Say this about the 2022 Australian Open: it has had run-up publicity like never before. With the top seed in men's singles still in the tournament—and still in country—the draw was made on Thursday local time. Both the tournament and the top player might be in a different position by the time you read this. Or not. One safe prediction: this will be a Major like no other. Herewith your 2022 Australian seed reports:
1. Novak Djokovic: Assuming he plays, there are two competing impulses. For a player who thrives on routine like no other, does this total chaos of this week—the sleep deprivation, the nutritional compromises, the days without practice—sap him? Or, for a player who thrives on adversity like no other, does the chaos of last week galvanize him? As I see it, he either loses before the end of the middle weekend; or wins the title. Either way, it will be theater.
2. Daniil Medvedev: Well…he was a finalist last year. And won the previous Major. So you’re within your rights for predicting another Dead Fish. But he didn't end 2021 with a flourish. And he started 2022 with a loss to Humbert. But that's no crisis. There's nothing to prevent him from playing his way into the event. But he's not carrying Major No.2 energy right now.
3. Stefanos Tsitsipas: A lot of small concerns, not least an elbow injury which tends to trigger the tennis player's SimpliSafe alarm system. A loss to Schwartzman in the ATP Cup seemed to confirm that he’s not at 100 percent.
4. Alexander Zverev: The Best Player Never to Have Won a Slam has a chance to rid himself of that kit. Historically, winning the ATP Final hasn’t been much of a predictor for success the following year. But it re-affirmed that Zverev is ready.
5. Andrei Rublev: Even without concerns about his residual Covid status, the cut-and-paste: A wonderful player, with easy power. No one has more ability to take a mid-rally ball and smoke a winner. But the best-of-five results don’t keep pace with the best-of-three results. A brilliant player week-to-week, who wins lots of matches week-to-week, but still needs to make a dent at a Major. And until that changes, there’s an optimism ceiling.
6. Rafa Nadal: Underrated storyline: his opportunity to win a 21st Major, taking the lead in the Great Race. Only won in Australia only once (2009) but could easily have won four titles. After missing the second half of 2021, he looked sharp, winning the Melbourne tune-up. Hard to see him beating Djokovic in the semis if they meet. But that’s a considerable “if.”
7. Matteo Berrettini: Hasn’t been quite the same since his run to the Wimbledon final. A lot to like; but also a lot of injury concerns. When healthy, he has Slam-winning potential. (When not, it can be painful.) Losses to Medvedev and de Minaur last week were closely-contested, winnable matches. Which cuts both ways.
8. Casper Ruud: He’s won one match for his (brief) career in Australia. But you have to admire the consistent trajectory here. Just turned 23 and is a top-8 seed.
9. Felix Auger-Aliassime: Hard to imagine that his first career title will come at a Major. (Sidenote: has there ever been a player to reach the top 10 without winning a tournament of any size?) But he comes filled with confidence after ATP Cup heroics, including a takedown of Zverev. Not his ideal surface but anything short of reaching Week Two would be a disappointment.
10. Hubert Hurcacz: He’s in the Djokovic/Nadal quarter. But, as he showed in 2022, he has the game to win big titles. Self belief can play peek-a-boo but a lot to like here.
11. Jannik Sinner: Undefeated in ATP is a strong start to a season. Seems like he’s a veteran and he doesn’t turn 21 until the week before the U.S. Open. Career Aussie Open record 1-2.
12. Cam Norrie: Your Indian Wells winner is close to infiltrating the top 10. A real credit to his professionalism (and the lefty juju.)
13. Diego Schwartzman: All credit to a guy who plays at this level—now consistently—and goes entire matches without an ace. Last week he scored the first top-five win of his career, beating Tsitsipas. Maybe more impressive, he took down Basilashvili 6-1, 6-2.
14. Denis Shapovalov: Feels like the Night Train has been back in the railyard for a bit, at least since Wimbledon. Sometimes the style overwhelms the substance. Strong start to 2022 with three wins in ATP Cup; and note coach Jamie Delgado. A lot of flash. A magnetic personality. This year could be telling, one way or the other.
[Intermission: 1) Note that Shapovaolv is 3-1 on the year and has already won $516,500. This ATP Cup might be deeply flawed, but can’t argue with the purse. 2) Let us recognize that Dominic Thiem, former AO finalist, is still on the shelf.]
15. Roberto Bautista Agut: Old faithful. Now 33, he won’t win. Neither will he go gently into the night.
16. Christian Garin: Credit him for his ranking. But he has won one match in Australia. And never been beyond round four of a Major.
17. Gael Monfils: Has already won a 2022 title. After a rough year during Covid—a crowd pleaser needs a crowd–he is back.
18. Aslan Karatsev: Returns to the scene of his breakthrough. Last year he qualified. This year he is a top-20 seed.
20. Taylor Fritz: A career-high ranking for the American. Must exorcise the 2021 Aussie Open, when he had a chance of a career-defining win against Djokovic and retreated. But he’s in form. And has an intriguing draw.
22. John Isner: Still floating on Georgia’s national title win. Starts against Max Cressey.
26. Grigor Dimitrov: A former semifinalist. You hope he is healthy. If so, he can go deep.
27. Reilly Opelka: So much beyond the serve and the height. Gets Kevin Anderson to start.
29. Ugo Humbert: Tennis’s dangerous liaison. Won’t win the title but big upset potential.
31. Carlos Alcaraz: Let’s see what the kid can bring in his second AO appearance.
Andy Murray: All multiple Major champs merit mention. Physically, unclear how much best-of-five tennis he can withstand. If nothing else, a sentimental choice. A winnable first rounder v. Basilashvili.
Nick Kyrgios: Obligated by law to mention his likely second rounder against Medvedev.
Frances Tiafoe: Back in the top 40. Spent off-sesaon practicing with Berrettini (among others) and a fine track record in Melbourne. Likely second-round test against Fritz.
Seb Korda: Missed last year. Comes to the tournament Pops won in 1998.
Tommy Paul: Up to a career high No. 41. Might get Djokovic in round two.
Max Cressey: Behold. A serve-and-volleyer. Now in the top 75 after reaching tune-up final.
Upset Special: Mikael Ymer d. A less-than-100-percent Tsitsipas
First Round Matches to Watch:
Opelka v. Anderson: Note the ace count.
Isner v. Cressey: Note the ace count.
Berrettini v. Nakashima: Even if the Italian is 100 percent, the young American will make him work.
Cam Norrie v. Seb Korda: Rough opener for both.
Bublik v. Monfils: Round two.
Mektic and Pavic: Best in the business until proven otherwise.
Zverev d. Djokovic (or Nadal)
Medvedev d. Total surprise (Fritz)
1. Ash Barty: Usually the fallback is “health is a factor.” Here, it’s more about handling the occasion. The world #1 did not play a match in 2021 after the US Open. And yet, showed no ring rust the first week of 2022. So many gears, so many options, it’s more about the context than the tennis.
2. Aryna Sabalenka: Has improved her play at Majors. But instead of crashing early, at both Wimbledon and the U.S., she’s played deep only to lose matches she could have (should have?) won. The best player never to have won a Major, fell here last year to Serena Williams. (In retrospect, a smashing result for SW.) Her new challenge: the yips on her serve.
3. Garbine Muguruza: Not pregnant—a gag that caught a prominent agent who will remain nameless. It’s been five years since her last Major, but Mugu often looked to be back in 2021, not least when she won the year-end soiree. A former finalist in Melbourne (2019); a lot to like here.
4. Barbora Krejcikova: Unseeded before the 2021 French Open, she arrives as a top 4 seed. Which is to say, she not only had a breakthrough, but consolidated it with more solid results. A sort of Euro-Barty, she brings variety, maturity, a surfeit of options and a deficit of drama. After five years of failing to qualify, she has won a grand total of two singles matches in Melbourne. Hard to see her living up to her seeding, but she has a good chance of winning the doubles.
5. Maria Sakkari: the obligatory nod to a Greek player getting support in the city with the largest Greek population outside of Athens. So much to like here, but still a tendency to break your heart with her inability to close. Lost a tight match to Shelby Rogers in Adelaide. Note too, she lost in round one in 2021.
6. Anett Kontaveit: Would you pull that crap with Anett? A fantastic fall has her ranked inside the top ten. She just turned 26 and is in the meaty prime of her career. Unclear if she is ready to really contend for majors, she has only been to one quarter in her career, and went 6-4 in the slams in 2021. But, a lot of momentum, and a lot of game, especially specific to this surface.
7. Iga Swiatek: Won the last Major of 2020. And didn’t play deep in a 2021 Major. And yet, she turned in a thoroughly respectable year, cementing her top 10 bona fides. Still struggles with self-belief. When she’s seeing clearly, she’s as good as there is.
8. Paula Badosa: one of the great breakthrough players of last season, culminating with her title at Indian Wells. Has won only one match for her career in Australia, but she will benefit from her top 8 seeding, and can make life difficult for all sorts of opponents.
Pause to note seeds that, collectively, 9-16 might ultimately be more formidable than seeds 1-8
9. Ons Jabeur: Crafty, almost impish, player who is a great joy to watch. In a short amount of time, she’s gone from an admirable sui generis player to a tournament-winning, upset-springing top 40 stalwart to top-20 with an arrow. A deep run at a Major is the next step in her evolution.
10. Anastasia Pavlyuchekova: Another easy player to root for. An honest broker, who’s had her setbacks (injuries, covid, immigration, a struggle to replicate an unrivalled junior career), but keeps returning. Now 30 and a top ten seed. Good for her.
11. Sofia Kenin: Want a player to root for? Look no further. Flying solo, having parted ways with her father. He had COVID. She’s trying to return to the scene of the triumph (Aussie Open, 2020) and revive her career. Two wins and a strong match against Barty in Adelaide is an encouraging start. Starts against Madison Keys.
13. Naomi Osaka: took the rest of 2021 off after her US Open defeat. Her tennis held up in Melbourne tuneup, but her body did not. The defending champion (and 2019 champion) hasn’t won a tournament since, but on track record alone, she is a contender, especially if she has swollen self-belief.
12. Elena Rybakina: Here’s a secret hiding in plain sight. Lots of easy power. Won four matches in Adelaide before falling to Barty.
14. Simona Halep: After the better part of the decade in the top ten, it’s jarring to see her ranked where she is—even after a title last week. Now 30, she is playing with house money.
15. Elina Svitolina: The good news: she got married. The bad news: a top three player at Wimbledon, she’s tumbled out of the top ten. A fine, athletic, top player—but we remain less convinced that she can win Majors.
16. Angie Kerber: a year ago, she was rumored to be pondering retirement. A nice, late career renaissance and now returns to an event she won, gulp, six years ago.
17. Emma Raducanu: Amazingly, the defending major champion. The British teenager has made a lot of money but won few matches since winning the US Open. Starts against Sloane Stephens.
18. Coco Gauff: Her ascent has been so graceful. Learning to win matches under a variety of circumstances, and often far from home.
20. Petra Kvitova: One of those players you can’t not like, and she is a two time Major winner, as well as a former finalist in Melbourne. At age 31, she is on the back nine, but fans can hold out hope.
21. Jessie Pegula: All credit to her for playing herself into the top 20. A surface she ought to like, and she had 2021 success here, let’s see who lasts longer, she or the Bills.
22. Belinda Bencic: Results can be erratic, but has had some success in Australia and the surface is to her liking. Alas for her (or not) she’s in Barty’s neighborhood.
23. Leylah Fernandez: carrying hopes for Canadian women with Andreescu out, came within a few games of winning the 2021 US Open. The guess here is that has fired her with confidence.
24. Victoria Azarenka: Can play with anyone, though sometimes struggles to string together back-to-back success. A two-time winner gets you automatic mention.
27. Danielle Collins: Always dangerous, especially Down Under.
28. Veronika Kudermetova: Little known to fans. Well known to other players.
Amanda Anisimova: Only 20 and the comeback begins. Already with a 2022 title in hand.
Shelby Rogers: Don’t be fooled by the Low Country pleasantness; a spirited competitor. Already scored big wins in 2022.
Ludmilla Samsonova: Fed Cup heroine finding her way
Jil Teichman: Athletic Swiss lefty.
Ajla Tomljanovic: Big game, especially when self-belief follows.
Aliaksandra Sasnovich: Gippsland finalist last week. A lot of big wins for a player who started the year ranked outside the top 75.
Vera Zvonareva: Respect. She’s 37, a mom, and in main draw.
Sam Stosur: Respect. Playing her final event.
Upset special: Stephens d. Raducanu: is it even an upset?
Tomljanovic d. Badosa: With capacity crowds it would be even more tantalizing.
First round matches to watch:
Kerber v. Kanepi: a 33-year-old versus a 36-year-old…and it might be the match of the tournament.
Kenin v. Keys: Contrast in styles. And demeanor.
Sanders v. Sabalenka: If Sabalenka’s serve is still obedient and the Aussie crowd gets into it, this could be interesting.
Collins v. Rogers: Round two.
Siniakova and Krejkikova
Barty d. Coco
Mugu d. Swiatek