Sports Illustrated's Jon Wertheim breaks down the men's and women's seeds for the 2019 Australian Open. Read on for dark horses, top first-round matches, predicitons and more.
Think of them as tennis’ Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer and Bernie Sanders— three ruling stalwarts, still armed with the damn gavel after all these years. The public may eagerly await the arrival of fresh blood, of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib, to shake things up and topple the established order. But we’re not there…yet. Let’s pause and acknowledge that here we are, in 2019, and Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer—combined age: 100—still rule this party.
We're not exactly going out on a limb, A Separate Peace style. But, spoiler alerts be damned, we’ll take Djokovic…
1. Novak Djokovic (SRB): Looked at holistically, his chakra and prana are in harmony; his serpent of energy is uncoiling; he’s forsaken fettuccini for kundalini. Make your New Age, maharishi, spa jokes now, because Djokovic’s game has been levitating, and more positive vibrations await when he wins his third straight 15th career Grand Slam, moving him past Pete Sampras.
2. Rafael Nadal (ESP): Though he’s won in Melbourne once (2009) and played well here recently, reaching the finals in 2017 and then retiring in the 2018 quarters, at this point you can’t help but worry about Nadal on hard courts. As always, the question is his health, questions amplified after pull outs from Brisbane and Abu Dhabi. If his body holds up—and he sure can’t complain about his draw— he could win. If not, it will be a rough start to 2019.
3. Roger Federer (SUI): The (double) defending champ intrigues. He finished 2018—in fact, he spent the last nine months of 2018—playing at a level unworthy of his standards. But no player makes better use of the gaps in his schedule. And, FWIW, he looked sharp and joyous as ever in winning the Hopman Cup—and not dropping a set in wins over Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev, Frances Tiafoe and Cameron Norrie—Perth.
4. Alexander Zverev (GER): In the the draw as we write this, but nowhere close to 100 percent physically. The talent is undeniable. So is the mandate that he must improve his play in best-of-five matches. He’s coming off the biggest title of his career at the World Tour Finals in London, beating Federer and Djokovc in succession. But unlikely to be much of a threat here for health reasons.
(Juan Martin del Potro (ARG): see you next month in Delray.)
5.Kevin Anderson (RSA): Strangely, he still might qualify as a dark horse, despite reaching the finals of two majors within the last 18 months. Has already taken a title this year. Coming off a first round AO defeat in 2018.
6. Marin Cilic (CRO): A finalist last year, and his flat and heavy game should translate well to the surface. A Davis Cup winner months ago. But he pulled out of Pune with a knee injury. Which augurs ill for another deep run in Melbourne.
7. Dominic Thiem (AUT): Been awfully quiet for a guy who, at 25, should be in the meat of his career.
8. Kei Nishikori (JPN): Can the best Asian player make some noise at the Slam that has colonized Asia and the Pacific? Ended his title drought in Brisbane last week, and defends zero points here, after failing to post last year. But durability also a factor in majors, and it hasn’t been his strong suit.
9. John Isner (USA): Can he continue the late-career surge? Coming off a career year, Isner hopes to conquer an event that hasn’t always treated him well—including a first-round loss in 2018. Now at a stage when he knows how to win matches. Especially if the conditions cooperate, he could be a factor.
10. Karen Khachanov (RUS): We all agree that the breakout is a matter of “when,” not “if.” There’s very little not to like. (Sidebar: name the last guy who stood 6-6, moved this well and didn’t play in the NBA.) But let’s level-set here. His career record at the Australian Open is 2-2 and he has no easy first task against Peter Gojowczyk.
11. Borna Coric (CRO): A solid player, who doesn’t turn 23 until November, building steadily and overcoming both his nerves and his temper. But—can this be right?—he has never won a match at the Australian Open.
12. Fabio Fognini (ITA): Hard to believe but—north of 30 and past retirement rumors—he’s playing some of the best ball of his career. Coming off a strong fall, a 46-win season, and tempestuous as ever.
13. Kyle Edmund (GBR): A second-week player last year and, amid Murray’s injury struggles, the highest-ranked Brit. Lots of points to defend and starts, brutally, against resurgent Tomas Berdych.
14. Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE): Opa! Everyone aboard the band-chariot. Already the best Greek player ever, he heads to the Greek-iest city this side of Athens.
15. Daniil Medvedev (RUS): Lanky Russian is the best player you’ve (likely) never seen play.
16. Milos Raonic (CAN): Starts off against Kyrgios. Will always be dangerous so long as he’s dropping the boom on that serve. But will he ever be the player he once was? (Such as in 2016, when he came within a set of reaching the final here.)
19. Nikoloz Basilashvili (GEO): Hardest hitter in tennis off the ground?
20. Grigor Dimitrov (BUL): Let’s see if Agassi can do for him what he couldn’t for Djokovic: bring success to a struggling player who was in a much different place a year ago than he is now.
22. Roberto Bautista Agut (ESP): Coming off a rough year, Spaniard has already notched a win over Djokovic and a title. And now he gets Murray off the bat.
24. Hyeon Chung (KOR): Reached the semis in 2018, the tournament’s breakout star…and has done little since. Lots to defend here.
25. Denis Shapovalov (CAN): A lot to like here. His progress has been slow but steady, and it’s getting close to that time to make a week two run.
27. Alex de Minaur (AUS): Top Aussie is Lleyton Hewitt writ smaller. If countryman Kyrgios is a talent fritter, here is a first-rate talent maximizer.
29. Lucas Pouille (FRA): Too good to be ranked this low.
The Province of Dark Horse
John Millman (AUS): Fair dinkum Aussie (and Federer slayer at the U.S. Open) has an interesting draw.
Nick Kyrgios (AUS): You reserve hope that the maturity will one day catch up to the talent. But his stock has really plummeted over the last 11 months or so as he’s dropped to world No. 51. There’s electricity; there’s also plenty of static.
Tomas Berdych (CZE): A forgettable, injury-marred 2018, but he’s back …and back putting up results. Always a threat Down Under.
Stan Wawrinka (SUI): The 2014 champ is still competing.
Andy Murray (GBR): Some serious—if not existential—physical concerns remain, but still a player no one wants to face early.
Frances Tiafoe (USA): Now in the top 40 and ought to play well on the surface. But Aussie draws are not his friend. Drew Del Potro last year. This year he likely gets Anderson in round two.
Bernard Tomic (AUS): Let’s acknowledge that he played his back into the main draw. Alas, he starts against Cilic.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA): Reached the final here 11 (gulp) years ago. Now in on a protected ranking. A pity he likely faces Djokovic in the second round.
Jack Sock (USA): A strange case of identity theft. Put simply: can he hit control/alt/delete and restart?
First-round “Bangers,” as the kids call them. For the rest of us, first-round matches to watch:
Raonic vs. Kyrgios: For the latter, this is what happens when you don’t have a top-32 ranking.
Cilic vs. Tomic: What’s the opposite of home cooking?
Thiem vs. Paire: Over five sets, Thiem should prevail. But he’ll likely have to work for it.
Bautista Agut vs. Murray: Last week, RBA beat the current No. 1. Next week he can beat a former No. 1.
Djokovic vs. Tsonga: Not until the second round, but a likely repeat of the 2008 final (won by Novak).
Isner vs. Opelka: Almost 14 feet of tennis.
Tomas Berdych d. Kyle Edmund
Bob and Mike Bryan: the Peaches & Herb Reunited special
Semis: Djokovic d. Thiem, Federer d. Anderson
Final: Djokovic d. Federer
Like making diamonds, it takes heat and pressure to transform a player into a Grand Slam champ. All the more so in hot-as-hell Melbourne. We’ll clamber aboard the bandwagon and pick Aryna Sabalenka because why not?
1. Simona Halep (ROU): Coachless, though not approachless. She’s No. 1 for a reason—because she’s a mature adult who has learned to play to her strengths, cloak her weaknesses and win. Finished 2018 softly and lost this week to Ashleigh Barty in Sydney. But a finalist last year, it should surprise no one if Halep went one match better in 2019. (She gets a chance to avenge U.S. Open first-round defeat to Kaia Kanepi right off the bat.)
2. Angelique Kerber (GER): A former champ here (2016) and Slam winner within the last six months (Wimbledon 2018) Kerber arrives with a new coach (former AO runner-up Rainer Schuettler) but the same feisty lefty game. That dismal 2017 season sure seems like a century ago.
3. Caroline Wozniacki (DEN): The defending champ has been through a lot since last year. Battling rheumatoid arthritis (and a loss last week to a Canadian teen, Bianca Andreescu, ranked outside the top 150) but Australia tends to bring out her best tennis. Especially when she gets offensive.
4. Naomi Osaka (JPN): A lot of eyes on the winner of the previous major. Japanese star now goes to the “Grand Slam of Asia and the Pacific.” How she handles this onslaught of pressure (or, more charitably framed, this onslaught of interest) will be as vital to her success as the opponent across the net.
5. Sloane Stephens (USA): Tennis’ one-woman-amusement-park. The results whipsaw, including her first-round defeat in Melbourne last year. But she thrives on the drama, wins her share of matches…and tends to do so with an insouciant smile.
6. Elina Svitolina (UKR): What time is it? Funny you ask, it’s prove-yourself-at-a-Slam o’clock. The comparisons to Zverev persist: a fine player week-in, week-out but the Slam results are lacking. Like Zverev, she comes in hot, having won the year-end soiree, but needs to prove herself at a biggie.
7. Karolina Pliskova (CZE): Her results tend to play peek-a-boo. You’re ready to anoint her a major champion; she fails to compete. You’re exasperated to the point of writing her off; she dials in that serve and wins. Coming off a Brisbane title, she’s played herself into contender status.
8. Petra Kvitova (CZE): With Pliskova, we have a discount double Czech. There’s a fear she’s becoming the WTA’s answer to Juan Martin del Potro, a fine player and finer person…who tends to disappoint in majors and is now fighting the aging process. A lot of reasons she can win. A lot of reasons she can lose early.
9. Kiki Bertens (NED): Never done particularly well Down Under —a third-round showing in 2018 was her best result—but a mature and level-headed player who now wins early and often.
10. Daria Kasatkina (RUS): The discerning fan’s player of choice. Such an appealing, creative style. But while she is improving, her record is still pocked by some mystifying losses.
11. Aryna Sabalenka (BLR): The universally agreed upon PIA (Player in Ascent) won her third career title last week. Like a female Tsistipas, she has great appeal, a growing cult following and now needs results to please the base. What the hell? We’ll pick her to win.
12. Elise Mertens (BEL): A crisp and efficient player who reached the semis in 2018. She won’t win majors but will make life hard for the rest of the field.
13. Anastasija Sevastova (LAT): “Who is the young Latvian?” someone recently asked. No, she’s almost 29 (her best result in Melbourne came in 2011), an old soul who got healthy and fashioned a terrific late career surge. Get to know her.
14. Julia Goerges (GER): One of the better serves this side of Serena. Now 30, she is late on in her career, but just defended her Auckland title.
15. Ashleigh Barty (AUS): Big star potential here. The Great Aussie hope brings so much to the table, including, we often forget, youth. She’s only 22. Her predecessor, Samantha Stosur, struggled mightily with national expectation at her own Slam. Doesn’t seem to be an issue here. When talk, inevitably, turns to “literally a dozen players could win,” Barty makes that list.
16. Serena Williams (USA): Let’s first pause for this:
A favorite, if not THE favorite. She’ll have crowd support, history and, most important, a day off between matches. You wish she weren’t in the Halep quarter.
17. Madison Keys (USA): The salon is getting increasingly impatient. The biggest ballstriker in the game has come close to winning a major, but health is her great nemesis. Now has a new voice, so to speak, in Jim Madrigal.
18. Garbine Muguruza (ESP): Tennis’s great mystery. A two-time Grand Slam champ—and one of the better athletes out there.
19. Caroline Garcia (FRA): A top-10 player this time last year.
21. Wang Qiang (CHN): Disappointing, lopsided loss to Riske in Shenzhen but looked like a top player in the fall.
22. Jelena Ostapenko (LAT): You like the unwavering self-belief and the intolerance for anything other than excellence. But she’s out of the top 20.
24. Lesia Tsurenko (UKR): Coming off a final in Brisbane—having beaten Osaka along the way—and competes well.
27. Camila Giorgi (ITA): Your guess is as good as hers. Which is half the fun.
30. Maria Sharapova (RUS). The cut-and-paste. A former champ gets automatic mention. But how many bad losses will her ego allow her take?
The Province of Dark Horse
Venus Williams (USA): A finalist two years ago. Last year, she disappointed. Overlook tennis’ grande dame at your peril.
Belinda Bencic (SUI): Career 2.0 starts now.
Eugenie Bouchard (CAN): Deserves much credit for dropping down and now getting back up. Already won a doubles title this year.
Amanda Anisimova (USA) and Bianca Andreescu (CAN): Smells like teen spirit.
Victoria Azarenka (BLR): Two-time winner of this event is still south of 30 years old.
Sonya Kenin (USA): Quietly ascending American. Unfortunately, for her, likely faces Halep in the second round.
First-round matches to watch:
Halep vs. Kanepi: No way Halep loses in consecutive Slams to Kanepi in round one. Is there?
Venus vs. Mihaela Buzarnescu: Go by the ranking and the Romanian, the 25thseed, is the favorite.
Ostapenko vs. Maria Sakkari: Rough start for both
Donna Vekic vs. Kristina Mladenovic: Vekic now among the seeds; Mladenovic—two years removed from the top 10—is not.
Stephens vs. Taylor Townsend: If TT catches SS on an off-day, this could be interesting.
Serena v. Bouchard: A likely second-rounder.
Riske d. Kiki Bertens
Doubles winner: Timea Babos and Kristina Mladenovic successfully defend their title repeat
Semis: Svitolina d. Pliskova, Sabalenka d. Kerber
Finals: Sabalenka d. Svitolina