The 2017 Australian Open kicks off today with the top half of the men’s draw playing its first round matches. At least four seeds on the mens side in the top half have interesting round 1 matchups, while an American fan favorite is looking to continue to work his way back into the ATP top 50. Our panel of Steen Kirby and Yesh Ginsburg of LWOS Tennis, and Manuel Traquete and Jacob Billings of Men’s Tennis Forums are on hand to offer their previews for the 5 best men’s matches of day 1.
(Q)Alexander Bublik vs. (16)Lucas Pouille
Steen: Bublik is an unheralded talent, and his qualifying result proved his mettle. That said, he didn’t get a great draw with Pouille, who generates enough power to dictate play. The Frenchman should win if fit. Pouille in 3 sets
Manuel: Bublik was the marathon man in the Australian Open qualies and is now rewarded with his first Grand Slam MD appearance. The draw wasn’t exactly kind to him here though; Pouille established himself as a solid top 20 player in 2016, and even reached the quarters of the last two Slams he’s played. He’s likely to be way too good at this stage for the 19 year old Bublik. Pouille in 3
Jacob: This first round showdown between these #NextGen players may seem to have an obvious favorite in the Frenchman, but there is definitely more to the story. First off, there are question marks around Pouille’s fitness, as he retired from his second round match against Kyle Edmund in Brisbane. Secondly, Pouille sometimes struggles against big servers like Bublik, i.e. his two easy losses to Raonic , Querrey and Mahut all within the last year.
Alexander Bublik, the 19 year-old Russian representing Kazakhstan has had a breakout year in 2016, starting last year at No. 964 and rising all the way to the brink of Top 200. He won his only meeting against a Top 20 player (Bautista Agut in Moscow), but Pouille has a 6-0 record against opponents outside the Top 200 in the last year. In qualification, Bublik lost the first set but came back in all three of his matches against De Greef, Coppejans, and most notably Duckhee Lee. Pouille in 4
Yesh: Lucas Pouille is a young rising talent. Bublik qualified by beating deaf South Korean teenage phenom Duckhee Lee. Bublik may someday compete in the later rounds of Slams, but he’s not there yet. Pouille in 3
Ryan Harrison vs. Nicolas Mahut
Steen: Mahut won their only h2h meeting and veteran earned a couple of wins prior to the start of the AO. Harrison’s defensive style should lend itself to a long match, but I favor Mahut’s attacking approach to earn him a hard fought victory over the American. Mahut in 5
Manuel: Harrison has been surprisingly solid ever since the US Open last year and looks like he might be on his way back to the top 50. Given the right surface, Mahut can be quite a tricky player. The slow plexicuxion isn’t that surface though. Harrison in 4
Jacob: Few matches between unseeded players in this draw deserve to be hyped as much as Ryan Harrison facing Nicolas Mahut. Even though Mahut is the higher ranked and is arguably in better form, the American has been judged the favorite by bookmakers. Mahut also leads the head-to-head 1-0, which should be taken into consideration as the match was played in Sydney. That said, Harrison has a way of playing against big servers, like his wins over Raonic at US Open and Isner in Toronto. So far in 2017, Harrison fell to Dodig in Brisbane qualification and after flying through subpar qualification at Auckland (Matkowski, Statham), the American beat Garcia-Lopez before falling to eventual champion Jack Sock.
This could hardly be called a successful lead-up for the ambitious American, so he comes into the first grand slam with something to prove. Mahut was consistent in his first two tournaments, beating those ranked lower than him and losing to those above him, which yielded a 2-2 record. Mahut in 3
Yesh: Nicolas Mahut, behind a strong serve and good follow-up, seems to be consistent no matter how much he ages. Ryan Harrison has been up-and-down in his career, at one time looking like a potential star and often looking like a complete bust. He’s currently on an upswing, so we’ll see how far he can take it. Harrison in 4
Andrey Kuznetsov vs. (5)Kei Nishikori
Steen: Nishikori is 6-0 in Grand Slam sets against Kuznetsov, and they met twice in slams last season. Kuznetsov has good form coming off of the semifinals in Sydney, and he’s not a bad player at all. Presuming he’s healthy though, Nishikori should win way too many points from the baseline to lose this match. Nishikori in 3
Manuel: Nishikori beat Kuznetsov last year at Roland Garros and Wimbledon, and the same outcome is expected here again. The Russian does have plenty of shotmaking skill, but not the power or the mentality to knock out one of the very best players in the game.
With that said, Nishikori admitted to be struggling with his hip during the Brisbane final and his physical condition in general is always a bit of a question mark; if the Japanese isn’t at 100% physically, Kuznetsov is the kind of player who can very well upset him. Nishikori in 4
Jacob: Kei Nishikori will start his Australian Open campaign against potentially dangerous Russian, Andrey Kuznetsov. Kuznetsov pushed Tsonga to three sets in Doha and reached semifinals of Sydney. They have met 3 times, with Nishikori winning the last two of their meetings which happened to be at grand slams. Nishikori hasn’t lost a set in their slam meetings, and had a quite good start to the season. No. 4 reached the finals in Brisbane, defeating Stan Wawrinka on the way. Nishikori in 4
Yesh: Kei Nishikori is one of the best players in the world, and is still searching for that first Grand Slam title. Will he get it here? I don’t know. But he’s not going to have any troulbe this early. Nishikori in 3
(27)Bernard Tomic vs. Thomaz Bellucci
Steen: Tomic is in atrocious form, and doesn’t seem to be fit either, the heat may play a factor in this match depending on conditions. That said, Bellucci isn’t exactly a world beater either. The Brazilian does lead the h2h 2-1, and even though the crowd will back Tomic, Bellucci should be able to pounce on the Aussie’s slow ground strokes if he doesn’t throw in too many errors. Bellucci in 4
Manuel: When these two faced at Shenzhen last year, Bellucci won 6-2 6-2. The level Tomic showed in Brisbane this year isn’t encouraging for him either. On the other hand, Tomic is generally good in Melbourne and when playing well is clearly the better hardcourt player so this is a tough one to predict. Tomic in 4
Jacob: A very tough match to call between Tomic and Bellucci, mainly because there is very little data on their form. Tomic took a straight set loss to Ferrer, and Bellucci was defeated by Mahut in straight sets as well. Bellucci leads the head-to-head 2-1, winning the last match 6-2 6-2. However, Tomic will have the home crowd behind him, which could be a deciding factor in this match. Tomic’ unusual style of play contrasts nicely with Bellucci’s spin, and should make for a great match to watch again. Tomic in 5
Yesh: Tomic might fly under the radar, but he is pretty consistent and is a good talent. Belluccii at one time seemed to have real potential, but is currently a middling talent. He might be able to sneak an upset when he plays well, but it’s not fair to expect that. Tomic in 4
Jerzy Janowicz vs. (7)Marin Cilic
Steen: Both of these players are big hitters who have tasted Grand Slam success. Janowicz is still a significant level below Cilic though, and unless the Croatian continues his early season blues, he should win this match. Expect a lot of winners hit, but Cilic the cleaner hitting of the pair. Cilic in 4
Manuel: Janowicz is always a potentially dangerous player regardless of his ranking, given his huge firepower. Cilic was actually one of the players he beat in his breakthrough 2012 Bercy run. But Cilic tends to raise his level at the Slams and do well in them, and I don’t expect this to be an exception. Cilic in 4
Jacob: The World No. 7 has started his year with a surprising loss to Slovak qualifier Jozef Kovalik in second round of Chennai, which has been his only match in 2017 so far. Former No. 14 Jerzy Janowicz is using Protected Ranking to enter, as he has fallen all the way to No. 278. Janowicz has lost in the final qualifying round of Auckland Michael Mmoh. The Pole leads the head-to-head, which is irrelevant as their match occurred in 2012. These players share a similar style of play, with Janowicz having a bit more power and Cilic being the superior mover. Janowicz is the player making this match worth watching, with his beautiful drop shots and his ability to just rip through the ball. Cilic is looking shaky and is upset-prone. Cilic in 3
Yesh: I have long held that Janowicz is entirely unpredictable and is wholly inconsistent. His “see ball hit ball” attitude can produce wonders when it’s on fire, but there’s no way to know if or when it will come. Cilic in 3