Australian Open Roundtable Predictions

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Ahead of the first Grand Slam of the season, five Last Word on Tennis writers – Brett Margolies, James Cunningham, Sam Barker, Steen Kirby and Stefano Berlincioni sat down to make their Australian Open predictions.

Men’s Champion

Brett: Roger Federer

Roger Federer well rested usually ends up a success. With so many questions regarding other top players, I don’t see anyone except for Rafael Nadal being much of a threat for Federer in Melbourne.

James: Grigor Dimitrov

This may surprise a few, but my favorite for the men’s title is Bulgarian, Grigor Dimitrov. The World No.3 is coming off the back of a good run to the semi-finals in Brisbane, and having chosen not to compete in Sydney this week, has given himself plenty of time to rest and recuperate ahead of what will be a demanding fortnight.
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Dimitrov loves playing in Melbourne, and would arguably have gone on to win the title in 2017, had Nadal not stopped him in a classic match. This year, with question marks hanging over Nadal’s fitness and the Bulgarian’s superior physical strength compared even with the likes of Federer, Dimitrov has the best chance of winning his maiden Grand Slam so far.

Sam: David Goffin

At the back end of 2017, no player impressed more than David Goffin. At the ATP Tour Finals, he demonstrated a mental fortitude that showed he is ready to progress to the next stage of his career. With a handful of top names missing or returning on limited fitness, he stands out as someone ready to capitalize. Goffin is due to play Federer in the quarter-finals. Win that and he has a clear path to a surprising Grand Slam trophy.
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Steen: Roger Federer

Federer has a clear edge with Nadal and Novak Djokovic coming back from injuries, and Andy Murray out. He may not be the undisputed best player in tennis for the entirety of 2018, but he’s only lost six matches on hard courts over the last two seasons. It’s Federer’s tournament to lose.

Stefano: Roger Federer

Considering the Melbourne court speed is the same as 2017 and none of the real opponents is 100 percent fit, he is clearly the favorite.

Women’s Champion

Brett: Venus Williams

After reaching the final last year, I think Venus Williams is ready to take it one step further with Serena Williams out. She’ll be well rested after losing a tough match to Angelique Kerber in Sydney which might help in the long-run. Her draw isn’t easy with Belinda Bencic in the first round, but if she can pass the early test I like her chances to win her first Australian Open.
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James: Simona Halep

Despite reclaiming the No.1 spot later last year, question marks still linger over Simona Halep regarding her legitimacy as World No.1 having never won a Grand Slam. Unfazed by her critics, Halep has already won her first title of the year in Shenzhen, and she appears ready to finally silence the doubters and claim her first Grand Slam title in Melbourne.

The draw could put her up against the likes of Ashleigh Barty, Petra Kvitova, Karolina Pliskova, Caroline Garcia, or Garbine Muguruza. Halep has the game and the physical strength to beat all of the aforementioned opponents, and with Serena withdrawing at the last minute, this will be an opportunity to win a Grand Slam that Halep will not want to miss.

Sam: Angelique Kerber

Unlike the men’s draw, the women’s is nicely balanced and throws up so many different plausible variations Kerber is the player who has stood out in the build-up and, unlike most of the field, knows how to win a Grand Slam. She seems to have found the mental drive that was lacking in 2017 which makes her extremely dangerous and a prime contender.
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Steen: Simona Halep

We’re likely to get a first-time slam winner in Melbourne unless Venus Williams or Maria Sharapova decide to turn back the clock. Halep won Shenzhen and, assuming she can handle the pressure, she’s as good of a pick as any.

Stefano: Caroline Wozniacki

It is very tough to pick a winner in a draw where really a lot of players have a chance to win the title. I will go with Caroline Wozniacki for the form she has shown in the last few months.

Men’s Dark Horse

Brett: Gael Monfils

Gael Monfils started off the season on a high note, winning the title in Doha by defeating Andrey Rublev in the final. Last season he was never able to find form due to injuries. He looked much better then his ranking suggests in Doha, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he carried some momentum into the Australian Open, even with a potential match with Djokovic in the 2nd round.
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James: Juan Martin Del Potro

Being a Juan Martin Del Potro fan, I cannot ignore the fine form that the Argentine has displayed in 2018 so far. Del Potro is in the Auckland final, before flying back to Melbourne in time to face Frances Tiafoe in the opening round of the Australian Open. Tiafoe will be a tricky opponent for Del Potro, but the ‘Tower of Tandil’ has the experience and mental strength to overpower the young American.

Del Potro is in the same half of the draw as Federer, and the prospect of these two legends of the game facing off against each other is enough to attract even non-tennis fans. If Del Potro can get past his tough two opening rounds (he could face Karen Khachanov in round two), then he could be set for a memorable run in Melbourne this year.

Sam: Dominic Thiem

The buzz around Dominic Thiem seems to have died down in the last year or so but a kind draw means he has a strong chance of reaching his first hard court Slam quarter-final at least. The other seeds in his quarter include Roberto Bautista Agut, Adrian Mannarino, and Stan Wawrinka. Thiem will be hugely disappointed if he does not manage to emerge from that section, especially given he looked impressive in reaching the Doha semi-finals.
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Steen: Kevin Anderson

Kevin Anderson reached the US Open final so he’s not that much of a dark horse. That said, Jack Sock has had hip problems and is the top seed in his section. Grigor Dimitrov and Nick Kyrgios are beatable but tough opponents on his path to the semis, and Nadal, if healthy, likely awaits at that stage. Anderson’s game is best on this surface, and he can’t be counted out.

Stefano: Fabio Fognini

Fabio Fognini has been showing good form in Sydney to start the year. On top of this, he is one of the fittest players on tour in long matches and showed in the past that he can beat almost anyone on his good day.
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Women’s Dark Horse

Brett: Naomi Osaka

Not too many people are talking about Naomi Osaka heading into the Australian Open. I think she has a favorable draw that has a chance to open up after the first couple days. If she can manage to find form early on she can make a run.

James: Julia Goerges

Having written a hopeful summary of Julia Goerges’ season prior to Christmas, I feel a slight sense of obligation to mention her name in this category. Nonetheless, the fact is that Goerges played incredibly well in the latter stages of last season, and the Australian Open draw has been kind to her this year. The likable German could face French journeywoman Alize Cornet in round two, and she features in the same half of the draw as out-of-sorts US Open champion, Sloane Stephens. The stage is set for Goerges to finally make her mark in a Grand Slam tournament, something she has struggled with throughout her career.
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Sam: Ashleigh Barty

If she can navigate through two tricky opening matches – against rising star Aryna Sabalenka and in-form Camila Giorgi – then expect Ashleigh Barty to build up a head of steam and feature prominently in the second week of her home Slam. The Barty party is in full flow nowadays and the youngster has, not only the backing of the crowd but also bundles of form to carry into Melbourne.

Steen: Maria Sharapova

Like her or not Sharapova has the talent to win this tournament, and with so many other players lacking her experience and mettle, she could pull out a noteworthy run to the final.
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Stefano: Camila Giorgi

Camila Giorgi has demonstrated in the last year how dangerous she can be with her super flat hitting. This year, the Italian seems to also have more confidence and has, so far, remained injury free.

Men’s Early Exit

Brett: Stan Wawrinka

You just have to wonder how ready Stan Wawrinka will be when the tournament begins. He hasn’t played a match since Wimbledon in July, and recently withdrew from the tiebreak tens exhibition event this past week. Coming back at a slam probably isn’t the best idea since he hasn’t played in a while, but it’ll be interesting to see what kind of form he’s in.

James: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

Charming though he may be, it seems like Jo-Wilfried Tsonga might be one of the first high-profile casualties of the 2018 Australian Open. The World No.15 has been handed a potentially insurmountable challenge in the second round, where he may play the winner of a match-up between Stefanos Tsitsipas and Denis Shapovalov. Both of these men have been touted as the future of men’s tennis, and in Shapovalov’s case, he even has a memorable Grand Slam run to support his case.
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Tsonga has relied on his powerful forehand and serve throughout his career, at the expense of his backhand and slice. Both Tsitsipas and Shapovalov possess an all-around game that Tsonga will not be able to match, and experience will not be enough to get the Frenchman over the line.

Sam: Novak Djokovic

It’s hard at this point to really trust that right elbow. With a revamped serve and a lack of quality game time, it’s hard to see Djokovic coping well with the ardors of five-set tennis. Throw an unwanted second round match against Monfils and there is little chance of the Serbian making much of an impression on this event. Aside from the fact that it’ll just be great to have him back of course.

Steen: Jack Sock

I’m not sure that Jack Sock is entirely healthy and, if he’s not able to move well, he’ll get ousted early in the tournament.
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Stefano: Tomas Berdych

I was undecided on whether to pick Tomas Berdych or John Isner, but Berdych seems to be in the descending phase of his career. Also, his first round opponent, Alex De Minaur, is a player very improved and full of confidence.

Women’s Early Exit

Brett: Simona Halep

The Australian Open has typically been Simona Halep’s worst slam. She’s lost in the first round in back to back years to Shelby Rogers and Shuai Zhang. I don’t know if her first round opponent Destanee Aiava is ready for the big stage yet, but the young Australian will play as if she has nothing to lose which can be dangerous for the No.1 seed.
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James: Garbine Muguruza

Much has been made of Garbine Muguruza’s injury problems at the start of 2018, and it seems as though they may prevent her from having a good run at the Australian Open this year. Had she been fully fit, Muguruza would unquestionably have featured in the first category on this list. Regrettably, her preparation for the Australian Open has been hampered so badly by injury, that simply completing a match without any further injury problems could be a challenge for her.

Sam: Venus Williams

In Belinda Bencic, Venus Williams probably drew the toughest player any seed could possibly have got. The Swiss star has been sensational on her latest return from injury and is going to be more than a handful for anyone she faces. Bencic is the kind of player who can cope with Williams’ power and cause her plenty of problems in return. A first-round exit for Venus is very much on the cards.
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Steen: Sloane Stephens

Australia is extremely hot at this time of year, and Stephens doesn’t appear to be fully fit. That’s a bad combination if she’s hoping to make a deep run at the slam.

Stefano: Sloane Stephens

The US Open champion is still not fit at all and plays Zhang Shuai, a player that has good memories in Melbourne as well as some decent form.

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