s 5.91 (+491) win over (26)Grigor Dimitrov and Christopher O’Connell’s 5.13 (+413) against (13)Diego Schwartzman. In 2021, the second round also showed show bigger hits against seeds with Marton Fucsovics 3.00 (+200) against Stan Wawrinka, Feliciano Lopez’s 4.12 (+312) over Lorenzo Sonego and Mackie McDonald’s 4.82 (+382) over Borna Coric as the three largest hits of the round. The biggest dog scalp for 2021 however came in round one with a monumental 11.67 (+1067) banger for Radu Albot when he took down (12)Roberto Bautist Agut.
*Five set matches are always something to monitor at Grand Slams and most odds makers will give you an over/under on the total for the tournament. In 2022, there were 25 three set matches capped off by the Nadal-Medvedev final. Four of the last six Australian Open men’s singles finals have gone the distance. Normally the majority of your five setters are coming early in the tournament. Last year, 16 of the 25 matches that went all the day came in rounds one and two with ten of those in the opening round. In 2021, there were 21 five set matches. Nine came in round one and seven more popped off in round two. If you roll back to 2020 the early five set trend showed again with 14 in round one and nine more in the second round with 29 total for the tournament. These always come with great “plus” odds and really tend to be an underutilized try by many.
*As with some of the most prestiguous tournaments, the business end of the Australian Open yields far less underdog wins than the other rounds. Last year in the final seven matches (QF,SF,F), there were just two dog hits with Stefanos Tsitsipas at a slight 2.23 (+123) as the four seed over the eleven in Jannik Sinner and Nadal taking the title over Medvedev as a 2.58 (+158) dog. That was right in tune with 2021 with two dog hits in the last seven with the largest at 3.50 (+250) for Aslan Karatsev’s upset of Dimitrov. 2020 saw just one dog hit in the final seven with it coming in the quarterfinals when Dominic Thiem topped Rafael Nadal as a 3.44 (+244) underdog. The quarterfinals seem to be the round to focus on for a late underdog score with at least one coming in each year since 2018 with some juicy prices at 4.00 (+300) and higher.
*When you’re looking at the outright markets whether it’s for the overall tournament winner or the winner of a quarter, there is some hope taking a longer shot to win a quarter. Although all of last year’s semifinalists came from the top seven seeds, 2021 saw an unseeded semifinalist in Karatsev. 2019 saw seeds #14 and #28 in the final four and 2018 had the big ones with unseeded Hyeon Chung AND Kyle Edmund both crashing the semifinals. Those juicy plus odds are another overlooked strategy in my opinion with so many focused on trying to pick the overall tournament winner. The likelihood that Djokovic is going to be one half of the equation in the final seems substantial again and that means you may not get a great hedge opportunity even if you do have a meaty underdog price riding on an outsider. Don’t gloss over those markets for the quarter winners. I’ll focus some on those later in this preview.
*82-8. 33 straight wins in Australia. Nine Australian Open singles championships. That’s the resume for 35-year-old Novak Djokovic as he begins play in Melbourne and you have to be certifiably insane for go against him to get #10. He’s seeded fourth this year, but the obvious favorite with Djokovic at 1.8 (-125) to lead the outright market by a wide margin. Daniil Medvedev is second best for odds makers at around 6.5 (+550). Last year’s champion and this year’s #1 seed, Rafael Nadal, is at 17.0 (+1600).
*Speaking of Nadal, is his outright price fair, inflated or value? He’s opposite of Djokovic in the draw, so that’s a huge plus. Rafa has a difficult opener in fast rising Jack Draper. That’s a big minus. Nadal has also lost six of the last seven matches he’s played overall dating back to 2022, including a pair of three set defeats at the United Cup to Cam Norrie and Alex de Minaur. Medvedev is lurking in Rafa’s half. That’s a wash for me. Nadal is 5-1 against the Russian with two massive wins in the pair of Grand Slam meetings, including last year’s Aussie final. There’s also a red hot Sebastian Korda in Nadal’s half along with threats like Frances Tiafoe, Karen Khachanov and Denis Shapovalov. With all that to consume, Nadal’s price seems FAIR.
*Certainly among the top eight seeds, it’s Nadal and Djokovic with the most experience. Medvedev would be the next big threat after making the final in consecutive years, even if he has been more inconsistent over the last 12 months. Your two and three seeds are conundrums in Casper Ruud and Stefanos Tsitsipas. You also have (5)Andrey Rublev and (6)Auger-Aliassime who have made the quarterfinals in Melbourne previously to consider albeit both haven’t had many reps in the build-up to this tournament. Ruud has certainly shown himself to be a threat on hard courts after making the U.S. Open final in 2022, but he’s had little success in Australia. His fourth round showing a year ago was his best with only one win in his previous two trips. Tsitsipas has shown himself to be a threat to go deep with three semifinals in his past four Melbourne excursions, but he’s been taken out easily in that round twice by Medvedev and once by Nadal. The Greek was playing very well at the United Cup though and is a useful look at in the outright market as far as players to win their quarters. Stef is a slight favorite over Jannik Sinner and Felix Auger-Aliassime at 3.50 (+250) in that market.
*The Tsitsipas quarter is expected to be the most competitive if you look at the outright markets alone. You’ve got four players at 7.0 (+600) or less to win the quarter with Norrie at that highest mark and then Felix at 4.5 (+350), Sinner at 4.0 (+300) and Tsitsipas at 3.50 (+250). The other quarter that is being given the same treatment is the 4th where Casper Ruud is the highest seed (2), but Taylor Fritz is the favorite to take the quarter at 3.0 (+200). Ruud is at 5.5 (+450) and then Matteo Berrettini at 6.0 (+500) and Alexander Zverev at 8.0 (+700). I’ll look at the matchups in the forecast below for those who like to take cracks at those “to win the quarter” markets.
*Amongst the rest of the seeded field, Matteo Berrettini is going to be a guy a lot of people look too as a semifinalist here in 2022. The Italian looked solid in going 3-2 at the United Cup to start the season with wins over Ruud and Hurkacz along with tight losses to Tsitsipas and Fritz. Even though he has some prospective early grinders with Andy Murray to start, either Thanasi Kokkinakis or Fabio Fognini in round two and perhaps Roberto Bautista-Agut down the line, you have to like him being in the immediate section with Ruud. Berrettini is 4-1 against RBA and 2-1 on hard surfaces against Ruud. The immediate worry would be a fresher Andy Murray in round one, but the Italian has taken three straight in the series. The 6.0 (+500) for Berrettini to win his quarter doesn’t seem like a bad option.
*Nick Kyrgios is getting all the press from the Netflix series and because he’s playing at home where he’ll have tremendous crowd support. The big question for Nick is his health. He’s been sporting a wrap on his ankle and outside of the exhibition match against Djokovic a few days ago, he hasn’t had any competitive tennis on his slate in 2023. You also have to buy into this being a “new” Kyrgios with focus on winning Slams because his track record in Melbourne doesn’t indicate a deep run in the making. His 2015 quarterfinal showing is still his best and he’s only been as far as the fourth round twice since that run. His draw is interesting with Safiullin first and then Auckland champ Richard Gasquet or thorn-in-the-side Ugo Humbert. Humbert and Kyrgios played two wars at the Aussie and Wimbledon in 2021 that both went five sets. Humbert might not be that same player, but he obviously gives NK some problems.
*Are there any unseeded guys to look to as dark horse deep runners? Last year the answer was no, but from 2017-2021 there was at least one unseeded quarterfinalist in Melbourne. I mentioned the magic year in 2018 when you had both Chung and Edmund stun their way into the final four. So where would the hidden gems be in the 2023 draw?
One might be found directly opposite of the 2022 champion. Draper has a chance to turn things upside down in round one when he takes on Nadal. The Brit got in the reps in the first two weeks that could aid his cause here and we’ve already seen him shock a seed at a Grand Slam when he took out Auger-Aliassime in round two at last year’s U.S. Open.
Similarly, Halys is up against (3)Tsitsipas in round one and may provide a stiff test for the Greek early. Halys has looked very good in early play in Australia, especially the confidence gained from losing 7-6, 7-6 to Djokovic in Adelaide. The obvious drawback with the Frenchman is a lack of success at Slams where he is 3-14 in his career. The 26-year-old has been a bigger threat indoors in the last year, but has shown here early that he could be primed to break out on this surface as well.
If you’re looking for that veteran influence in your longshot unseeded types, Stan the Man could be you guy. The former Aussie champion has had some good prep for this year’s tournament, showing good competitiveness in splitting United Cup matches with Alexander Bublik and Hubert Hurkacz (L). He also got a couple of confidence boosters at one of the Saudi cash grab exhibitions in December where he beat Berrettini and Rublev. He could catch Auger-Aliassime in one of those trappy second round matches I talked about earlier and an upset there springloads a good path for the Swiss to at least get to round four.
The Austrian, a 2020 Australian Open runner-up, is still trying to find consistent wins. That said, does anyone want to play this guy early? Thiem flashed his dangerous nature by beating Tiafoe at the Kooyong exhibition this past week where he also lost 6-4, 6-4 to de Minaur. Thiem also got in some good reps in December with matches against Zverev and Auger-Aliassime. He lost both, but they were close. He has Rublev first who has won four straight against him, but the Russian also has not looked exactly locked in to start 2023. It’s another match where the early upset opens up the draw a lot to where Thiem could look at a fourth round showdown with Rune or Kyrgios.
Could the Aussie be ready to unleash his talents on this field? He started strong in Adelaide-1 where he scored an upset of Auger-Aliassime. He narrowly lost to Kokkinakis in three the following week before getting beat by Fritz in exhibition play this past week. Could that be a plus though? If he wins round one, he likely sees Fritz again in round two. Fritz has beaten him two times now, but this would also fall into that tricky second round spot. If he pulled off the Fritz upset, the seeds left after would be Schwartzman, Kecmanovic and an out-of-form Zverev. That makes a quarterfinal berth possible, albeit still difficult.
Andy Murray/Thanasi Kokkinakis/Tommy Paul
This trio of players is all housed in the same section as (2)Casper Ruud in the bottom of the draw. Murray has the most uphill battle to be a deeper problem, but if he finds a way to shock Berrettini to start then this whole half of the fourth quarter becomes wide, wide open. Kokkinakis didn’t win a title in prep this time around, but the Aussie did play well even in losses to Bautista Agut and Sinner in the two Adelaide tournaments to go along with four wins overall. He opens against Fognini and then would see the Berrettini-Murray survivor. Could Murray soften Berrettini up even in defeat? That would be a big boost for Kokkinakis who has never been past round two of his “home” Slam. Paul is an interesting look in the bottom of this part with Struff to start and then Davidovich Fokina or Bublik in round two. Ruud is in his way potentially for round three, but Paul has been okay versus the top ten at 6-12 in his young career.
*Let’s look at qualifiers & lucky losers. The Karatsev run withstanding, I’m looking more on how qualifiers/LLs fare early, especially in round one. In 2022, they were a combined 5-17 with a pair of those wins coming in qualifier versus qualifier battles. In 2021, qualifiers and lucky losers paired up for a 7-14 mark with several of those wins again coming when two qualifiers squared off. It’s fair to say that there does not appear to be a huge edge for guys who have some match play under their belts already unlike you might see here and there during other parts of the season.
*If you’re looking for upset bids or perhaps players who can push a match to an over or five sets, check out the wild card entries instead. Wild cards split eight matches last year in round one in Melbourne and ALWAYS take a look at the healthy Aussie wild cards who get a boost from the crowd. Two of last year’s wild card round one winners were Aussies. Wild cards went 5-3 in 2021 with all five winners being Aussies and 2020 saw wild cards go 4-4 with Aussies accounting for two of the victories.
FIRST ROUND BANGERS
*Rafael Nadal vs Jack Draper
This one lit up social media when the draws were announced a few days ago and rightfully so. Draper is on just about everyone’s short list of players who are bound for the top 20 and better, sooner rather than later. Health has been the big issues for Draper at times, but early on he is looking fit and in fine form. Nadal meanwhile hasn’t had a ton of reps in “official” matches, but he’s been working the practice matches and exhibitions hard. I’m not sure Draper is ready to take this leap, but Nadal rarely had a matchup this tough early in a draw. I definitely don’t see him continuing his streak of straight sets round one victories here which stands at six since his shock upset to Verdasco back in 2016. Could this be a five set battle in the making?
*Brandon Nakashima vs Mackenzie McDonald
This battle of Americans is just below Nadal-Draper in the draw and might wind up being even more competitive. McDonald won the only ATP level match these two played in Cincinnati in 2021, while Nakashima won at the Challenger level back in 2020. Neither burned the house down in prep work for Melbourne, so this will be an interesting fight with Nakashima the firm favorite at 1.56 (-178). McDonald is the one who had the better results here with the fourth round run in 2021, but Nakashima undoubtedly was the guy on the rise to end 2022 as he capped it with a victory at the NextGen Finals. That said, this is 2023 and it’s early, so I would expect McDonald to have a realistic shot to get the upset.
*Yoshihito Nishioka vs Mikael Ymer
Nishioka was playing great ball in Adelaide before he melted down and pulled out during his match against Korda in the semifinals. Prior to that, he took out Holger Rune to open the tournament and won a wild one against Popyrin where he also lost his cool a bit. He’s never met Ymer, but the Sweded has made a point to be highly competitive in this tournament over his first few runs. Outside of his tough draw against Tsitsipas last year, Ymer beat Alcaraz and Hurkacz here in 2021 and lost a five set grinder against Khachanov in 2020. Given Yoshi’s newfound hot temper, this one might be even more fun to watch than I would have thought originally. Five sets anyone?
*John Millman vs Marc-Andrea Huesler
If you said REALLY when you saw this, well then you just might miss out on a good one. Millman at his home Slam doesn’t equal great runs, but it normally means a very tough early out for someone. Three of his last four losses at the AO have come in five sets. As for Huesler, we got a hint of his talent last year during his break out that included his first ATP title in Sofia. Huesler is in his first main draw in Melbourne, but he got his feet wet at Slams in 2022 with main draws at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. What happened there? Two five set losses with the U.S. Open one coming against Denis Shapovalov.
*Lorenzo Musetti vs Lloyd Harris
The competitive nature of this one likely hinges on the health of Musetti’s right shoulder that caused him to exit his match against Tiafoe early at the United Cup. Prior to that, the Italian had racked up four wins albeit against lesser competition. He is still seeking his first Australian Open win, but we saw nice growth from him on this surface last year with a third round run at the U.S. Open highlighting his ability. As for Harris, he got out of the gates quick this season with back-to-back solid showings at the two Thailand Challengers in Nonthaburi with a finals run in the second one as the high point. His 2022 was plagued by a wrist injury that saw him play just 21 total matches. When healthy, he’s been solid on hard surfaces with a third round result in Melbourne to his credit in 2021. He is the underdog in this one at 3.17 (+217), but could well be worth a look of some sort with Musetti trying to shake off the shoulder issue.
*Borna Coric vs Jiri Lehecka
Lehecka is a young guy at 21 who looks like he might be on the verge a big break out soon. The lanky Czech beat Zverev at the United Cup and took a set off of Norrie in Auckland in defeat. He’s short on Grand Slam experience with an 0-4 record in main draw matches, but he’s been competitive in most of those including a five set loss at Wimbledon against Filip Krajinovic last year. Coric was decent at the United Cup, but this hasn’t always been a great season starter for him. He’s lost his opener in Melbourne five of seven times. I think Lehecka is competitive here and he could make a bigger name for himself if he continues to show what we’ve seen from him early this year.
*Andrey Rublev vs Dominic Thiem
This is a great litmus test for both players, especially Thiem who is looking for that signature win to ignite him. I get that Rublev has won four in a row against the Austrian, but this best of five setting could be an equalizer of sorts. Thiem’s best trait when he has been fit and in form is his ability to defend and absolutely wear down opponents. That is something he can do in these conditions against Rublev … I think. Admittedly it might be asking a bit for Thiem to pull this off seeing that the Austrian still appears to be missing a little something. However, in round one in the early part of the season this is a tantalizing matchup that I doubt will disappoint barring an injury.
*Richard Gasquet vs Ugo Humbert
It’s two straight years that the Frenchman will square off in round one at the Australian Open. Gasquet won last year in four with two sets going to tie breaks. He’s obviously red hot off of his first ATP title since 2018 this past week when he won in Auckland. Humbert certainly is still not at the level we saw from him during his break out in 2021 as he’s struggled for consistent wins over the last year. One thing I did point out in my Auckland preview last week was that title runs at that tournament in the lead up to Melbourne rarely means good stuff for the champion. Humbert is 0-2 against Gasquet and is winless in two starts in 2023, but a quick turn around off an emotional and tough final for Gasquet could give Humbert a boost. Odds makers still have Humbert as the underdog at 2.15 (+115) for this one. I don’t know if he’ll find the win column, but I would be surprised if this one didn’t follow suit of their first two battles being very competitive.
*Mattia Bellucci vs Benjamin Bonzi
Many may expect a straight forward win for Bonzi against a qualifier. After all, Bonzi started the season great with a run to the Pune final. Bellucci though is another guy who could be earmarked for bigger things this year as he plays more and more. He’s transitioning out of Futures play and earned two Challenger titles last year with one on an outdoor hard surface and the other one indoors. Look for Bellucci to outperform his price tag of around 3.0 (+200) at most places as I think he has a shot to really push Bonzi and maybe even score the win.
*Taylor Fritz vs Nikoloz Basilashvili
Basilashvili had breathing issues in Adelaid that forced him to retire from his match there and he lost his Pune opener. Anyone who has followed him knows that he’s entirely impossible to predict here the last couple of years. He’s looked putrid to start the year and an elbow problem has plagued him off and on for a while now. The Georgian could well get absolutely destroyed in this one as a result, but he’s also played Fritz extremely well in the past. They’ve met four times with Basilashvili owning two wins and taking a set off Fritz in the two losses. Five set matches have found him in Melbourne some with a five set loss in round one to Andy Murray a year ago and five setters in four of his last eight matches in Melbourne overall. If he’s healthy-ish, this one might wind up being a somewhat surprising for some “scare” for Fritz.
*Alexsandr Vukic vs Brandon Holt
A clash of qualifiers that looks pretty tasty. Both looked good in qualifying and Vukic will have that home advantage here as he sports a main draw win in Melbourne from a year ago. Holt though is fully capable as he showed with his upset of Fritz at last year’s U.S. Open. If there is an under-the-radar match you might consider a must watch, I think this could be it. Both have clean ground strokes and can really hammer opponents when their serves are in tune. I’ll definitely be checking some of this one out.
*Alejandro Davidovich Fokina vs Alexander Bublik
This one has fun written all over it. Between ADF’s ridiculous athleticism and Bublik’s penchant to play odd shots and take unnecessary risks, this should have a little bit of every thing. Bublik beat him on clay in Barcelona in their lone prior meeting in 2021, which is a bit of a surprise to me. Davidovich Fokina has already found five set matches to his liking in Melbourne with two of his four main draw matches falling that way. He arrives with better form from Adelaide with Bublik at 0-3 so far, but his serve alone can carry him in faster conditions. This one seems destined to either be a donny brook for five or an absolute shit show straight sets win for Davidovich Fokina.
The banger to start this quarter with Nadal-Draper likely sets the tone for this group. Medvedev lurks in the half opposite of the defending champ, but he has arguably the tougher path after round one for me. If Nadal escapes Draper, there are the Tiafoes and Khachanovs waiting for later, but this could shape up as a tournament where you want Nadal early – not late. Nishioka is the other seed directly in Nadal’s path to a potential round of 16 clash with one of those guys. Or could be get the new “every week” matchup of Draper and Khachanov out of this half. They’ve already split two matches this season after squaring off at the US Open last year when Draper was forced to retire. I’m still not sure what to make of Draper’s realistic chances but odds makers seem to see this as fairly tough with Draper at 3.0 (+200), a “short” price for someone taking on the pedigree of Nadal for the first time. The guy who might benefit the most from a Draper upset would be Nakashima who beat out Draper at the NextGen Finals last year. Truly though if Nadal goes down in round one, you can look at Draper, McDonald, Nishioka and Ymer all as fairly equal shots to get to round four.
Tiafoe and Khachanov look to be on a collision course in the third round with winnable early matches. Big Foe breezed through five United Cup matches with wins, but none were particularly challenging matchups outside of Dan Evans who took a set off of him. I’m not terribly concerned with his loss to Thiem in Kooyong as his biggest win there was to stay healthy. I don’t see the consistency in anyone who could fall in front of him before round three to take him out. As for Khachanov, the 18th seed faces Zapata Miralles who has never been a big hard court threat. Perhap an inspired Jason Kubler might give him a better go if he makes it to round two as he’d surely have the rabid support of the home crowd against Khachanov. If it falls to Tiafoe and Khachanov, it’s the Russian who has won twice with both career clashes at Wimbledon. It would be a massive get for either player to push into round four with Tiafoe as the only one of the two to get farther than round three. The American did that once in 2019 and hasn’t been past round two since that run.
In the bottom half, Medvedev has Giron in round one and the other seeds in his half can be electric at their best in Shapovalov and Korda. Korda was impressive in Adelaide and will be on a lot of people’s list of dark horses. He lost to Meddy in their only matchup in Paris indoors in 2021 in three sets. It’s fair to say this version of Korda has improved, while this version of Medvedev may have some questions still. Shapovalov has dropped four straight to Medvedev, but did grab a set last year in Vienna. He was okay in Adelaide to open. The Canadian did show up for his best result here a year ago as he made the quarterfinals and was within a mental twist or two of beating Nadal in a five set loss that round. I can’t see Giron or a Millman or Huesler out dueling the 7th seed in a best of five. So put Medvedev in round three for me where Korda seems likely. Korda’s improved serve was a big reason for his strong start and it looks like it could carry him into a Medvedev battle. The guy to watch out for if Korda runs into trouble would probably be Rinderknech. Korda did beat the Frenchman in an indoor battle last Fall in their lone ATP level meeting. Should it fall to Medvedev and Korda for that spot in round four, I’m intrigued to see if Korda can step up and take it. Medvedev has been awfully good here the last two years, so it would be a pretty big upset if it happens.
Opposite of that section is the other part of the bottom half led by Hurkacz and Shapovalov as seeds. Hurkacz has had trouble avoiding early problems in Melbourne. The Pole hasn’t been past round two and has lost his opener in two of four visits. Even when he has escaped the early upset, it has been hard so perhaps Pedro Martinez might have a better shot than you think in round one. Martinez does have a few wins at the Aussie to his credit, but would probably fare better in slower conditions. The bigger threat for Hurkacz might be in round two in the form of Lorenzo Sonego. The Italian gets Borges first and needs to show he can handle the conditions as he retired in Adelaide due to cramping and then was dumped out in straights against Draper the next week. Borges is tougher on clay, but his speed and court coverage could hassle Sonego into a physical battle that may wear on him. If Sonego does get a shot at Hurkacz, that’s plus one for him as he’s beaten the Pole three of four times. There’s another one of those higher seeded trappy second rounders for you to ponder.
Shapovalov should have too much for Lajovic in his starter, but I’d expect the sets could be tight. This looks like a nice set up for him with Escobedo or Daniel for round two. Shapo hasn’t had any issues in two meetings against Daniel and while he did lose to Escobedo in 2017 in their only meeting, Shapovalov should have the greater edge at this point DEPENDING on how well he keeps his head screwed on of course. Shapovalov would likely love Hubi losing early with the 10th seeded Pole holding a 3-1 advantage in the head-to-head. The Canadian beat Sonego in their only career meeting last year on clay in Rome. The quicker conditions will aid Sonego’s serve and forehand, but Shapovalov still has the power and electric striking to win out. I hate to say it because I seem to jinx Shapo when I say I like his draw, but I like his damn draw here and think he’s good for at least the fourth round. Shapovalov would surely be down to see Korda rather than Medvedev as he owns a win over the American in their only battle back in 2020 at the US Open. Shapo would also have the experience edge you’d think because of his experience getting to Slam quarters more at this point.
For me the quarterfinal mix in this quarter seems more likely to include a pair of seeds. It’s hard to go against Medvedev for one of those spots with his recent track record in Melbourne and the matchups he’s looking at en route to a final eight spot. The guy who has troubled him the most in Hurkacz faces an uphill battle with his track record here, but that is THE guy who I think Medvedev would be most likely to lose to if it shook out that way. The other side it’s really dependent on if you think Nadal survives the opener against Draper. A Nadal win is going to ease a lot of tension for the Ra-fans and perhaps sound the alert that the lefty is still going to be a threat early on. Tiafoe seems the danger, especially after taking down Nadal at last year’s US Open in the fourth round. Khachanov for what he can do has seen his matches with Nadal all go one way – losses, eight of them. I’m unsure really how I feel about Nadal. Underestimating him at any Grand Slam when healthy is something that usually doesn’t work out well. I tend to think this could be a very physical quarter for him and while he rarely gets out done in that category, this might still be a bad spot in potentially tricky conditions at any time. I like Big Foe as a runner for that other quarterfinal spot and probably wind up hating me for thinking Nadal won’t make it.
Medvedev is a short favorite to take the semifinal spot at 2.2 (+120). Nadal is second at around 4.5 (+350) and Korda is slotted as third best at 7.5 (+650). Tiafoe is a pretty juicy looking 13.0 (+1200), the same price as Shapovalov. Both Draper and Khachanov are at 17 (+1600) which seems off because of who Draper sees first up. I’d want a lot more on Draper to take that shot. I’d look at the guys who potentially avoid Nadal and Medvedev the longest as decent looking investments. Tiafoe might fit the bill best for me.
ONE & DONE WATCH
Martinez over (10)Hurkacz
Ymer over (31)Nishioka
Stefanos Tsitsipas leads the seeds in this quarter and still seems like a sneaky under-the-radar investment of some sort as he seems to be overlooked which keeps all of the major pressure off of him. Stef’s stiffest competition for most would be Sinner, but he’s handled him just fine with four wins in five career matches. For me it’s that round one match that Tsitsipas has to be alert for with Halys potentially problematic. I still like the Greek though with the real interest for me perhaps if Botic Van de Zandschulp gets to round three. BVDZ had his best Slam run last year at Wimbledon by making round four. He’s never faced Tsitsipas.
In the other half in this section, it’s a question of health with both seeds nursing injuries. Sinner went out quietly against Korda in his third Adelaide match as he seemed to tweak one of his hips during the match as the final set went out fast at 6-1. I mentioned Musetti’s shoulder injury before, so I don’t see him as a major threat with grinders possibly shaping against Harris and then perhaps Fucsovics. Sinner plays Kyle Edmund in his opener with the Brit easily dispatched when those two met earlier in Adelaide. If Sinner is fit, he looks like he could at least push for a spot in round four against Tsitsipas. The one outsider to watch is Fucsovics. He won the Canberra Challenger to start off the year and has found five set matches three times in his last four Melbourne matches. Fucsovics owns two wins over Sinner in three meetings with both coming at Grand Slams.
To the bottom half of this quarter, you’re led by Felix Auger-Aliassime, the sixth seed. Felix fought his way into a Tour Finals spot last year and he looked like he was ready to bust out immediately after his excellent quarterfinal run here in Melbourne. His five set battle against Medvedev, despite the loss, showed that he belonged against the best. Felix has a tough early road depending on the form of the two veterans, Vasek Pospisil and Stan Wawrinka. I’m not sure if either keeps up with Felix over five sets, but there could be some proving moments for the 6th seed early on. If he gets through there, you have to like him in the fourth round with this draw.
The player who is a strong start this year is opposite of this section with 11th seed Cameron Norrie off to a 6-1 start this season. His first loss came in the Auckland final against Gasquet. It will be interesting to see if Norrie holds that confidence heading to Melbourne where it’s been a horror show either first round losses three times in four trips. This does look like a much better version of Norrie over this time last year when he was routed out in round one against Korda. The bottom part of this section might hold the greater intrigue with two very interesting openers with Coric against Lehecka and Eubanks taking on Kwon. Kwon is off an unexpected title in Adelaide. Coric hasn’t had the best luck in Melbourne with four one and dones out of six times at this tournament. He has looked pretty solid early on however, so I would not write him off. Kwon could be on fumes after playing seven matches in Adelaide after getting a lucky loser entry. Coric could be the beneficiary if Norrie blinks playing closer to home again, but he has to beware of Lehecka to open.
The quarterfinal make up of this quarter has to start with Tsitsipas. He’s quietly turned Melbourne into a place he has played extremely well the last two times. Even with a competitor like Sinner ahead of him getting to the final eight, it still seems to line up well for the Greek. The other side looks more open to me with Auger-Aliassime and Norrie the first thoughts, but I won’t rule out Coric or a bigger shock if Felix gets tripped up early. The four names here carry prices of 3.5 (+250) for Tsitsipas to win the quarter, 4.0 (+300) for Sinner, Auger Aliassime at 4.5 (+350) and Norrie at 7.0 (+600). I like Tsitsipas even at that shorter price because he looks to have a great chance to be in the final eight with these matchups. If you believe in Fucsovics, you can have the Hungarian at 15.1 (+15000) to take this quarter. Coric might be a smarter, yet still fat 15.0 (+1400) to try as a semifinal runner.
ONE AND DONE WATCH
Harris over (17)Musetti
Lehecka over (21)Coric
Pella over (28)Cerundolo
Novak Djokovic is the big story here without a doubt, but there could be some interesting sub plots to monitor as well. We’ll start in the Serb’s half of this quarter where Carreno Busta, de Minaur and Dimitrov are the other seeds in play. The only real concern heading into these next two weeks for Djokovic was the hamstring that bothered him slightly in his title win in Adelaide over Korda. Any fears of a lingering issue seem gone after his exhibition practice against Nick Kyrgios a few days ago. By all acounts he was moving well and playing without any hindrances. I see nothing to bother him early with Carballes Baena up first and Dimitrov as the only seed in his path by round three. Dimitrov may be fortunate to escape round one against Karatsev who beat Dimitrov here during his break out in 2021 and he took a set off him in a loss last year when he had a poor year at 18-31. Karatsev looked a bit better in Pune, but this is a step up. At one time, Dimitrov was a threat during this swing. He still could push past round two at least, something he has not done in two of his last three trips to Melbourne. This should be a good first round clash, but it likely may feature some awkward sets if their past meetings are any indication. Of the seven sets they’ve played, six of them have score lines of 6-1 or 6-2. Give me Karatsev at plus odds in that one. No matter the outcome, it is still Djokovic into round four for me out of this spot.
The other part of this half could see some delight for the locals with de Minaur looking set up for at least a few solid rounds. ADM starts against the qualifier Hsu who can be tough on this surface, but lacks the experience overall at this level. The 22nd seeded de Minaur should fight through and then face a more stern test from Isner or Mannarino. Mannarino beat de Minaur on grass, but lost twice to him on hard. Isner might be the bigger danger, pun intended, with two wins in two tries. Those did however come almost four years ago and Isner has not flashed that same consistency the last few years. It will still be mighty tough against that serve for a spot in round three. Isner is 8-1 against Mannarino, but he is lacking the match sharpness he would probably like to open this week and he’s lost in round one three of the last four times he’s played Melbourne. Don’t discount Mannarino which would suit de Minaur just fine. Opposite of that quadrant, watch out for the winner between Bellucci and Bonzi, I think they can challenger Carreno Busta for a third round placement. PCB should get out of round one, but I think he falls into that second round seeded trap spot. The Spaniard may well survive, but several of his early matches the last few times in Melbourne have been tighter than most would expect. If PCB finds his way through, give him the edge over de Minaur as he’s beaten him twice at Slams. Maybe Melbourne and home cooking can at least make it tighter.
The other half of this quarter looks great on paper, but will it actually live up to the billing on court? You’ve got Rublev, Rune, Kyrgios and Evans as the seeds in what APPEARS to be a stacked section of the draw. Rublev has the difficult opener though with Thiem and then a second round opponent who could be equally tough with either Ruusuvuori or Max Purcell on deck. Rublev has yet to win in two matches this season with a pair of three set losses, so there is reason to believe that he could be in trouble early if he’s put under pressure. That might open the door for Evans in this section with the Brit holding better matchups with Bagnis first and then either Chardy or Galan. Evans has only been past round two twice in six years in Melbourne, but this should be a shot to add another year of making round three or better. His prep work wasn’t anything special, but he got in the reps and these matchups are in his favor. Thiem is the X-factor in this part. An early energy boost from knocking off Rublev and the Austrian should be pushing for a spot in round four.
Who could it be against? Rune and Kyrgios are the seeds and the battle everyone would love to see in this other section. Questions abound though as to Kyrgios’ durability as he’s already been hampered by a leg issue that had him skipping events as a precaution. He’ll likely be good to go early, but with NK also in the doubles draw against as the defending champion along with Kokkinakis, a heavy workload may cause some concern. I think he should get the win over Safiullin who isn’t bad on this surface, but lacks the weapons I think that would ultimately hurt Kyrgios enough to hand him a loss – unless the injury is a real concern. Round two for me is the larger issue with Gasquet or Humbert to face off against the survivor. I talked about it a bit earlier and Humbert is the bigger threat for sure. That said Gasquet is red hot right now and has won six of eight against Kyrgios, but the last came in 2018. Still, it’s an interesting second round on tap if Kyrgios advances.
As for Rune, he’s now got a target on his back after his meteoric rise through the rankings late last season. He didn’t get in but one prep match, so he’s a little short on match toughness as he opens against Krajinovic. The Serb can be difficult at times (he took Medvedev to five here in 2021) and Rune is playing Melbourne for just the second time. Watch to see if nerves are an issue early. The winner of that one sees Cressy or Ramos-Vinolas. Ramos-Vinolas is 0-3 this year, but took a set in all three losses. Cressy has played just once whereas he had gotten a lot of reps last year prior to his career best push into the fourth round. Ramos-Vinolas is 1-5 in round one here in the last six years though, so Cressy will be expecting a win. Rune has won against Cressy twice in qualifying at an event and the Challenger level, so don’t worry about the stylistic differences being too much. Do we get Rune against Kyrgios for the first time out of this section? It’s possible, but there are definitely some chances that one or both won’t be there in round three.
Certainly one quarterfinal spot appears to be almost cemented in place with Djokovic barring the hamstring becoming an issue again. The real question looks like it will be if everyone gets the one they can salivate over with Djokovic against Kyrgios or is it Djokovic against Rune, equally tasty, or something entirely out there? We know Nick has two wins over Novak, but Djokovic got the biggest at Wimbledon last year in the final. Rune beat Djokovic in the best of three in Paris last Fall, but fell at the US Open in their first meeting in 2021. There is no doubt that Rune has more confidence in his game and himself at this stage, but enough to beat Djokovic in Australia? That may still be a reach. I think it’s Kyrgios if anyone does it, but I’m not confident enough in that in a best of five either.
ONE AND DONE WATCH
Thiem over (5)Rublev
Karatsev over (27)Dimitrov
Finally we down to the last quarter where Casper Ruud is the highest seed followed by Taylor Fritz. Starting in Ruud’s half, I’m not too keen on the second seed making it through to even a quarterfinal. He’s got Berrettini, Bautista Agut and Davidovich Fokina to contend with as far as other seeds in this section. There’s also some intriguing floaters like Tommy Paul, Jenson Brooksby, Thanasi Kokkinakis and maybe even Andy Murray to watch out for in this quarter. For Ruud, he has Machac first and then it’s O’Connell or Brooksby. I do think the Norwegian gets through at last two rounds here as his overall game matches up pretty well against those potential opponents. The first spot of trouble likely would be round three where guys like Davidovich Fokina, Bublik, Paul and maybe a resurgent Struff could be a bit more harsh. Paul is the one I want to see. He’s gotten Ruud three times at Slams out of four meetings and despite being 0-3 in those, he has taken Ruud to five sets twice. Davidovich Fokina would be the other as his athleticism has been pesky for Ruud in two career clashes. They split those with ADF winning at the NextGen Finals back in 2019, while Ruud survived in five at Roland Garros in 2021. I feel like if one of those two guys is up against Ruud in round three, that might be the stopping point for the second seed.
As for the other section in this half, Berrettini and Bautista Agut are both in solid form coming into the tournament. Berrettini does draw Murray, but he’s been able to put Andy away in three of four matches. Bautista Agut comes off the finals loss in Adelaide-2 to start with Sousa and then perhaps a tougher out against one of two qualifiers in Holt or Vukic. Berrettini’s second match would be Kokkinakis or Fognini. Kokkinakis is the danger to me with his serve able to keep him right in sets against Berrettini. That will be the match I think that would be the biggest danger to seeing Berrettini and Bautista Agut for the sixth time. That still falls in Berrettini’s favor as he has beaten RBA four of five times. It all looks tough for Berrettini, but the actual stats and his pedigree at Slams says he can get through and look for a quarterfinal spot at a sixth straight Slam. Ruud is a tough matchup for Berrettini, but he took him out at the United Cup to stop a two match win streak for Ruud in the head-to-head. That could be a big confidence booster if they meet again.
To the other half where Fritz looks to be the clear cut favorite with Zverev, Schwartzman and Kecmanovic as the other seeds. The 8th seeded American has won five of six prep matches with his lone loss to Norrie. He scored his career best fourth round result last year in Melbourne, losing a five set slug fest against Tsitsipas. The first match could be the key one for him with a historically tough matchup against Basilashvili. Whether that translates to on the court this time around is debatable with Basilashvili still looking well off his best. A second rounder against Popyrin could also be interesting, but Fritz still appears the better of the two by a good margin. Kecmanovic could be the big threat to stopping Fritz short as he split two meetings with the American last year with a win in Miami and a three set loss in Indian Wells. Fritz also scored a win over him at Atlanta back in 2019. Kecmanovic made round four a year ago in Melbourne, but should be weary of hard serving Nicolas Jarry in round one. The Chilean can get easy points quickly on serve and with his forehand. American Ben Shelton is also mixed in this section and will be one I watch, but I don’t think he’s quite up to snuff to go crazy here. He should have a good chance for his first Aussie Open win however.
The final section has the large question mark that is Alexander Zverev. He is back after missing a chunk of 2022 due to that nasty ankle injury he suffered at the French Open. Zverev certainly looks like he has work to do to find his game again after being beaten rather easily in two United Cup matches by Fritz and Lehecka. The pedigree is obviously there with a semifinal and quarterfinal to his credit in Melbourne, but I think the match reps and toughness are still very much a work-in-progress that keep me from think he does much here this year. The second serve still looks problematic, so that may even have him on upset watch in round one against the lucky loser for me. Round two, if he’s there, will be a test with Goffin or Lokoli. Goffin found some better form in Auckland, but Lokoli is hot after making a Challenger final to start the year and rolling through qualifying into just his fourth Slam main draw at age 28. Goffin has dropped his opener here two straight years, so watch out for that one in round one as he could be prone to a difficult day. Goffin would be a huge threat for Zverev after beating the German in each of the last two matches they’ve played. Schwartzman looks to bust an eight match losing skid as he faces a qualifier. The Argentine has not lost in round one here since 2016. Trouble may find Diego in round two though regardless of whether it’s Wolf or Thompson. This section looks ripe for an unseeded player to push deeper than expected.
The quarterfinal mix in this final quarter could be the one that has the best shot to produce an unseeded player in the final eight. Tommy Paul. Thanasi Kokkinakis. David Goffin and even further out like Alexei Popyrin or JJ Wolf – those are the names to watch. My eyes will be on Paul and once again with vivid hatred on Goffin. There is definitely a path for him and he’s split two matches with Fritz, so he’s not over matched against anyone really. But would you ever trust that serve to hold up enough? I’m always doubtful from day one, yet…. Berrettini and Fritz will be the favorites with Fritz winning their lone fight back in 2021 at Indian Wells. Something tells me that isn’t happening though. There’s a lot of risky matchups for the top guys in this section. I’m looking deeper. There are some tasty temptations in the outright market to win this quarter: Berrettini as the third favorite at 6.0 (+500) is a better option for me over Fritz and Ruud at the shorter prices. You can go bigger on Bautista Agut at 15.0 (+1400), Tommy Paul 17.0 (+1600) and then Goffin 21.0 (+2000) or Kecmanovic 23.0 (+2200) for the all guts, probably no glory picks.
ONE AND DONE WATCH
Bublik over (24)Davidovich Fokina
Jarry over (26)Kecmanovic
No one can fault you if you want to load up on Djokovic even at the shorter price as your main look at an outright in Melbourne. I generally don’t play anything that isn’t plus odds for an outright though as it’s just not the best investment for how I like to do things. It’s fairly reasonable to believe he will be hoisting the trophy in Melbourne for the 10th time within the next two weeks. Medvedev can’t be ruled out of being in the mix with how well he’s played here recently and I really like both Tsitsipas and Berrettini too. It’s Tsitsipas or Medvedev who might have the better chances of pushing Djokovic to the brink, but that Aussie magic for Nole is hard to look past. I talked about it before that looking at those “to win the quarter” markets are often underutilized, so that’s where I’m looking to take a couple of bites at better odds this year. For the bigger tournament, I’ll take three nibbles over the traditional two.
TAKE THREE (TO WIN THEIR QUARTER)
Tsitsipas 3.5 (+250)
Berrettini 6.0 (+500)
Goffin 21.0 (+2000)