As Federer Goes For A Three-Peat In Melbourne, Can Anyone Beat The Men’s Big Three At The Australian Open?

WASHINGTON, January 10, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)

The men’s Big Three of world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, No. 2 Rafael Nadal and No. 3 Roger Federer have won 50 of the past 60 Grand Slam titles – and defending Australian Open champion Federer has lifted the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup, awarded to the men’s winner Down Under, each of the past two years and six times overall.

Now, as Federer pursues another Grand Slam crown – he’s won a men’s all-time best 20 – the question on many minds is this: Can he win his 100th career title in Melbourne, where the Australian Open begins on Monday.

“Ninety-nine is already an incredible number,” said Federer during Thursday evening’s draw ceremony in Margaret Court Arena. “I’m so close, I’ll give it a go. Every tournament I go to people might talk about it. Again, I’m not trying to look too far ahead.”

Potential Nadal-Federer semi-final

When the 128-player men’s draw was announced, Djokovic was placed at the top of the upper half as the No. 1 seed. At No. 3, Federer has been placed in No. 2 seed Nadal’s lower half of the draw, which promises a potential blockbuster semifinal. The Swiss maestro begins his title defense against No. 99 Denis Istomin. His quarter also includes No. 7 Marin Cilic, No. 15 Stefanos Tsitsipas and Andy Murray, who because of injuries and inactivity has dropped to No. 230.

Nadal plays No. 238 wild card James Duckworth in the first round and could match up with No. 6 Kevin Anderson later on before a showdown with Federer. Meanwhile, Djokovic will take on a qualifier in the first round with the possibility of opposing No. 177 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the second round and No. 27 Denis Shapovalov in the third round. No. 4 seed Alexander Zverev begins with No. 67 Aljaz Bedene.

Notable first round matches

Among many intriguing first-round matchups, Murray faces No. 22 seed Roberto Bautista Agut, who won the Qatar Open earlier this month; the always mercurial (and this year unseeded) Nick Kyrgios, who reached the 2015 Australian Open quarterfinals, plays No. 16 seed and 2016 Wimbledon finalist Milos Raonic; and 2014 Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka, currently ranked No 59, takes on No. 83 Ernests Gulbis.

Halep to open against Kanepi

On the women’s side, world No. 1 Simona Halep has drawn a familiar foe in No. 70 Kaia Kanepi, whom she lost to in the first round of the U.S. Open last summer. The top-seeded Halep has played just one match this year (losing to No. 15 Ash Barty in Sydney earlier this week) after her 2018 season was cut short due to a back injury. She arrives at this year’s first Grand Slam without a coach after an amicable parting with Darren Cahill, who guided Halep to her first Grand Slam title last year at Roland Garros.

Halep has been placed in the same section of the draw as both of the Williams sisters, unseeded No. 37 Venus, who is a potential third-round opponent, and No. 16 seed Serena, whom the Romanian could face in the round of 16.

The 37-year-old Serena Williams returns to Melbourne for the first time since winning the 2017 Australian Open, while pregnant with her daughter Alexis Olympia, and opens against No. 71 Tatiana Maria. She remains a favorite to secure her eighth Australian Open crown and a record-tying 24th-career Grand Slam title.

Meanwhile, defending champion and No. 3 seed Caroline Wozniacki, placed in the lower half of the draw along with No. 2 seed Angelique Kerber, begins her title defense against No. 51 Alison Van Uytvanck. Kerber opposes No. 92 Polina Hercog.

At the draw ceremony, Wozniacki reflected on winning her first career Grand Slam title in Melbourne last year, “I can’t believe it’s been a year already; it’s awesome to be back. 

“It means so much to me. It’s something I’ve wanted my whole career, and something I waited for for a long time. To finally get that here was very special. It’s the Happy Slam, it’s the first slam of the year, and it just made my year so much more enjoyable.”

AO Draw Notes

• During Thursday’s draw ceremony, Roger Federer waxed poetically about winning the 2018 Australian Open. “How good it was to win another five-set thriller in the final last year,” said Federer, who beat Marin Cilic, 6–2, 6–7, 6–3, 3–6, 6–1, and hasn’t lost a match in Melbourne since 2016. “It was epic, it was unbelievable.” 

Federer’s road to another Australian Open title could look like this:

R1 – Denis Istomin
R2 – Qualifier
R3 – Gaël Monfils
R4 – Stefanos Tsitsipas
QF – Marin Cilic
SF – Rafael Nadal
F – Novak Djokovic

• Darren Cahill, who is in Melbourne to work as an analyst for ESPN, said of a potential Federer-Nadal semifinal: “I think a little bit depends on the speed of the court and a new court. I think Federer we know is going to be a tough out. A lot of it depends on Rafa.”

• U.S. Open champion Naomi Osaka, seeded No. 4 in the women’s 128-player draw, faces No. 86 Magda Linette in the first round with a possible third-round opponent looming in two-time former Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka, ranked No. 52. Meanwhile, No. 5 Sloane Stephens faces No. 94 Taylor Townsend in the first round while No. 6 Elina Svitolina and No. 7 Karolina Pliskova both drew qualifiers. No. 8 Petra Kvitova plays No. 50 Magdalena Rybarikova.

• Monday’s schedule begins with the bottom half of both men’s and women’s draws, so expect to see Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Angelique Kerber and Caroline Wozniacki in action. On Tuesday, the top half for both men and women features Novak Djokovic, Alexander Zverev, Simona Halep and Serena Williams.