WASHINGTON, January 16, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)
Defending Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic opens defense of his men’s singles title against 37th-ranked Jan-Lennard Struff of Germany when the first Grand Slam of 2020 begins Monday in Melbourne. The World No. 2 and 16-time Grand Slam champion, who lifted Serbia to the inaugural ATP Cup in Sydney last weekend, anchors the bottom of the men’s draw that was revealed Thursday night in Melbourne Park.
World No. 1 Rafael Nadal sits atop the upper half of the 128-player draw and will play 72nd-ranked Hugo Dellien of Bolivia in the first round. Nadal, who has won one Australian Open title among his 19 career Grand Slams, could face 23rd seed and home country hero Nick Kyrgios in the fourth round (whom he has lost two of three hard court clashes against) and No. 5 seed Dominic Thiem in the quarterfinals.
Meanwhile, World No. 3 Roger Federer was drawn in Djokovic’s half and they could meet in a blockbuster semifinal during the second week of the fortnight. The Swiss maestro will begin his quest for a third Australian Open title in four years and seventh overall against Steve Johnson of the United States. He could face one of the year’s hottest players in No. 31 seed Hubert Hurkacz of Poland, who has started the new season 5-0, in the third round. If Federer advances into the second week, he could oppose either No. 13 seed Denis Shapovalov or No. 18 Grigor Dimitrov in the fourth round and eighth seed Matteo Berrettini in the quarterfinals as he chases after his 21st career Grand Slam.
After Djokovic won his seventh Australian Open title last year, he remarked: “I do want to definitely focus myself on continuing to improve my game and maintaining the overall well-being that I have – mental, physical, emotional – so I would be able to compete at such a high level for the years to come, and have a shot at eventually getting closer to Roger’s record.”
Glancing at some of the other top seeds, No. 4 Daniil Medvedev opens against Frances Tiafoe of the United States, a Melbourne quarterfinalist last year. He could meet No. 7 seed Alexander Zverev in the quarterfinals, but No. 28 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, a 2008 finalist, potentially stands in the way in the third round and 2014 Australian Open titlist Stan Wawrinka in the fourth round. Medvedev’s road to back-to-back Grand Slam finals likely would include a semifinal showdown with Nadal. The two battled each other in last September’s US Open final, which went a memorable and grueling five sets, won by Nadal for his 19th major title.
Among big names in Djokovic’s quarter are No. 6 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas and No. 9 Roberto Bautista Agut, who is undefeated in six matches this year. Those two could clash in the round of 16, which would be a rematch of their 2019 Australian Open quarterfinal.
One of hottest players on the men’s tour is 17th-seed Andrey Rublev. The Russian, who lifted the trophy at Doha earlier this month and has won 10 straight matches to begin the season, will play Australian wild card and No. 117 Christopher O’Connell in his first opening match.
Absent from Melbourne will be World No. 21 Alex de Minaur, who withdrew on Thursday due to an abdominal tear he suffered last week during the ATP Cup playing for Australia.
While a lot can happen in a two-week Grand Slam – and this year, players will not only have to handle the summer heat but also the effects of the smoke from the Australian bushfires – it’s entirely possible that by the end of the tournament Nadal could pull even with Federer for most career Grand Slam titles. Before any matches take place, the projected quarterfinal matchups on paper show:
No. 1 Rafael Nadal vs. No. 5 Dominic Thiem, No. 4 Daniil Medvedev vs. No. 7 Alexander Zverev, No. 8 Matteo Berrettini vs. No. 3 Roger Federer, No. 6 Stefanos Tsitsipas vs. No. 2 Novak Djokovic.
The bottom half of the men’s draw will begin play on Monday, Jan. 20.
Projected #AusOpen quarter-finals based on seedings:
🇪🇸 Nadal v Thiem 🇦🇹
🇷🇺 Medvedev v Zverev 🇩🇪
🇮🇹 Berrettini v Federer 🇨🇭
🇬🇷 Tsitsipas v Djokovic 🇷🇸
🇦🇺 Barty v Kvitova 🇨🇿
🇯🇵 Osaka v S.Williams 🇺🇸
🇨🇭 Bencic v Halep 🇷🇴
🇺🇦 Svitolina v Pliskova 🇨🇿 pic.twitter.com/6rRbCcqaW5
— ITF (@ITF_Tennis) January 16, 2020
Top seed Barty chases after history
In the women’s draw, World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty will try to become the first Australian since Christine O’Neil in 1978 to win an Australian Open singles title. The top-seeded Barty faces Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine in her opening match. While many are taking the week leading up to the Grand Slam off, don’t count Barty among them. She’s enjoying playing in her home country, where she’s enjoyed past success.
“The last couple of years I have had great runs in Sydney, and that’s put me in good stead,” Barty told the Adelaide International after reaching the semifinals in Adelaide on Thursday. “I think for me, my choice is to to try and get out and play as many matches as possible leading up to the Australian Open, but also it’s an opportunity to play in front of an Australian crowd. We only get that a month of the year.
“So, it would be stupid of me not to try and take that opportunity. I love playing in Australia. I love playing in front of Australian crowds. It’s an opportunity for me that I don’t want to waste and something that I want to enjoy.”
Barty could face defending champion and No. 3 seed Naomi Osaka in the semifinals. Osaka begins her quest for back-to-back Australian Open titles against No. 59 Marie Bouzkova of Czech Republic.
Osaka’s quarter of the draw is filled with both talent and obstacles, including a possible third-round match against either No. 55 Venus Williams or No. 66 Coco Gauff, who will face each other in the first round of a Grand Slam for the second time following their memorable matchup last summer at Wimbledon. It was at Wimbledon that Gauff upset her idol en route to reaching the fourth round in her first Grand Slam main draw. Osaka could meet No. 25 Sloane Stephens in the fourth round and No. 9 Serena Williams, seeded eighth, in the quarterfinals.
Speaking of Serena, she’s been stuck on 23 career Grand Slams since returning from maternity leave in 2018 despite reaching the finals of the both the 2018 and 2019 Wimbledon and US Open tournaments. If she wins a 24th Grand Slam, she would tie Margaret Court’s longtime record.
Former Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki, who will retire following the tournament, is a possible fourth-round opponent for the 38-year-old, seven-time AO champion Serena Williams. Seventh seed and 2019 finalist Petra Kvitova is also in Barty’s half of the draw.
In the bottom half of the draw, No. 2 seed Karolina Pliskova, who comes in with momentum from winning last week’s WTA Premier tournament in Brisbane, opens against 39th-ranked Kristina Mladenovic, whom she’s lost to twice in four previous matches. There’s also fourth seed Simona Halep, who opens against No. 49 Jennifer Brady of the United States, who scored a first-round upset against Barty last week in Brisbane; fifth seed Elina Svitolina and sixth seed Belinda Bencic.
The women’s projected quarterfinals include:
No. 1 Ashleigh Barty vs. No. 7 Petra Kvitova, No. 3 Naomi Osaka vs. No. 8 Serena Williams, No. 6 Belinda Bencic vs. No. 4 Simona Halep, No. 5 Elina Svitolina vs. No. 2 Karolina Pliskova.
The top half of the women’s draw begins play next Monday.