2017 Australian Open seed reports

Sunday January 15th, 2017

Sports Illustrated's Jon Wertheim breaks down the men's and women's seeds at the 2017 Australian Open. Read on for the dark horses, top first-round matchups, predictions and more. 

Women's seed report

1. Angelique Kerber, Germany

Returns to the scene of the climb, as it were. A year ago, she was a nice also-ran. Today, she is going for her third major (and fourth final) in 12 months. Loss to Svitolina is Brisbane wasn’t ideal. In fact, she hasn’t won a title since U.S. Open. But at this stage, she can distinguish between a tune-up and a major.

2. Serena Williams, United States

Even at age 35—newly engaged; coming off a strange 2016; with little match play; with an unexpected loss in the tune-up; with Bencic in round one—she remains Serena Williams. Dismiss her chances at your peril. That said, between the autumn absence and the error carnival that was her tune-up loss to Madison Brengle, momentum is a sparse commodity. So who knows?

3. Agnieszka Radwanska, Poland

She’s still fun to watch and still proof that a sharp can overcome modest physical inevitably Too much has to go right for her to win seven straight matches. And she is in Pliskova’s quarter.

4. Simona Halep, Romania

She and Radwanska fight for the two-handed backhanded praise as “best player not to have won a major.” The game is there, especially in the movement department. But there always seems to be that one shaky mental match that dooms her tournament. Just last week, it was a three-set loss to young Katarina Siniakova.

5. Karolina Pliskova, Czech Republic

Hard-serving Czech will look to build on her run to the U.S. Open final that included a win over Serena. Don’t read too much into her pull-out last week. That’s a pro’s move. Translation: “I’ll eat the fine and the points loss because I think I can win a major.” Worry about that second rounder against Niculescu. Then the draw opens.

6. Dominika Cibulkova, Slovakia

Always a player to watch, especially at biggies. A former finalist in Melbourne, she simply knows how to grind out wins and usually takes charge of her nerves.  Coming off her biggest title (2016 WTA Finals) she comes in with a career-high ranking that she can whittle further.

7. Garbine Muguruza, Spain

It’s still early in her career, but Mugu has become a mystifying player. She can win Slams. She can also be an early round flight risk. Especially when not 100% physically which—thanks to a thigh injury—appears to be the case.

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8. Svetlana Kuznetsova, Russia

Let’s pause and acknowledge one of the more underrated careers in tennis. She won her first major before Rafael Nadal won his first. Credit her for remaining a contender, without much drop-off in athleticism. Still erratic but that’s part of the appeal; and part of the danger.

9. Johanna Konta, Great Britain

Highest-ranked British female in decades has settled in nicely in the upper echelon. With a new coach (Wim Fissette) can she take the proverbial next step? The heat and hard courts of Melbourne mesh well with her strengths and preferences. Draw, though, is brutal. (Osaka in round two for the right to play Wozniacki….in Serena’s quarter.) And she has the pressure of defending SF points.

10. Carla Suarez Navarro, Spain

A player with a picturesque one-handed backhand who lacks the arsenal to win majors.

11. Elina Svitolina, Ukraine

She has been putting it all together over the last six months, beating both Serena and Kerber. The recency effect in full effect, she’s our surprise SF.

12. Timea Bacsinszky, Switzerland

As always, if she’s not a threat, she can still make life difficult for a lot of higher ranked opponents. Starts against the streaky Camila Giorgi.

13. Venus Williams, United States

As always, we feel compelled to grade Venus on a curve given her longevity—and sustained savor of competition—deep into her 30s. But, realistically, too much has to go right for her to win this major, one that has always eluded her. Especially with her shaky right arm, playing to her seeding will mark an accomplishment.

14. Elena Vesnina, Russia

Another pause. Vesnina had to qualify for the 2016 Australian Open. Now she’s a seed.

15. Roberta Vinci, Italy

Deep into her 30s, with loads of points molt off her ranking after the 2016 U.S. Open, she’s still getting seeded at Slams. Tough first rounder against hard-serving CoCo Vandeweghe.

16. Barbora Strycova, Czech Republic

Veteran Czech always dangerous, seldom around for the business end.

17. Caroline Wozniacki, Denmark

The Comeback Player of the Year. Struggled woefully through the summer of 2016, her ranking taking on weight with each week, nearly ballooning to triple figures. From the U.S. Open to the present, she’s played Top Five tennis. A low seed, but a big chance for a player who can handle the heat and comes in with plumped confidence.  

Seeds 18-32

18. Samantha Stosur: Maybe at this stage in the game, her longtime troubles at her Home Slam will diminish. Or maybe not.

22. Dasha Gavrilova: Made a nice run in Australia in 2016 and returns with some quality wins under her sansa-belt, including a fall takedown of Kerber.

23. Daria Kasatkina: Russian teen (for a few more months) quietly climbing ranks.

25. Timea Babos: The Euro-Vandeweghe. Big, booming serve.

32. Monica Puig: Five months since her Olympic triumph, is it time to build?

Dark horse pasture

Genie Bouchard: Former semifinalist here starting to play better. And spent the offseason in Las Vegas with the Agassi penumbra.

Ash Barty: We always root for the story.

Katerina Siniakova: The best player you’ve never heard of.

Ana Konjuh: Auckland finalist rid of the injury bug, behold the ascent.

Belinda Bencic: Talent, yes. Durability, not so much. And she gets Serena in round one.

Coco Vandeweghe: More dimensions and athleticism than Karlovic but a similar scouting report. That is: if she’s dialing in the serve, she can beat anyone.

First round matches to watch

Serena Williams vs. Belinda Bencic: Unfortunate draw for both.

Ash Barty vs. Annika Beck: Again, we root for stories.

Bacsinszky vs. Giorgi: We predict, drama.

Naomi Osaka vs. Konta in round two.

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Upset Special

Vandeweghe gets the V over Vinci.

Doubles winner

Garcia and Mladenovic are top seeds. But we’ll take Hingis and Vandeweghe.

Semifinals

Pliskova d. Serena

Svitolina d. Kerber

Final

Pliskova d. Svitolina

Men's seed report

Your men’s seed report for the 105th Australian Open. And gold stars already for attendance. Note that the highest ranked player not in the field is….No. 39 Juan Martin del Potro, the last non-European to win a major.

1. Andy Murray, Great Britain

Sir Murray is the top seed but he’s never won this major and—for all his success—hasn't beaten Djokovic at a major since 2013. Would surprise no one if he won, but I think you have to favor the guy who has won six times

2. Novak Djokovic, Serbia

“Inasmuch as a defending champ and 12-time major winner can have a crucial event, Djokovic kinda-sorta needs this to reassert himself.” That’s what we wrote before the U.S. Open and it holds here, too. This first Slam, post Boris Becker, is one Djokovic has dominated for most of the past decade. His results will say a great deal shaping the 2017 narrative. If he replicates the Doha final from last week and beats Murray, the "win spigot" is reopened. If not…still, he’s our pick. The King until proven otherwise. (And tough early test in Verdasco might be a disguised blessing.)

3. Milos Raonic, Canada

A semifinalist last year (and likely finalist had he not pulled his groin leading Murray in the round of four), Raonic looks to go even further in 2017. That’s the good news. The bad: despite his impressive ranking, he has gone more than a year without a title. Should have a fun first match against Dustin Brown.

4. Stan Wawrinka, Switzerland

The defending Slam winner has been remarkably under-discussed going in. Three majors in three years for a player who might be uneven, but tends, lately anyway, to bring the goods at the Slams.

5. Kei Nishikori, Japan

K-Nish took down Murray at the 2016 U.S. Open, so that ought to fire him with confidence, recent proof that he can beat the best in a best-of-five. But between the brittle body and the modest power (and advancing age: he’s now, suddenly, 27) we’re still not convinced he has the ability to win majors.

6. Gael Monfils, France

A performer masquerading as a tennis player. At age 30 and perhaps realizing the mortality of a sports career, LeMonf is seeded higher than ever at a Slam. If he lives up to it, it will mark an achievement. (Potentially tough first match against Jiri Vesely. Catch Monfils while you can.)

7. Marin Cilic, Croatia

The 2014 U.S. Open champ is always a danger, especially on hard courts. Tends to struggle in Australia—his best showing came seven years ago—but a player to watch this year. Alas, he lost to a sub-100 player (Jozef Kovalik) last week. Still, benefitting from the draw, we project him in the QFs.

8. Dominic Thiem, Austria

A newcomer to the top echelon deserves credit for his 2016 ascent. But, predictably, he hit the wall after (over)playing so many matches in the first half of 2016. Three-set loss to Dan Evans in Sydney last week isn’t ideal, but we'll see if the early fitness work paid off.

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9. Rafael Nadal, Spain

That ”9” alongside his name is unseemly, isn’t it? The pessimist will point out that it's been 18 months since Nadal has even made the second week of a Slam, a slide that includes a first-round defeat in Melbourne last year. The optimist will note that he is a 14-time major winner who comes in ready and rested. Say this, he’s in an awfully nice pocket of the draw. We see him beating Zverev and reaching week two.

10. Tomas Berdych, Czech Republic

Always dangerous on a given day, but even at full health—which is seldom the case—there’s an unmistakable sense that, sadly, he’s deep into the back nine of his career. Hardest forehand in tennis?

11. David Goffin, Belgium

The Ferrer comparisons, while in heavy rotation, shortchange a more aesthetically pleasing game. He doesn't bring much power to the party, but generally wins the matches he should and competes well and maximizes talent.

12. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, France

The cut-and-paste from Berdych: Always dangerous on a given day, but even at full health—which is seldom the case—there’s an unmistakable sense that, sadly, he’s deep into the back nine of his career.

13. Roberto Bautista Agut, Spain

Doesn’t dazzle but capable in every facet. His challenge. Can this be a breakthrough event? Draw certainly skews in his favor.

14. Nick Kyrgios, Australia

A seed and yet a wild card. You get the feeling that this story is ready for a redemptive turn; and a deep run at a home Slam provides that opportunity. Kyrgios—and Australia’s uneasy relationship with him—is a leading storyline. But we see it again: it’s tough to go too hard on the “underachiever” trope when he is ranked this high and is coming off a 39-win season.

15. Grigor Dimitrov, Bulgaria

A hot pick after winning Brisbane. Good for him for putting the pieces back together. (He’s Vallver-du-ing it, you might say.) Here’s his off-season workout. Now, can he return to the top 10?

16. Lucas Pouille, France

A nice mix of flash and grinding abilities. Big mover last year and you feel the ascent is ongoing.

17. Roger Federer, Switzerland

Enough said. Just a pity he’s in Murray’s enclave of the draw.

 

Seeds 18-32

Ivo Karlovic, Croatia: He’s 37 but he still comes armed with that serve.

Jack Sock, United States: Let’s see how he deals with the double-edged sword that is winning an event the weekend before a major.

David Ferrer, Spain: Sadly, at 34, he’s slowing down a bit, as evidenced by his expulsion from the top 20. But we say it again: now’s a good time to credit him for his career.

Alexander Zverev, Germany: Tennis’ unanimous Next Big Thing could use a deep Slam run.

Pablo Carreno Busta, Spain: The best male player you, perhaps, have never seen play.

Dark Horse pasture

Mischa Zverev: While little bro has been getting the attention, this guy has been galvanized.

Steve Johnson: Due for a breakout on a hardcourt Slam.

Karen Khachanov: Rising Russian armed with a top ten booming delivery.

Dan Evans: Brit has played the best tennis of his life over last six months.

Gilles Muller: Fresh from his first title he draws Taylor Fritz right away.

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First round matches to watch

Fernando Verdasco vs. Djoker: Having beat Nadal in R1 last year (and nearly beaten Djokovic earlier this month) Verdasco gets another shot.

Tommy Haas vs. Benoit Paire: Nice opportunity for 38-yearold Haas in his first match again erratic foe.

Federer vs. Jurgen Melzer: Let’s see if Federer goes easy on the old guy.

Gilles Simon vs. Michael Mmoh: Simon ought to win but good measuring stick match for young America.

Goffin vs. Reilly Opelka: See above.

Upset Special

He won’t win but especially if he’s healthy, Martin Klizan, a Slovak lefty veteran, could make Wawrinka work.

Doubles winner

Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares. Again.

Semifinals

Djokovic d. Nadal

Murray d. Wawrinka

Final

Djokovic d. Murray

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