An Idiot's Guide to the Australian Open
By design, little can be said with any sense of certainty about the Australian Open before it begins.
Tennis has a very broken ecosystem. It does an awful job of protecting its non-elite players in every way imaginable. Its prize money system is broken, its ability to equally support the WTA is non existent, and it is phenomenally poor at being introspective about literally anything ever.
There are lots of things that need to be addressed, few of which have easy solutions. But what makes writing anything prescient ahead of the Australian Open such a throwing-spaghetti-at-a-wall exercise is such a problem that should be an easy fix.
The schedule of tennis needs to be completely redone.
The ATP and WTA tours start essentially at the new year. The four tent pole events of the year begin January 14th, May 27th, July 1st, and August 26th. That first tent pole is played in the middle of the Australian summer and the fourth one is held int he stickiest part of the New York summer. The lack of a gap between the 2nd and 3rd means that there can be no Masters level events on grass. The overall ridiculously compact nature of significant parts of the season leads to the year ending with roughly 3 healthy players, one of whom is Kevin Anderson, and two of whom are like 39 years old somehow (bonjour, Gilles Simon). If you want to look at the effects of this, say hello to Sir Andy Murray.
Basically, the shit's all fucked up.
What if the Australian Open was backed up two months and was played at the end of the first hard court swing. What if Wimbledon was a week later and the US Open was pushed back a month (or better yet, just cancelled altogether, because the US Open sucks chungus)? We'd get a tour that makes more sense, less battered bodies at the end of the season, and an Australian Open preview that doesn't suck.
Let's get into it.
It all comes down to the draw
It's obvious to anyone who's ever watched any kind of tournament ever, but it really is as simple as the luck of the draw making all the difference in the world. Novak Djokovic is the best player in the world by some margin, but he'll get significant tests beginning in the third round, when he'll (probably) play Denis Shapovalov, then Daniill Medvedev then Kei Nishikori en route to the semifinals.
Roger Federer is very old and big time washed and his only threats before the semis are two rowdy children who are yet to prove they belong as real slam contenders (Stefanos Tsitsipas in the fourth round and Karen Khachanov in the quarters).
On the women side, Petra Kvitova has a gauntlet to run just to make it through her quarter. Some combination of Belinda Bencic, Katerina Siniakova, Lesia Tsurenko, and Aryna Sabalenka will guard the route to the quarterfinals.
Elina Svitolina needs to avoid tripping on the lines on the court to make a deep run. She's gonna trip anyway.
The biggest loser of the lots is very clearly Simona Halep. The world number one will likely play this murderers row just to make the quarterfinals:
- The opponent who knocked her out in the first round of the US Open, Kaia Kanepi
- The best young American in the field, Sonya Kenin, who just won a title this past week
- Venus Williams or the super tricky and very good Mihaela Buzarnescu
- Serena Williams
That's outrageous for a world number one.
Will the run of first time slam winners continue on the women's side
Aryna Sabalenka is an absolute monster, and she's the best player in the world right now. She can run, she hits with crazy depth and pace from both wings, she can serve, and is currently sitting and #2 in the ELO ratings.
The other trendy picks are Ashleigh Barty (good, fun, not good enough to win a slam on her home soil) and Elina Svitolina (bad), are far less tempting.
Serena Williams is the Vegas favorite, and for good reason. She has a soft-ish draw (I'm talking myself into Bouchard taking a set off her in the second round) and she looked pretty strong in Perth in exhibition matches. I like Sabalenka, but no one would consider Serena to be anything other than a reasonable pick to win.
Can someone not named Djokovic/Federer/Nadal win?
This is at best an aggressive take and at worst a very stupid take. But I've seen enough issues from the Big Three to think that there's room for someone to steal a slam.
Nadal is probably nowhere close to healthy. His lower body is in the process of grinding itself into a fine powder, which sucks, because if he were healthy, he'd win this slam.
As mentioned before, Federer is picking up Switzerland's version of Social Security checks and is just marking time before he hangs up his racket.
Novak Djokovic should win this tournament. Then again he should have been Roberto Bautista Agut in Doha, and he failed to do that rather spectacularly. Beating Novak is no easy task. But the guy who was routined by him at Wimbledon is our best bet.
Kevin Anderson, against all odds, is the strongest challenger to the big three in Melbourne, and his draw sets up nicely. His quarter is empty, and he can't ask for much more than a matchup with a banged up and battered Rafael Nadal. It's easy to forget just how close he was to winning Wimbledon. If he took care of business in a reasonable amount of time in that fifth set, he would've been fresh and facing an opponent who went five sets plus against Rafael Nadal. Melbourne is an opportunity to get it back.
Wanna brain dump some hot takes?
- Sascha Zverev doesn't make it out of the third round
- Stan Wawrinka wins his quarter
- Some weird name is gonna come out of the men's section four. Fernando Verdasco is intriguing to me.
- The aforementioned Washed Federer won't drop a set until the quarterfinals.
- John Isner vs Reily Opelka is the match of the first round. Two disgustingly tall servebots who can't play tennis. It's going to be nauseating, and I'm here for it.
- Tomas Berdych can win that quarter of his.
- Genie Bouchard is going to take a set off of Serena and make that match somewhat interesting before Williams takes the third set 6-0.
- Bencic-Siniakova is a low-key great match in the first round that you should pay attention to.
- Amanda Anisimova, the best U-18 prospect in the world, got a tough draw and won't get a chance to get any coverage before Lesia Tsurenko takes her out with ease.
- This quarter sucks my ass.
- Sloane Stephens will either make the semifinals or lose in her first two matches and there is no way to figure out which one it will be. This holds for every tournament Sloane Stephens plays.
Let's pick some winners
- (1) Djokovic over (8) Nishikori
- Wawrinka over (11) Coric maybe?
- (3) Federer over (10) Khachanov
- (5) Anderson) over Berdych
- Djokovic over Wawrinka
- Anderson over Federer
- Anderson over Djokovic
- (16) Williams over Konta
- (17) Keys over (4) Osaka
- (11) Sabalenka over (15) Barty
- (2) Kerber over Sasnovich
- Williams over Keys
- Sabalenka over Kerber
- Sabalenka over Williams