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.
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.
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.
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.
He won’t win but especially if he’s healthy, Martin Klizan, a Slovak lefty veteran, could make Wawrinka work.
Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares. Again.
Djokovic d. Nadal
Murray d. Wawrinka
Djokovic d. Murray