Australian Open men's seed report
SI.com's Jon Wertheim breaks down the men's seeds at the Australian Open. Read on for the dark horses, top first-round matchups and predictions. Click here for the women's report. The men's draw is available here.
Top 16 seeds
1. Rafael Nadal: If Novak Djokovic doesn't win, Nadal is your next best choice. It's been five years since he last won in Melbourne. On the other hand, he did win the previous hard-court Grand Slam tournament, the U.S. Open. The 13-time major winner gets a fun first-round test against Bernard Tomic and could play Gael Monfils (a three-set loser to Nadal in last week's Qatar Open final) in the third round.
2. Novak Djokovic: He's the three-time defending champion, he beat Nadal on hard courts the last time they played, he arrives fresh and he can't complain about his draw. Say this: Coach Boris Becker ain't exactly buying low and selling high here. It's hard to pick against Djokovic.
3. David Ferrer: As always, he merits our admiration. But in the age of the Big Four, he remains tennis' equivalent of the 141st character of a tweet. It will be an achievement if he emerges from his quadrant.
4. Andy Murray: He was the runner-up in three of the last four years and a semifinalist in 2012. But between his back, a second-round loss to Florian Mayer at the Qatar Open in his first tournament back from surgery and a nagging sense that his game has perhaps dropped a level since last summer (and he's in Federer's quadrant), it's hard to see him outplaying his seeding despite a favorable early draw.
5. Juan Martin del Potro: The only player outside the Big Four to win a major in nine years. I'm still not sure that he's up to the task of winning seven best-of-five matches over two weeks. But at least we know he worked hard in the offseason.
6. Roger Federer: The four-time champion looked fairly sharp in his first few matches of 2014 before losing to Lleyton Hewitt, one of the few players older than he is. Overall, his draw is reasonable. Plus, if all breaks right, one suspects that Murray (as a quarterfinal opponent) could be there for the taking.
7. Tomas Berdych: You might say that Berdych's H&M have improved -- his heart and maturity. He's in the soft quarter anchored by Ferrer, but can he win seven matches?
8. Stanislas Wawrinka: After a fine 2013 -- including a Match of the Year candidate against Djokovic in Melbourne -- Wawrinka has emerged as a dangerous player. He has the misfortune of landing in Djokovic's quarter again, but he is to be taken seriously.
9. Richard Gasquet: The king of the fourth-round run will likely be at it again.
10. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: Good to see Jo Willie back among us after a knee injury led to a second-round retirement at Wimbledon and his absence from the U.S. Open last year. It'll be interesting to see the level of his game. His run to the 2008 final remains the highlight of his career.
11. Milos Raonic: His Slam breakthrough is eagerly anticipated.
12. Tommy Haas: Let's pause a moment and acknowledge that a man who turns 36 in April is on the cusp of the top 10. He has a real chance to play deep into the tournament. Especially if he can stay out of his own way.
13. John Isner: The Big Guy is due for a solid major. One worries, though, about his physical condition. We're still in the single days of 2014 and already Isner is dinged up. He has a nice early draw until a potential third-round meeting with his Slam nemesis, Philip Kohlschreiber. (Isner beat the German in a match with three tiebreakers this week at the Heineken Open.)
14. Mikhail Youzhny: The 31-year-old is dangerous but faces a potentially tough first-rounder against German giant Jan-Lennard Struff.
15. Fabio Fognini: An funky player with an artist's temperament. Good guy to have around.
16. Kei Nishikori: What effect will new part-time coach Michael Chang have? Apart from size, the great deficiency in Nishikori's game is durability. If he stays healthy -- which means finishing early-round matches quickly and without drama -- he's one to watch.
Seeds 17-32 to watch
20. Jerzy Janowicz: Often injured, always dangerous. And combustible.
21. Philipp Kohlschreiber: The faster the court, the better. The German veteran is deceptively powerful and a tough out.
22. Grigor Dimitrov: See Raonic. Too much talent never to have been beyond the third round of a major. On the plus side, if anyone falls into the Yarra River, he's your man.
23. Ernests Gulbis: The indisputable talent makes periodic appearances.
25: Gael Monfils: The indisputable talent makes periodic appearances.
27. Benoit Paire: Watch him play.
28. Vasek Pospisil: An American star in the making. (OK, North American.)
Dark horse stable
Marin Cilic: The former top-10 player's first major since his 2013 anti-doping suspension augurs some rust. On the other hand, the 37th-ranked Cilic may well come in refreshed and healthy, to say nothing of motivated.
Florian Mayer: Good, if erratic, hard-court player has already taken down Murray in 2014.
Jack Sock: He could draw Monfils in the second round and Nadal in the third round, but the 21-year-old is the best American under 25.
Pablo Carreno Busta/Roberto Bautista Agut: Two-headed, six-named Spanish monster.
Lleyton Hewitt: The 32-year-old is coming off a title in Brisbane, where he beat Federer and Nishikori.
First-round matches to watch
No. 1 Rafael Nadal vs. Bernard Tomic: So much for the conspiracy notion that the draws are fixed by the home Slam.
No. 19 Kevin Anderson vs. Jiri Vesely: One of the ATP's most underrated players versus one of the up-and-comers.
No. 15 Fabio Fognini vs. Alex Bogomolov Jr.: Good fireworks potential.
No. 24 Andreas Seppi vs. Lleyton Hewitt: I like Hewitt to advance.
Over/under on Brad Gilbert's references to the NFL playoffs
Bob and Mike Bryan: The defending champions have won four of the last five Australian Open titles and six overall.
Semifinals: Rafael Nadal vs. Roger Federer; Novak Djokovic vs. Tomas Berdych
Final: Rafael Nadal vs. Novak Djokovic
Winner: Novak Djokovic