An Idiot’s Guide To The 2018 Australian Open

Hey, man, this bit of asking questions and then answering as a way to write a column is pretty lame.

Come on.

Alright, I’ll play along. Whew, boy, am I excited for this tennis stuff.

While your sarcasm isn’t appreciated, so am I! It’s the first slam of the year, which is an extremely exciting time. There hasn’t been a whole lot of prep work, which makes the Australian Open fairly unique. The French Open gets a clay court season beforehand, Wimbledon is smack dab in the middle of the season, the US Open gets its two Masters 1000 events in its run up, and the Australian Open gets…some random 250s no one cares about.

No one’s ready! No one knows who’s in what form! It’s maddening! Anything can happen!

Oh, anything can happen? Will a first time major winner get it done this year?

There are reasons to be optimistic if you are one of the lame guys who is tired of Federer/Nadal domination.

First of all, Nadal isn’t physically right.

After his loss against Federer in the finals of Shanghai, Nadal pulled out of two tournaments with injury. His first event in 2018 was an exhibition match where he got crunched by Noted Corpse Richard Gasquet. He might well play himself into shape, and the 2017 US Open is pretty good evidence as to why you should never count Nadal out. He came to that tournament looking physically shaky and playing pretty bad tennis and came out of it with another slam title.

Elsewhere in the world of Guys Who Aren’t Way Over The Hill And Already Have Won A Major, you have Novak Djokovic, who is physically a mess and probably worse mentally, Stan Wawrinka, who is even more physically jacked up and hasn’t played a competitive match since Wimbledon, Marin Cilic, who is boring and lost to Gilles Simon and Matthew Ebden in his last two matches, and Andy Murray, who is at home after hip surgery and is probably never going to be good again.

Basically, Federer, who looked great in exhibition matches, is the only top level guy who you can feel confident about.

So should I take the field against Nadal and Federer?

Absolutely not, that would be stupid.

What the hell?

Listen, I’d love to tell you to believe in Alexander Zverev, or Grigor Dimitrov, or Marin Cilic, or anyone else, but there’s just no reason to yet. No one has proven that they can consistently make runs in slams. Zverev was supposed to be the belle of the US Open ball, but he lost to Borna freaking Coric. He’s only 13-12 in best-of-five matches.

By the way, Federer and Zverev have played once this year. Here’s how the match ended. Tristan Jung called this a “you’re not beating me until I retire” shot. And he’s right.

Grigor Dimitrov, as I wrote earlier, is a mental midget whose second serve is the worst on tour. Enjoy that ride.

The top ten guy who I feel most confident in other than Federer is David Goffin, and that’s mostly because I am the conductor of the Goffin Hype Train. Leave your cheeky Sock/Thiem/Del Po bets at home, because it isn’t happening.

Oh, so this tournament is going to be bad then.

Hold on now.

So give me something to watch for.

18-year old Aussie, Alex De Minaur, made a semifinal and a final in the two events leading up to the Australian Open, and goodness is he fun.

He is probably already one of the 20 best returners on tour. He smothers the baseline regardless of the power on the other side of the net and immediately negates his opponent’s opening strike. His win over Milos Raonic is no joke, regardless of how damaged Raonic’s wrist may be.

He comes forward, he’s electric, and he wears a stupid hat. I love him.

Hey, remember that weird NextGen event? Can any of those kids bust out?

Well…probably not.

Here’s quick rundown of Notable Youngsters.

Young American, Jared Donaldson, got a cushy draw, but he’s been playing pretty bad tennis recently.

Coric got stuck in Rafa’s quarter.

Hyeon Chung would have to beat both of the Zverevs and probably fellow Next Gen player, Daniil Medvedev just to get to the fourth round.

Francis Tiafoe and Karen Khachanov will play Del Potro in rounds one and two respectively.

The young gun with the best chance of making a real run is Russian wunderkind, Andrey Rublev. He’s got a tricky first round match up against the seemingly ageless David Ferrer, but I’d like Rublev to give Dimitrov a real fight in the third round. Waiting for him in the fourth round could be Nick Kyrgios, who I love and do not trust ever.

Kyrgios is playing on home soil and fresh off a title. Surely this is his time.

If you want to wager on Nick Kyrgios, that’s your business, not mine.

Kyrgios’s performance in Auckland made me a fan, but it hasn’t made me a believer. His game is just too damn erratic.

He won himself a title by, basically, tossing away first sets and battling his way back. I think that gave him an extra edge, but that tactic isn’t going to work in Melbourne.

I can see him tossing a set and getting burned by an older, wiser player (hello, potential third round opponent Jo-Wilfried Tsonga).

I can see him not throwing away sets and burning himself out due to actually having to engage mentally for five-set matches.

Kyrgios has made one slam quarterfinal in the past three seasons. He has three first round exits in that span. Don’t spend your money on him.

You’ve made it 900 words  without talking about Denis Shapovalov. I’m proud of you!

Ah, you’re too kind. Sure, let’s talk about my sweet Canadian boy, Denis Shapovalov.

He’s not playing good tennis.

Ever since the US Open, where he backed up a terrific run in Montreal with another deep run, Shapovalov has gone 3-8. Only one of those wins was against a top 100 player (Yuichi Sugita, who Shapovalov beat 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 in Basel).

His return of serve is brutal right now. He goes for too much and gives away points without ever even getting a foothold in the rally. His backhand is being sprayed all over the court, and he still doesn’t have a full repertoire of shots at his disposal (my kingdom for a slice backhand).

The positive angle is that he is a big match player who is great at five-setters. His draw is nice too, with Tsonga waiting for him in the second round, an opponent El Shapo handled with relative ease at the US Open, and Kyrgios, who is Nick Kyrgios, potentially in the third round.

His first round matchup against fellow teen, Stefanos Tsitsipas, will be an awesome and fun match. I think Tsitsipas will win.

Shapo has a long way to go before he’s as good as we want him to be.

That must have been difficult for you.

It was.

How are the Americans going to do?

Shitty.

John Isner is good, though.

We’re gonna do this? We’re gonna antagonize me for no reason? No, he’s bad, please read this.

Why haven’t you talked about the women’s draw yet?

I won’t lie to you, reader, it’s because I don’t know enough to say anything intelligent. The WTA’s streaming service is separate from the Tennis TV package I paid for, so I just don’t watch enough to tell you anything worthwhile.

Some broad strokes though:

  • Carloine Wozniacki is back. Probably.
  • Simona Halep is the top seed but is a noted choker who doesn’t perform at slams.
  • Gabi Muguruza, who is both very good and very fun, pulled out of back-to-back tournaments with injury problems.
  • Venus Williams is going to lose to Belinda Bencic in the first round, never @ me.
  • Sloane Stephens is trash again, having lost literally every match since winning the US Open. She and fellow currently trash player, Genie Bouchard, are playing doubles together and will probably get positively trucked.
  • Maria Sharapova is my pick to win.
So what’s the upshot here? What’s the sell? What’s The Thing for this Australian Open?

There are way more questions than answers at this point, which to me, is exciting. For you, the person who values their time and doesn’t watch random 250 events at 2 AM, that’s probably not exciting.

But the Australian Open, if nothing else, has a tendency to produce some of the best matches in tennis history. Marat Safin vs Roger Federer was played in Melbourne. Last year’s final will undoubtedly go down as one of the best duels we’ve ever seen. Something about the Aussie heat brings out really damn good tennis.

We have a potential Nadal vs Federer final looming if everything bounces right (I’d be shocked if Nadal makes it to the final).

Kyrgios is again a storyline, and he’s always fun.

The young guns seem close. This probably won’t be the tournament where the youth explodes into the quarters and semis, but there are now a big handful of young players who are dangerous ATP pros. Now’s a really good time to pick your favorite one and watch their rise to stardom.

Just be ready for them to get wrecked by a middle-aged Swiss man at some point in the next two weeks.

Mostly, though, tennis is back, and that’s worth celebrating. We get to see if that gap between the elite and the very good is getting smaller. We get to see exciting young talent once again try to assert themselves.

And most importantly, there will be really fun sports streaming at four in the morning. God bless Australia.

UPDATE: Make sure to catch our Day One live blog at Forget the Protocol.

 

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