Here are some of the top contenders and my thoughts on how the draw might unfold…
The Top Seeds
- Andy Murray (GBR) – Andy enters his first ever Grand Slam as the number one seed. He has a great record at Melbourne making the final on five previous occasions. This year however, Murray does have a very tough draw, with a potential match-up against Roger Federer in the quarter-final and Stan Wawrinka in the semis.
- Novak Djokovic (SRB) – This year Novak is gunning for a record-breaking seventh Australian Open title and third in a row. He has a remarkable record in Melbourne and the hard courts suit his game perfectly. He is coming off an indifferent year however where he lost form and the number 1 ranking. Did win the Qatar Open last week however so he looks in good form. Will take some beating.
- Milos Raonic (CAN) – Made the semi-finals here last year and had a 2 sets to 1 lead against Andy Murray but couldn’t quite get over the line. He has worked very hard on his physical condition over the past few seasons and has in my opinion the game’s best serve and some big groundstrokes of both sides. Is certainly a chance and if he has a day-out on serve, he can be almost impossible to beat.
- Stan Wawrinka (SUI) – The 2014 champion comes into this year’s tournament with another major title under his belt. Seems to save his best tennis for the big matches and I think he is a big chance on adding to his title of 2014.
- Kei Nishikori (JPN) – Always plays well on the hard courts and has defeated all the top 4 seeds (Murray, Djokovic, Raonic and Wawrinka) at Grand Slam level. Has the ability to go all the way but his serve, which can let him down at times, needs to be firng. Was a finalist at the Brisbane International last week where he fell to Grigor Dimitrov in 3 tight sets so he is in good form.
- Gaël Monfils (FRA) – Monfils is in career best form and is currently sitting at a career high ranking of 6. An extremely entertaining and dangerous player although at times inconsistent. He does sit in a tough section of the draw however where he will most likely need to defeat one of either Rafael Nadal or Alexander Zverev to progress to the quarter-finals.
- Marin Čilić (CRO) – Čilić knows what it takes to win a grand slam so he must be considered as a contender. Has a big game that is suited to hard courts but at times can struggle against the likes of Murray, Djokovic, Nadal and Federer. Consistency can be an issue for him so he will need to be at his very best to contend with some of the higher seeds at the pointy end of the tournament.
- Dominic Thiem (AUT) – Theim had a fantastic first half of 2016 however his form fell away from Wimbledon onwards. He had a disappointing result by his standards at the Sydney International this week but his seeding allows him to build some momentum in some of the earlier matches if he is able to get through unscathed. Not sure if he’s a contender this year but it wouldn’t surprise me to see him make the semis.
- Rafael Nadal (ESP) – Injury in the latter half of last year saw Nadal drop to an unfamiliar spot in the rankings and as a result he is outside the top 8 seeds. He is in a tough section of the draw with the likes of Monfils, Alexander Zverev and Milos Raonic so he will have his work cut out. He is always a chance at a major tournament however I’m not sure if he can still match it with the likes of Murray and Djokovic.
- Tomáš Berdych (CZE) – A tough draw for the big Czech this year. He is on a collision course with Roger Federer and if he can overcome him, is likely to face Nishikori then Murray. Always seems to feature in the second week of major tournaments but struggles to go beyond the semis. I think it’s probably beyond him this year with his seeding and draw.
Nick Kyrgios – Kyrgios comes into this year’s open with a seeding of 14. Has the ability to beat anyone on his day but questions remain as to whether he is yet physically and mentally able to get through seven best-of-5 set matches in a fortnight. He is in the same quarter of the draw as Stan Wawrinka so a big fourth round matchup potentially awaits. Could do some damage if he is physically well.
Bernard Tomic – Tomic is the 27th seed at this year’s Australian Open. I expect him to get through to at least the third round but unsure of how much further he will get given his seeding. There have been some question-marks over his fitness leading into the tournament so it will be interesting to see how he fares.
Winner: Stan Wawrinka
There is something about Wawrinka and the way he plays in big matches. I think that given the tough draw that Murray has and the question-marks over Djokovic’s form, that we could well see a winner from outside the top two seeds. He seems to be getting better with age and is currently in peak physical condition. Loves the best-of-5 format of the game and I’m backing him to take out this year’s title.
Runner-up: Novak Djokovic
Novak always plays extremely well at the Australian Open, and I’d back him to win a final should he play anyone other than Wawrinka. Given he’s on the opposite side of the draw to Stan, their only possible match-up is in the final. If I’m correct with my prediction that Wawrinka will get to the last match, I think he will be too strong for Djokovic.
Dark Horse: Roger Federer
It seems ridiculous that Roger Federer would be considered a Dark Horse rather than a genuine contender at a grand slam, but his return from injury and low seeding mean that the expectations upon him are not as high as normal. He looked absolutely flawless in his most recent match (against Richard Gasquet in the Hopman Cup), which was just his third competitive match since Wimbledon last year. I also think that being in Andy Murray’s quarter of the draw (as opposed to Wawrinka, Raonic or Novak’s) is the best result for him considering his excellent record against Murray of late. If he gets through his first week’s matches against his likely opponents in Berdych and Nishikori, it will give him a huge amount of confidence to go extremely deep into the draw.