By Damian Kust
Important footnote: the power rankings don’t take draw into consideration. The descriptions were written before the qualifiers were distributed and I later added additional comments based on who they will face at the bottom of each paragraph. To create more suspense, we’re going to start from the bottom of the list.
Not posing a threat?
16. Nikola Milojević
It’s pretty ironic that perhaps the most even section ended with a victory for the top seed. Nikola Milojević will play the 2nd Grand Slam main draw of his career at this year’s Australian Open. The Serbian owns a stellar and extremely solid two-handed backhand but has tended to struggle against higher-ranked opposition. On hard courts, he’s only got one top 100 victory (over Mirza Basic). He wouldn’t be a threat to most players in the draw.
Post-draw comment: very unlikely to beat Mackenzie McDonald, who reached the fourth round here last year.
15. Marco Trungelliti
Forget about the Big Three, this is a real tennis legend. Not only did Marco Trungelliti risk a lot to testify in a match-fixing case that saw him ostracized by some of his “friends,” he’s also made it to his ninth Grand Slam, despite never being directly accepted into one (eight as a qualifier, one as a lucky loser). Does it mean he has a good chance to achieve something in the main draw? Not really, but his fighting spirit is unmatched. He always conjures up the magic in pivotal moments of final slam qualifying rounds and for a second Grand Slam event in a row, produced a diving volley in an absolutely key moment (this time two points away from losing, at the US Open it was match point down).
Post-draw comment: even with Frances Tiafoe having a rough start to the season, not much of a chance.
14. Emilio Gómez
The 30-year-old has qualified for his second Grand Slam, scoring three wins against Nicola Kuhn, Mitchell Krueger, and Thomas Fabbiano. It’s an impressive feat and coming off a great season, there’s no doubt in my mind that Emilio Gomez has never been a better tennis player. But he just doesn’t quite have that explosiveness required to battle against most Australian Open main draw players.
Post-draw comment: Marin Čilić should be way too strong.
13. Tomas Barrios Vera
While most of his Challenger success came on clay, Tomas Barrios Vera has actually qualified for Wimbledon in 2021 and the Australian Open this year, proving that he can translate his game well to faster conditions. It wasn’t the toughest section, but he made the most of it by winning three matches in straight sets and only getting broken once.
Post-draw comment: playing another qualifier in Taro Daniel, the Japanese seems like the clear favorite.
Don’t overlook them
12. Tomas Martin Etcheverry
In the past two years, Tomas Martin Etcheverry played just three hard-court matches. It was tough to expect him to qualify but the Argentinian was able to show that his massive forehand can let him be competitive on faster surfaces as well. Once he grabs more experience on hard, Etcheverry seems to have the required skillset to perhaps not play as well as on clay, but make this week a rule rather than an exception. As for now, if the forehand is firing on all cylinders, he can be quite deadly.
Post-draw comment: he’ll likely lose to Pablo Carreño Busta, but he can keep it close for a set or two if he plays his best tennis.
11. Yannick Hanfmann
Yannick Hanfmann’s game can work on hard courts, but his results in the past few years have taken a massive shift towards being more clay-oriented. In fact, the German is just 3-12 against top 100 players on hard courts in his career. While his famous kick serve isn’t as successful in faster, less bouncy conditions, Hanfmann’s first delivery gets a boost in return. His performances in the qualifying were quite comprehensive, but he had to rely on tie-breaks way too often.
Post-draw comment: could give Thanasi Kokkinakis a decent fight but the Aussie has been brilliant in 2022 thus far and should be too strong.
10. Norbert Gombos
This qualies campaign was a really accurate display of what Norbert Gombos is as a player – capable of playing high-quality tennis in patches, but wildly inconsistent and often losing focus. All matches were won in three sets with two of them going to a third set tie-breaker. Matthew Ebden served for the match twice, but the Slovakian somehow pulled through. You never really know what to expect from Gombos and a best-of-five match of his will often involve crazy momentum shifts.
Post-draw comment: playing another qualifier in Timofey Skatov, this seems quite even, not much chance to progress further with Marin Čilić likely awaiting in round two.
9. Timofey Skatov
The Kazakh has long been a player whom everyone expected to stagnate, mostly due to the overly passive playstyle. At Nur-Sultan Challenger last year, Martin Klizan told him after their match that he must work on his ability to hit winners (see tweet below). It seems like Timofey Skatov did just that as in the three matches of his qualifying campaign, he was hitting his forehand as well and as aggressive as ever. The highlight was the nine winners from that wing that he managed to send past Dane Sweeny. He’s now a physical beast of a grinder with a not huge, but really solid weapon. That should improve his game massively. Still, he’s not one of the most dangerous qualifiers in the field.
Post-draw comment: playing another qualifier in Norbert Gombos, can grind him down but it’s very close, potentially Marin Čilić in round two so that should be where the road ends anyway.
The veteran can still produce some excellent tennis and can up his game for the big stage. Even after his Davis Cup Finals heroics, it was hard to expect much from Mikhail Kukushkin this year looking at how his last season went overall. But the 34-year-old was absolutely brilliant in qualifying, especially fighting against Ernesto Escobedo’s power in the final round. With the flat strokes, he’s still a very tricky opponent to play. Will fitness be an issue in longer matches?
Post-draw comment: Tommy Paul is on the rise and should be out of his range at the moment.
7. Radu Albot
Most of his 2021 campaign was a wreck, but the Moldovan turned it around at the last minute, winning a Challenger title in Pau. He has continued that rich vein of form and boost of confidence into this year and played very well in the qualies draw, particularly in the final round win against João Sousa. Albot knows how to win ugly and can counter-punch his opponent to death, but there are certain limitations to his game that he might never be able to overcome.
Post-draw comment: certainly in with a shot against Yoshihito Nishioka, second round would be much tougher against either of Lloyd Harris or Aleksandar Vukic.
6. Liam Broady
Despite being down 4-6 2-5 to Roman Safiullin, Liam Broady won the next three games to love and turned the match around. This will be his first Australian Open main draw and as the Brit is coming out of a very tough section, he’ll be entering the tournament with confidence and very battle-tested. The 28-year-old excels in faster conditions and while he might not have the set of weapons to trouble a high seed, his solidity and ability to take the ball early can let him have a shot at many players in the draw. He’s probably never played better tennis than at the moment.
Post-draw comment: you never know which Nick Kyrgios shows up (or if he even shows up), that’s probably all he can do with Daniil Medvedev in round two.
5. Maximilian Marterer
After a lackluster 2021 campaign that saw him barely win more matches than he lost, Maximilian Marterer is off to a great start this year. Last week in Traralgon, he only barely lost to Jiří Lehečka, 7-5 in the deciding set. His Australian Open qualifying went a bit under the radar because it was mostly comfortable as the German only dropped one set to Nino Serdarušić. His lefty serve and forehand can still do enormous damage in faster conditions and while it’s not yet the Marterer that reached World No. 45 in the ATP Rankings, on his day he can hang with a lot of the players in the main draw.
Post-draw comment: Taylor Fritz is vulnerable to an upset from a player like Marterer, but is likely playing far too well at the moment.
Armed and dangerous
4. Taro Daniel
Since the start of the season, Taro Daniel has been putting up some incredible stats on serve. He hit 12 aces each against Oscar Otte and Lorenzo Musetti in Adelaide and posted about 10% ace percentage over his first six matches. What’s more, in his final qualifying round against Salvatore Caruso, the Japanese hit 14 aces in 41 service points, over 34%! For a player with his baseline game, this improvement, if it persists, could mean transcending to a whole new level.
Post-draw comment: clear favorite against another qualifier in Tomas Barrios Vera, if he maintains that serving quality then even Nikoloz Basilashvili or Andy Murray seems fairly doable,
3. Jiří Lehečka
Those who know me well might be surprised that the young Czech doesn’t top the list. But I’m also a realist and I think at this point in time, there are still a few other qualifiers who are more dangerous. Lehečka will have a well-earned Grand Slam debut though after barely missing out at the US Open. Michael Mmoh, Max Purcell, and Dmitry Popko was a very tough set of opponents, especially the match against the Kazakh just had “banana skin” written all over it. It was an unpleasant matchup, but Lehečka had the required answers to triumph in a deciding set. His ability to compose and collect himself in times of trouble was key.
Post-draw comment: a blockbuster first-round matchup against Grigor Dimitrov, would be the best win of his career. The reward for a potential win is huge as he’d be favored to beat either of Benoit Paire or Thiago Monteiro, then potentially play Stefanos Tsitsipas
2. Alejandro Tabilo
Prior to 2021, the Chilean had been mostly considered a clay-court one-trick. So it came as a big surprise that he reached his first Challenger final on hard courts in Lexington and followed it up with another runner-up finish in Puerto Vallarta. In fact, if you give it a deeper thought, it’s actually surprising that with that big lefty game he hadn’t been successful on hard courts earlier. He is now though and after some stellar performances at the ATP Cup, he totally followed it up in the qualifying campaign. First-round against James McCabe was much tougher than expected, but from that point onwards it was just smooth-sailing. Playing top 100 tennis at the moment, no doubt.
Post-draw comment: drew the short straw with Carlos Alcaraz, a win seems unlikely unless the youngster can’t shake off the rust in time.
1. Tomáš Macháč
I’ve previously stated that this could be a make or break year for Tomáš Macháč and so far, it looks like he will go to some new heights. The 21-year-old Czech is 8-0 in 2022, winning the Traralgon Challenger and qualifying for the Australian Open for the second year running. It hasn’t been his attacking capabilities that made the difference, but rather the increased rally tolerance and better percentage play. Macháč is arriving in the main draw playing the best tennis of his career and with insane amounts of confidence. While his qualifying campaign started with a disastrous 2-6 set to Camilo Ugo Carabelli, in the six sets he won to make it, he blasted 19 aces and fended off just two break points.
Post-draw comment: Juan Manuel Cerundolo is a draw he needs to capitalize on, purely because of the Argentinian’s hard court inexperience. I can definitely see him troubling Maxime Cressy or John Isner in round two.