The 2019 Australian Open kicks off in Melbourne with players hoping to quickly find form after limited opportunities to prepare for the first slam of the season. Here is a look at the players who have already found form and those who look set for an early exit down under.
5: Alex De Minaur
Aussie fans will be pumped about the Demon’s chances of a dark horse run in Melbourne. ADM comes off his first title in Sydney and posted 7-1 record on the Aussie swing overall. He didn’t face the stiffest competition but you have to back him to surpass his best ever AO result (2nd round) and reach round 3 where Rafael Nadal awaits. His draw of Pedro Sousa and Mirza Basic/Henri Laaksonen is far from challenging. Beating Nadal is another question altogether though.
4: Tomas Berdych
Tip the former AO semifinalist Berdych to build on his run to the final in Doha and reach the second week down under. The Czech opens with an out of form Kyle Edmund, with Robin Haase an Diego Schwartzman also in his path. A 4th round meeting against Rafael Nadal gives him a chance to score a memorable upset after injuries derailed his 2018 season.
3: Roberto Bautista Agut
RBA will face pressure from the crowd in his first two matches. First up he has the retiring Andy Murray in what will be an emotional contest, and then Australia’s John Millman is likely in round 2. However, RBA is better than both players at present and should slide into the second week after beating Karen Khachanov in round 3. Marin Cilic is likely to test the Spaniard in the round of 16, but after he won Doha he should have a boost of confidence. Beating world #1 Novak Djokovic certainly helps as RBA tries to reach a slam quarter for the first time in his career.
2: Kevin Anderson
The South African #1 Anderson has had a late career surge. At 32 he now has two slam finals to his name including last year’s Wimbledon final. Anderson excels on fast surfaces and is certain to build upon his best ever AO result (4th round) to perhaps be a dark horse for the title. Big Kev won the Pune warm up tournament and has an easy path of Adrian Mannarino, Frances Tiafoe/Prajnesh Gunneswaran, Andreas Seppi and Grigor Dimitrov/John Isner before the quarterfinals. Rafael Nadal would be at that stage. The Spaniard is a tough out but he’s easier to beat on a hard court compared to clay, especially with Anderson’s serve focused skill set. I have Anderson surging into the semis this time out.
1: Kei Nishikori
King Kei won Brisbane, his only warm up tournament. After a relatively pedestrian 2018 where he failed to achieve his lofty goals. The Japanese #1 has three previous quarterfinals in Melbourne as it’s been one of his best slams. He should reach a fourth quarterfinal, but beating Novak Djokovic the world #1 is going to be a massive challenge, and the type of match he’s consistently fallen short in during his career. Look for Ivo Karlovic, Philipp Kohlschreiber, and Pablo Carreno Busta to fall short against Nishikori in rounds 1 through 4.
5: John Isner
Reilly Opelka and Grigor Dimitrov will be tough early opponents for the American #1 Isner. Now 33 he has two previous 4th round showings in Melbourne but he struggled in his Auckland warm up match losing to Taylor Fritz the young upstart. Fans should have little confidence that this veteran is going to make a deep run at Melbourne Park.
4: Dominic Thiem
Thiem is defending two previous 4th round appearances in Melbourne after a stunning defeat against Pierre-Hugues Herbert in Doha. Despite his top 10 seeding Thiem will be vulnerable in round 1 against Benoit Paire and is most likely to exit in the 4th round or sooner. I tip the young Borna Coric to knock him out at the start of the second week as expectations are not high for the Austrian.
3: Lucas Pouille
Pouille has never won a match in Melbourne park despite his top 30 ranking (and previous top 10 ranking). He’s in terrible form and Mikhail Kukushkin or Max Marterer should benefit, knocking out the #28 seed early on. Pouille is another player set to slide down the rankings and potentially be outside of the top 50 soon as he’s been struggling for a while.
2: Hyeon Chung
Chung is in terrible form and I have him going out in round 2 to Pierre-Hugues Herbert or Sam Querrey as the #24 seed. South Korea’s top player has dropped both of his matches this season in straight sets to unseeded competition and something is clearly off about his focus and skill right now. Chung is talented but the pressure of defending semifinal points from last year should result in an early exit this time around and a huge drop down the rankings.
1: Kyle Edmund
Edmund is going to be the British #1 for a good while given that Andy Murray confirmed his retirement is imminent. That pressure is not suiting him right now as Tomas Berdych is a tough round 1 opponent and he was dumped out of Brisbane by an unseeded opponent in his first match. Both Chung and Edmund reached the semifinals in Melbourne last year, and both look set for early exits this time around.