Ahead of the first Grand Slam of the season, five Last Word on Tennis writers – Vithun Illankovan, Tracey Essex, Damian Kust, Jim Smith and David Gertler made their Australian Open predictions.
2020 Australian Open Predictions
The player we think will win the Men’s Singles tournament
Vithun:  Novak Djokovic (SRB)
The men’s defending champion has won this tournament more times than anyone else in history and is the form player, fresh from leading Serbia to a win at the inaugural ATP Cup.
Tracey:  Daniil Medvedev (RUS)
A win in his opener against hard-hitting, big-serving American Frances Tiafoe will be a big confidence booster for Daniil Medvedev. Obviously, the hip injury is concerning. But his play at the ATP Cup dismisses that in my mind. Tsonga and Wawrinka are certainly dangerous opponents in his path, but Melbourne started the Russian’s meteoric rise – maybe lightning can strike twice.
Damian:  Novak Djokovic (SRB)
Hard to look past the guy who defeated everyone in his path at the ATP Cup and is a seven-time champion at the event. Djokovic has already beaten the world #1 and two other very dangerous Australian Open contenders this season. I suspect that if we get a Federer-Djokovic semifinal, the winner of this clash will win the title.
Jim:  Novak Djokovic (SRB)
The Serbian probably had a slightly disappointing 2019, but he’s always the man to beat at the Australian Open. He clearly enjoys the conditions at Melbourne Park and if he can get through the first week, it’s hard to see anyone beating him.
David:  Novak Djokovic (SRB)
He’s at his best Major and coming into the tournament full of confidence at the ATP Cup. I think the draw actually sets up nicely for Djokovic to bag yet another grand slam.
The player we think will win the Women’s Singles tournament
Vithun:  Naomi Osaka (JPN)
The women’s defending champion is one of the tour’s best hard-court players and the circumstances look to have aligned in her favour. Bianca Andreescu has withdrawn from injury, Serena Williams is now the WTA’s biggest choker in Grand Slams and Osaka does not currently have the pressure of the #1 ranking she has struggled with in the past. In addition, she played well in Brisbane reaching the semifinals, losing to Karolina Pliskova in best WTA match of the season so far. Playing well but not winning the warm-up event is often an ideal outcome for the Grand Slams, as it removes any pressure of a winning streak and gives players a couple of extra days rest.
Tracey:  Serena Williams (USA)
Sure, she had her chances in 2019 and failed to secure the elusive 24th Slam title. But her Auckland title clearly demonstrates the American superstar is once again playing with focus and determination. She’s moving well, serving well and has the power to hit anyone off the court. She’s sharpened the mettle and has the belief. Australia is where Serena claims #24 … finally.
Damian:  Naomi Osaka (JPN)
Going with the defending champion. Once again, I think there’s a match that might potentially decide the trophy – Osaka vs Williams in the quarterfinals. The Japanese only narrowly lost to Pliskova in Brisbane, having held a match point. She’s also among the most composed and mentally solid players on the WTA Tour.
Jim:  Karolina Pliskova (CZE)
Not for the first time in recent years, the women’s draw looks wide open. Williams will be one to look out for after winning her first title since returning from maternity leave, but it feels like a Major triumph for Karolina Pliskova is overdue. There’s no doubt she has the game for it, the only question mark now is her mentality. But even that has improved a lot since she made her only previous Major final in New York.
David:  Naomi Osaka (JPN)
The women’s draw is very open and I really am not confident about this pick at all. Osaka, the defending champion, clearly enjoys playing at the Australian Open. I don’t put much stock in her loss to Pliskova in Brisbane, she was a point away from winning that match. Osaka is a big-match hard-court player and I trust her the most to take the title here.
Men’s Dark Horse
The player we think will go furthest in the Men’s Singles that isn’t a Top 16 seed
Vithun: Jannik Sinner (ITA)
The young and rapidly improving Italian won the Next Gen ATP Finals in 2019. The first two winners of the that tournament (Hyeon Chung and Stefanos Tsitsipas) reached the semi-finals of the Australian Open the following year and I expect Sinner to do the same.
Tracey:  Felix Auger-Aliassime (CAN)
Canada’s teen tennis phenom will build on his 2019 success. I expect we’ll see FAA reach the top 10 before his 20th birthday in August. Honourable mention to Nick Kyrgios whose emotional rollercoaster is really his only obstacle. If he keeps himself together, there’s no one he can’t beat.
Damian: Reilly Opelka (USA)
Berrettini’s section of the draw isn’t the strongest, to say the least. But one of those 16 players will reach the quarterfinals. I think it might be Reilly Opelka, whose baseline game is far better than any other guy of a similar height. And a player with a serve like that doesn’t need much to get into match rhythm. The American does face a tough opener though against 12th seed Fabio Fognini.
Jim:  Hubert Hurkacz (POL)
Hubert Hurkacz has made a great start to the season and he should be just inside the seeds. He’s not a player anyone will want to play: he’s athletic, powerful and confident. At this point, anything less than the fourth round would surely be something a disappointment.
David:  Nick Kyrgios (AUS)
I know it feels like a cop-out, but I really like Kyrgios’ chances to go far in this tournament. The draw, I believe, sets up nicely for him and even if (when) he would face Nadal in the round of 16, I think he has a good shot in that match. Nadal hasn’t looked completely fresh so far in 2020 and Kyrgios is the type of player that can take advantage of this.
Women’s Dark Horse
The player we think will go furthest in the Women’s Singles that isn’t a Top 16 seed
Vithun:  Amanda Anisimova (USA)
The young American is one of the future stars of Women’s Tennis and just reached the semi-finals of Auckland before losing to eventual champion Williams, admittedly rather heavily. She won her first Grand Slam match at last year’s Australian Open, where she reached the fourth Round and I expect her to match and possibly better that result this year.
Tracey: Jessica Pegula (USA)
The 2019 Citi Open win was the start of Jessie Pegula’s rise. No one’s saying “Jessie Who?” anymore. The in-form 25-year-old bagelled Caroline Wozniacki in the Auckland semifinals decider before falling to Serena Williams. Obviously, Taylor Townsend isn’t the ideal first round opponent. But, passing that test – Pegula will be ready for a deep run.
Damian:  Danielle Collins (USA)
Last year’s semifinalist is coming back to the event as the 26th seed this time. She clearly likes the conditions Down Under and we’ve seen in the past two weeks how devastating her power can be, even to the top players. I wouldn’t want to be in Simona Halep’s shoes if they both make it to the third round.
Jim:  Dayana Yastremska (UKR)
The Ukrainian isn’t too far outside the top 16 seeds, so this might be a bit of a cheat, but she clearly enjoys playing at the Majors and reached the third round in Melbourne last season. Her flat powerful groundstrokes are always difficult to contend with and she’ll surely be full of confidence after a great run in Adelaide.
David: Zhang Shuai (CHN)
I don’t have any non-16 seeds in the quarterfinals, but I think Zhang will make the round of 16. Zhang has a good serve, hits powerful groundstrokes, and ever since beating Simona Halep in the 2016 Australian Open first round, has had strong results at multiple majors. The seeds in Zhang’s mini-section are Sloane Stephens (her first round opponent), who has had a terrible start to the season and who Zhang beat here in 2018, and Sofia Kenin, who looked very weak in her loss to Danielle Collins in Adelaide. Zhang can make another run in this year’s Australian Open.
Men’s Early Exit
The Top 8 seed we think be eliminated earliest in the Men’s Singles
Vithun:  Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE)
Tsitsipas now has a big target on his back having won the ATP Finals last year and is in a tricky eighth of the draw that contains three other players (Milos Raonic, Marin Cilic & Roberto Bautista Agut) who have reached a Grand Slam semifinal or better under their belt. In addition, besides his run to the semifinals at last year’s Australian Open, his recent Grand Slam record has not been impressive with opening round losses at both Wimbledon and the US Open in 2019.
Tracey:  Alexander Zverev (GER)
The four match losing streak will continue. Unless Zverev can figure out a way to get his serve working again, Marco Cecchinato chalks up a win.
Damian:  Alexander Zverev (GER)
Berrettini and Zverev seem like the only possible options here. Although they both face very winnable openers, I wouldn’t really fancy Zverev to go through a potential second-round clash against Casper Ruud. Berrettini just has a slightly better draw, one that might allow him to get the match rhythm going.
Jim:  Alexander Zverev (GER)
Unfortunately for the German, it is hard to look beyond him for this one. For the first set and a half against Alex De Minaur at the ATP Cup, he looked renewed. But he managed to lose that match and since then he has returned to the struggles that characterised his 2019. Nor has Melbourne been a happy hunting ground for the German.
David:  Alexander Zverev (GER)
I have no confidence in Zverev coming into this tournament. He was outclassed during ATP Cup, where he lost to three players similar in age. I believe it will be a fourth straight loss to a rising star, as it’s very possible that he takes on in-form Casper Ruud in the second round.
Women’s Early Exit
The Top 8 seed we think be eliminated earliest in the Women’s Singles
Vithun:  Belinda Bencic (SUI)
Bencic has started 2020 with a modest 2-2 win-loss record, with both losses coming to players who are outside the top 25 at Melbourne Park. In addition, she has a potential second-round clash with former French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko, who ended 2019 very strongly and beat Bencic in their only previous meeting.
Tracey:  Petra Kvitova (CZE)
I wouldn’t normally pick Kvitova for an early exit. But, combine last year’s struggles, injuries and an opener against Katerina Siniakova – it’s a bad combination for the Czech. If she manages to make it past Siniakova’s net smother play, Shenzhen titleholder Ekaterina Alexandrova or hard court head to head leader Kaia Kanepi will likely bounce Kvitova in the third round.
Damian:  Simona Halep (ROU)
This is something of a follow-up to my dark horse pick but out of the top eight seeds, I believe Simona also has the trickiest first-round opponent in Jennifer Brady. Petra Kvitova would be a close second.
Jim:  Belinda Bencic (SUI)
The Swiss had a great year in 2019, but she hasn’t generally played her best tennis in Australian conditions and hasn’t made a particularly good start to the year. But such is the nature of the women’s game at the moment, that this could be almost anyone.
David:  Belinda Bencic (SUI)
Bencic has had a ho-hum start to the season, going 2-2 so far. She doesn’t have any massive weapons that can take over a match, so she is vulnerable to an upset if an opponent gets hot. Her potential second and third round opponents, Jelena Ostapenko (2nd round) and Anett Kontaveit (3rd round), both have the game to beat Bencic if she isn’t at her best.
What are your predictions for the 2020 Australian Open? Let us know in the comments below!
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