By Jack Edward
The Aussie Open draw has been released. I’ve had a wee gander and, as foolhardily as ever, I am trying to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Which of the top-ranked players are going to get upset in Melbourne?
Who is looking vulnerable with only four days to go until we get under way?
After a couple of weeks of tennis, here’s my (inevitably wrong) assessment…
Jessica Pegula (21st seed): Pegula had a great season last year standing on the shoulders of Plíšková to reach multiple tour-level quarterfinals, her crowning achievement was probably being a quarterfinal at the Australian Open. After three months off the court, Pegula has arrived in Australia a little flat-footed, her most recent loss to Caroline Garcia in Sydney the more worrying of her two losses (sorry Caroline). Both matches were pretty close so maybe she could grind out a few wins but an opener with Anhelina Kalinina and a potential follow-up with Ekaterina Alexandrova do not bode well.
Emma Raducanu (17th seed): Look, we know – Emma was sent to the bakery by Elena Rybakina in Sydney, big whoop… Well, yeah, it kind of is a big whoop. At best, it’s not an indication of her form and may just suggest Raducanu is not used to huge shots in fast conditions. At worst, it is an indication of her form and there may be a lot of work still to do on the practice court to generate that air of solidity she exuded in New York. I think I side with the former but am conscious either way that Sloane Stephens won’t let her ease into her first Australian Open… Maybe I’ve got it all wrong and the match v Rybakina was a false start?
Sofia Kenin (11th seed): Any explanation needed? Sofia’s ranking is made up of 72% Australian Open 2020 points… under normal circumstances, she would almost be ranked outside of the world’s top-100. Her first-round opponent is Madison Keys (way lower ranked than the level she’s played this week in Adelaide) and Coco Gauff would likely be her third-round opponent (lower-ranked than Kenin but Gauff winning that would hardly be an upset)… Easy pick but had to be mentioned!
Aryna Sabalenka (2nd seed): Aryna is against Storm Sanders in the first-round possibly followed by Ann Li etc. etc… It doesn’t matter who Sabalenka plays early doors – after hitting 39 double faults combined in her two losses this season, the Belarusian is her own worst enemy.
I imagine the priority would have been to cut out the double faults by her second Adelaide outing so I see no reason why there won’t be some sort of hangover. For her mental wellbeing, I wish her the best of luck!
Nikoloz Basilashvili (21st seed): Guess who Nikoloz has got in his first-round match? Andy goes toe-to-toe with Basilashvili less than a week after he last played him. This isn’t just fan service – I genuinely believe Andy is the favourite for this one. Mon Muzzah!
Cam Norrie (12th seed): Cam has quietly found himself in a bit of a big-win dry spell over the last few months. He’s now lost 8 of his last 12 matches, wins only coming against Delbonis (not good on hard-courts), Opelka (fine), Lehecka (decent but outside the top-100) and Rinderknech (also fine). He’s been given a very difficult first-round in Sebi Korda – it’ll be sooner rather than later that the American breaks through at a Slam and he has the firepower to dismiss Cam. Good match to survive if he can find a way.
Stefanos Tsitsipas (4th seed): Stefanos came into the ATP Cup recovering from surgery and looked rusty. He still found a decent level against Diego Schwartzman even if the forehand wasn’t landing – if he is the same level of rustiness, however, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Mikhail Ymer sneak this one. If he gets through that, Sebastian Baez could avenge his countryman, Grigor Dimitrov in Australia is certainly no easy task and RBA… well RBA would have to be the favourite against the Greek. I don’t fancy Tsitsipas’s chances to say the least.
Daniil Medvedev (2nd seed): Let me set the record straight. I do not really think Daniil Medvedev is in any real danger of going out early. Not really. That said, provided Nick Kyrgios isn’t on song in the second-round and that Botic Van De Zandschulp or Ugo Humbert don’t have a fantastic third-round (tough openers to say the least), his fourth round could be a doozy. Maxime Cressy is not a nice match-up for the Russian – as we’ve seen from Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and *ahem* Vasek Pospisil in the past, serve and volley is a very effective counter to Daniil’s return position. If Cressy soars into the round of 16, he will definitely be up for a battle.