Australian Open Men’s Draw Analysis

Yesterday I looked at the women’s draw and made predictions about how things would unfold in Melbourne. Today I look at the men’s draw.

Because the talent in the ATP Tour is more concentrated among a small number of top players, there are likely to be fewer major early-round upsets in the men’s draw compared to the women’s. On the other hand, it’s harder to gauge the form of many of the top men as the new season begins, because some have yet to play an official tournament where ranking points are at stake. Some could turn out to be unexpectedly vulnerable, and a few have drawn very dangerous first-round opponents. There’s bound to be at least one early surprise that will have people talking.

For each eighth of the draw, I’ve listed the seeded players and a few unseeded players I think have a meaningful chance to reach at least the third round. For each player, I’ve also listed a form score, which measures whether players’ recent results are better or worse than their current ranking would lead you to expect. These scores are newly updated to take into account results through this week’s tournaments in Sydney and Auckland. Players with scores greater than 5 are playing above their ranking. See this post for an explanation of how the scores are calculated.

After breaking down the numbers, I discuss how I think the early rounds will unfold. At the very end I make specific predictions for the quarterfinals and beyond.

Djokovic’s Eighth

Player Seeding Ranking Form Score
Djokovic 1 1 4.4
Wawrinka 15 17 4.3
Querrey 20 22 8.9
Stepanek 31 34 8.4
Troicki 38 2.5
López, F 42 4.4
Baker, B 59 4.2

Novak Djokovic’s first-round opponent, Paul-Henri Mathieu, had some good results late last year, beating Nikolay Davydenko and Grigor Dimitrov in Basel. He won’t be a pushover, but Djokovic should advance without much difficulty unless his subpar performance against Bernard Tomic at the Hopman Cup exhibition event was a sign of something more than jet lag. Djokovic faces another quality opponent in the second round—either solid 20-year-old Ryan Harrison or inconsistent shotmaker Santiago Giraldo—but again shouldn’t have much trouble unless he’s seriously off his game.

By seeding, Djokovic’s third-round opponent should be the tricky all-court veteran Radek Stepanek, but Stepanek withdrew from Brisbane with an eye infection and retired from a match in Sydney with an injury to a muscle in his ribcage. Stepanek may be vulnerable to an upset by Viktor Troicki in the first round, or Feliciano López in the second. The big-serving López could test Djokovic if he plays well, but his form late last year was inconsistent. Troicki poses little danger—he’s lost 12 straight matches to his Serbian compatriot.

For the second tournament in a row, Stan Wawrinka will play his opening match against qualifier Cedrik-Marcel Stebe. As in Chennai, he should win in straight sets, and his next match against Tobias Kamke or Flavio Cipolla is unlikely to be any harder. In the third round, Wawrinka is likely to face a difficult test by the resurgent, big-serving Sam Querrey, who after John Isner’s withdrawal is the highest-ranked American man in the tournament. Wawrinka will need to be at the top of his game to beat Querrey.

For his part, Querrey could face a challenge in the second round from 27-year-old Brian Baker, who finally made a splash on the ATP Tour last year after a series of injuries derailed his promising junior career. So far though, Baker’s best results against high-quality opponents have come on clay.

Predicted fourth round: Djokovic d. Wawrinka
Third most likely to reach the fourth round: Querrey

Berdych’s Eighth

Player Seeding Ranking Form Score
Berdych 5 6 4.1
Mónaco 11 12 2.7
Verdasco 22 24 2.0
Melzer 26 29 5.1
Anderson 36 13.1
Fognini 47 2.7
Bautista Agut 55 13.1
Malisse 62 10.3

Tomas Berdych suffered a surpising quarterfinal loss to Roberto Bautista Agut in Chennai, his only official tournament so far this year, and will have to work to beat the hard-fighting Michael Russell in the first round. Berdych’s more powerful weaponry should see him through, however, and his second round against Guillaume Rufin or qualifier Julian Reister should be easier. Berdych could face significant resistance in the third round from crafty but wildly inconsistent Jürgen Melzer or super-journeyman Fabio Fognini, but either of these players will need to have an exceptionally good day to overcome Berdych’s power.

Juan Mónaco withdrew from the Kooyong exhibition event this week with a hand injury, and if not fully fit could be challenged by 21-year-old Andrey Kuznetsov in the first round. He’ll likely face a much stronger challenge in the second round from big-serving Sydney finalist Kevin Anderson, who is more comfortable on hard courts than Mónaco. The winner of that match has a good chance to beat the struggling Fernando Verdasco in the third round—that is if Verdasco gets past young talent David Goffin and on-form veteran Xavier Malisse.

Predicted fourth round: Berdych d. Anderson
Third most likely to reach the fourth round: Mónaco
Not to be counted out: Verdasco, Melzer

Ferrer’s Eighth

Player Seeding Ranking Form Score
Ferrer 4 5 7.3
Nishikori 16 18 9.0
Youzhny 23 25 4.1
Baghdatis 28 31 10.9
Berlocq 67 3.3

David Ferrer faces Olivier Rochus in the first round, a speedy fighter with all-court skills, but not on a level to match Ferrer. Ivo Karlovic, whose form has been poor, or lucky loser Tim Smyczek should pose even less of a threat in the second round. Shotmaker Marcos Baghdatis has been playing well and should test Ferrer in the third round, but is unlikely to play consistently enough to overcome Ferrer’s elite counterpunching game.

Kei Nishikori has played very well over the last six months when healthy, but withdrew from Paris in late October with an ankle injury and retired from the semifinals of Brisbane last week with a knee injury. He could be vulnerable to an upset by the skilled but tightly wound Mikhail Youzhny in the third round, or possibly even clay-court specialist Carlos Berlocq (who was also injured recently) in the second round, or big-serving Victor Hanescu in the first.

Youzhny will have a fight on his hands in the first round against Matthew Ebden, who will have the home crowd behind him, but Ebden’s recent form has been poor.

Predicted fourth round: Ferrer d. Youzhny
Third most likely to reach the fourth round: Nishikori
Not to be counted out: Baghdatis

Tipsarevic’s Eighth

Player Seeding Ranking Form Score
Tipsarevic 8 9 5.1
Almagro 10 11 3.0
Janowicz 24 26 16.2
Benneteau 32 35 9.7
Dimitrov 41 11.3
Müller 69 5.2
Hewitt 82 7.8

This is the hardest eighth to predict.

Janko Tipsarevic has a very difficult first round against former number one Lleyton Hewitt. Hewitt always delivers the best effort his body can support, and will be especially motivated against a top-10 player in his home slam. However, for the past few years Hewitt’s body has let him down frequently. Hewitt beat top-10 opponents in the Kooyong exhibition event this week, but lost in straight sets to Denis Istomin last week in Brisbane. Tipsarevic has become a mentally tougher and more aggressive player over the last two years, and will put up a formidable fight of his own, but may not have big enough weapons to overcome an inspired Hewitt in what’s likely to be a very long match.

The winner of that match should be able to outclass the big-serving Gilles Müller, his likely second-round opponent, if he has any energy left. After that, the next challenge should come from either talented 21-year-old Grigor Dimitrov, who played with a new level of aggression to reach the Brisbane final, or veteran all-court player Julien Benneteau. Dimitrov would pose the biggest threat to a player like Hewitt or Tipsarevic, if he can play at his highest level against a big name in what would be his first third-round appearance at a slam. Dimitrov also has the better chance to win his first-round match against Benneteau—they played each other twice last year and Dimitrov won both times in three sets.

Nicolas Almagro is known mostly for his performances on clay, but holds his own against similarly ranked players on hard courts as well. He is unlikely to be seriously troubled by qualifier Steve Johnson in the first round, or Lukasz Kubot or Daniel Gimeno-Traver in the second. He could face a far greater threat in the third round from towering 22-year-old Jerzy Janowicz, who burst into tennis fans’ consciousness when he upset Andy Murray on his way to the final in Paris late last year. Janowicz’s unusual combination of power, touch, and speed around the court offers enormous potential, but he was upset by Brian Baker in a close three-setter in Auckland, his only match so far this year. Janowicz faces relatively weak opponents in his first and second rounds, and this may help him adjust to his new status as a top-30 player.

Predicted fourth round: Hewitt d. Janowicz
Third most likely to reach the fourth round: Almagro
Not to be counted out: Tipsarevic, Benneteau

Del Potro’s Eighth

Player Seeding Ranking Form Score
Del Potro 6 7 5.8
Cilic 12 14 4.1
Seppi 21 23 8.1
Granollers 30 33 7.3
Chardy 37 1.8
Istomin 46 7.6
Zemlja 56 6.1
Bedene 77 6.4

Juan Martin Del Potro’s first-round opponent, qualifier Adrian Mannarino, has beaten him once before. But that was in 2011 on grass—Del Potro’s worst surface—at a time when Del Potro’s form and confidence were weaker and Mannarino was playing much better than he has since. This time Del Potro should win easily. Aljaz Bedene, who upset Wawrinka in Chennai, or Benjamin Becker could be a bit of a test in the second round, but are unlikely to seriously threaten Del Potro, who finished last season very well.

In the third round Del Potro is most likely to meet Marcel Granollers, who is a solid player but doesn’t have the weapons to pose much danger. Granollers could also be upset in the first round by Grega Zemlja, who upset Tipsarevic and Tommy Haas to reach the Vienna final last year… where he lost in straight sets to Del Potro. Granollers could also be threatened in the second round by Jeremy Chardy, who beat Murray in Cincinnati last summer but finished the year poorly.

At his best, Marin Cilic has the power and shotmaking ability to compete with top-10 players. But Cilic often depends too heavily on his unreliable serve, and both his tactics and accuracy can break down. If his form is poor, he could struggle in the first round against the mercurial Marinko Matosevic, who also has a big game. If Cilic passes that test, he should have little trouble against Guillermo Garcia-Lopez or qualifier Rajeev Ram in the second round. He’ll face a much bigger threat in the third round from either Istomin, or more likely Andreas Seppi, who repeatedly pushed elite players to the limit last year.

Predicted fourth round: Del Potro d. Seppi
Third most likely to reach the fourth round: Cilic
Not to be counted out: Istomin

Murray’s Eighth

Player Seeding Ranking Form Score
Murray 3 3 4.2
Simon 14 16 7.0
Dolgopolov 18 20 6.1
Mayer, F 25 28 3.8
Lu 60 7.8
Monfils 99 31.2
Levine 104 6.5
Robredo 109 6.5

In the first round, Andy Murray faces Robin Haase, a talented player who may cause him some trouble but hasn’t shown the ability to finish big matches. Murray should prevail, and enjoy an easier second round against Joao Sousa or wild card J.-P. Smith. In the third round Murray is likely to face Florian Mayer, a crafty unconventional player who could test his form. But Murray’s defensive ability and greater firepower should see him through.

Counterpuncher Gilles Simon should outclass Filippo Volandri in the first round. He’ll most likely face a tough fight in the second round from Tommy Robredo, who leads the head-to-head 4-1. But they haven’t played since 2007, when Robredo was a top-20 player and Simon was new on the scene. The injury-plagued Robredo faces a challenge of his own in the first round against Jesse Levine, who has been playing well, and even if he wins Robredo might not have much energy left against Simon.

Simon’s next opponent is likely to be the winner of the anticipated first-round match between the quirky Alexandr Dolgopolov and former top-10 player Gael Monfils, who missed most of last season with a knee injury. At his best, Monfils has greater firepower and athletic ability, but his tactical wisdom and health are suspect. Monfils upset Tommy Haas in three sets to reach the Auckland semifinals this week, where due to some combination of exhaustion and a thigh injury he managed to win only three games against Ferrer. As the more rested player, Dolgopolov may have the advantage over Monfils. Dolgopolov also seems to have the answers to Simon’s game, having won their two matches last year, both in straight sets.

Predicted fourth round: Murray d. Dolgopolov
Third most likely to reach the fourth round: Simon
Not to be counted out: Monfils, Robredo

Tsonga’s Eighth

Player Seeding Ranking Form Score
Tsonga 7 8 3.0
Gasquet 9 10 8.6
Haas 19 21 6.1
Bellucci 29 32 3.8
Nieminen 44 11.7
Llodra 52 15.3
Falla 53 5.6
Dodig 74 7.4
Montañes 95 16.8

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga faces a potentially tough first round against Michael Llodra, whose serve-and-volley game can threaten elite players. But Llodra is at his best indoors, on courts that play faster than those in Australia. Tsonga should win, but it could be a long match. His second and third rounds should be much easier, as his most likely opponents will be Go Soeda and inconsistent clay-court specialist Thomaz Bellucci.

Richard Gasquet may have to work in his first and second rounds to beat Albert Montañes and Alejandro Falla, both of whom can be tough fighters, but they are unlikely to be serious threats. Gasquet will likely face a much more serious challenge in the third round from Haas. Their head-to-head is tied at 2-2 and they have split two five-setters, but Gasquet won their only match since 2008 and is in peak form, so should have the edge.

Haas also faces a first-round challenge from the streaky Jarkko Nieminen, who has been playing well. But as the more consistent player with a much better track record of winning big matches, Haas should prevail. Haas could also be troubled in the second round by Ivan Dodig, an aggressive player who can pull big upsets when his shots are landing in the court. But more often Dodig succumbs to excessive errors.

Predicted fourth round: Tsonga d. Gasquet
Third most likely to reach the fourth round: Haas

Federer’s Eighth

Player Seeding Ranking Form Score
Federer 2 2 3.7
Raonic 13 15 3.3
Kohlschreiber 17 19 6.9
Klizan 27 30 2.3
Davydenko 40 19.4
Paire 43 8.1
Tomic 64 27.6

Roger Federer has a remarkably difficult draw for a second seed. His first round match against shotmaker Benoit Paire could be complicated, but Paire’s risky game and emotional fragility mean there’s little chance of an upset. His second round, likely against Nikolay Davydenko, could be much harder. Davydenko has beaten Federer twice, most recently in 2010. But since then Davydenko’s health and confidence have declined, and he has won only one set from Federer in their last five matches.

By seeding, Federer’s third round opponent should be the inconsistent Martin Klizan, who made a splash by upsetting Tsonga at the US Open last year, and won St. Petersburg against weak opposition a few weeks later. But Klizan has a 1-6 match record since then, and I expect him to fall to Sydney champion Bernard Tomic in the second round (if he beats on-form qualifier Daniel Brands in the first).

Tomic’s prodigious talent has been evident for at least two years, and he was heavily criticized for his results last year, which largely failed to match his ability. He changed a lot of minds this week, doing what he needed to do to beat high-quality opponents Mayer, Nieminen, Seppi, and Anderson to win his first ATP title. However, in losing the second set of the final to Anderson, Tomic lost too many points early in games through tactical indecision or indifferent effort. Against a competitor as relentless as Federer, Tomic won’t get chances to recover from such lapses.

Milos Raonic had an excellent year last year, culminating in his defeat of Murray in Tokyo. But since then he has suffered a series of disappointing losses, most disturbingly to Gilles Müller in the first round of Valencia. Raonic should have little trouble in the first round against Jan Hajek. He shouldn’t have much more trouble in the second round against qualifier Jamie Baker or Lukas Rosol, who attracted attention by playing spectacularly well to beat Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon, but has had consistently unremarkable results since.

Raonic is likely to face a much greater threat in the third round from the talented Philipp Kohlschreiber, who played well this week to beat Querrey and reach the final in Auckland. While either Kohlschreiber or Raonic will test Federer, Roger will take comfort in his 6-0 record against Kohlschreiber and his 3-0 record against Raonic.

A word of caution: it’s hard to justify predicting that any single one of these opponents will beat Federer. But the fact that he faces so many challenging opponents means there is an unusually high probability that he will fall short of reaching the tournament final, either because he has a bad day or because a string of tough matches deplete his energy.

Predicted fourth round: Federer d. Kohlschreiber
Third most likely to reach the fourth round: Raonic

Unseeded Players Most Likely to Reach the Fourth Round

  1. Anderson
  2. Hewitt
  3. Dimitrov
  4. Monfils
  5. Istomin
  6. Robredo
  7. Tomic
  8. B. Baker
  9. F. Lopez

Quarterfinal Predictions

Djokovic d. Berdych
Ferrer d. Hewitt
Murray d. Del Potro
Federer d. Tsonga

Semifinal Predictions

Djokovic d. Ferrer
Murray d. Federer

Final Prediction

The top three men have played each other many times, and each has proven he can beat the others under the right circumstances. Analyzing past matches or theorizing about how their games match up can’t really tell us which one will win this tournament. The winner will be decided by who has the most energy, inspiration, ambition, and even luck during the tournament’s final weekend. It’s a close call, but my hunch is that:

Andy Murray will defeat Novak Djokovic for the 2013 Australian Open title.

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