What to Expect From the Men’s Qualifiers at the 2023 Australian Open

Australian Open qualifying

The four-day qualifying event at the Australian Open finished on Thursday with 16 winners and two (so far) lucky losers progressing to the main draw. Who among them has a great opportunity to make it through round one in the big event and who will likely be comfortably outmatched?

Excellent opportunities

At least one qualifier will make the second round as Aleksandar Vukic takes on Brandon Holt in a battle of two former collegians. Vukic had a main draw wild card last year, but didn’t make the list this time. If he wanted to make a statement, he surely did as his victories over Gabriel Diallo and Michael Mmoh were absolutely top-notch. The 26-year-old scored a huge upset over Lloyd Harris in the first round in 2022 and appears to be the favorite of this clash, particularly if he can get his massive serve and forehand firing early. The draw would then have either of them play Roberto Bautista Agut or Joao Sousa. The American isn’t really explosive enough to trouble the 24th seed, but that wouldn’t have to be the end of the road for Vukic.

Someone who should be very happy about his draw is Enzo Couacaud. The Frenchman has now qualified for three consecutive Grand Slams and even led Borna Coric 5-3 in the deciding set at the US Open. This time, he gets to play Hugo Dellien, who’s been out with an elbow injury for more than half a year. Coupled with the Bolivian usually not holding up that well on hard courts, Couacaud has a phenomenal opportunity to advance to the second round and potentially battle… Novak Djokovic.

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Yannick Hanfmann doesn’t have as clear an edge over Rinky Hijikata, but he must like his chances too. The German also made it through the qualifying last year and won a round, before losing to Rafael Nadal. The quicker courts in Melbourne seem to suit him and Hijikata is still a fair bit below the ATP Tour level. Lucky loser Pavel Kotov might have a very good shot at Tallon Griekspoor, but only if the Dutchman is unable to produce the sort of quality that landed him a maiden Tour-level title in Pune over a week ago.

Somewhat unexpectedly, Ernesto Escobedo might have a good shot to win a round as well. After a terrible second half of 2022 and a shock loss to Blake Ellis in Noumea, the Mexican (he switched national affiliations this year) wasn’t really mentioned among the contenders to qualify. The hard court conditions in the Australian summer seem to be absolutely perfect for his game right now though and especially in the final round, we saw a lot of the vintage footwork that used to make the now-sluggish Escobedo so explosive off the forehand side. If he can keep it going against Taro Daniel, we could be in for a treat.

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Long shots, but in reach

Jan-Lennard Struff had one of the strongest qualifying campaigns, not dropping more than four games in a set. It’s a brilliant start to the season for the 32-year-old, who also reached the semifinals at a stacked Challenger in Canberra the week earlier. Tommy Paul is not a perfect draw, especially as the American is strong physically, consistent, and generally not upset-prone. The former World No. 29 can take him down, but it will be a challenge to produce a display efficient enough over the course of at least three sets.

Yosuke Watanuki has won 16 of his last 17 matches and for the first time in his career, he’s been able to take his form from weaker Asian Challengers to much stronger fields. The ball-striking talent is there and his ability to take the ball early is letting him maintain that free-flowing playstyle. Arthur Rinderknech will have his hands full if the Japanese is to perform at the same sort of level that he’s been constantly finding since November.

17-year-old Juncheng Shang qualified for the main draw in his Grand Slam debut. The former junior World No. 1 appears to have added more pop to his serve during the off-season and compared to most young talents from his part of the world, is much better developed physically. Against Oscar Otte, he’ll likely find himself counter-punching a lot and that’s probably where he’s most dangerous. If the big-serving German can’t overpower him, he could be in trouble.

Mattia Bellucci doesn’t appear to be in a bad spot against Benjamin Bonzi. While the Italian is the underdog, he was excellent in his qualifying campaign, utilizing his creativity and many diverse game plans to confuse his opponents. The hand skills, a brilliant serve for his height, it’s all really coming together. Presumably, at the very top his game might be vulnerable to getting overpowered. Is Bonzi the type of opponent who will make light work of Bellucci? Probably not.

Zizou Bergs suffered from the flu after coming to Australia, but slowly played himself back into shape. He’s got a winnable round-one draw against Laslo Djere, but will need to land his attacking game with great efficiency to trouble the grinding Serbian. The potential reward is huge as Bergs is one of the most dangerous qualifiers and Grigor Dimitrov or Aslan Karatsev wouldn’t be far off his range. Beating Djere is definitely far from a given though.

Nicolas Jarry can always push a tough opponent if the serve is clicking. It feels like Miomir Kecmanovic has started the year too well to be in trouble there, but in a matchup that gives you very little rhythm, anything can happen. Oleksii Krutykh was one of the more surprising qualifiers, given he’s been playing a very clay-oriented schedule. It’s more of a choice than a necessity though and the Ukrainian has a decent chance against Diego Schwartzman, even if mostly as the Argentinian’s form has been dire recently (and there’s an injury concern after the retirement to Jenson Brooksby).

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Unlikely to present a threat

Making his return to the Australian Open main draw after eight years of absence will be Laurent Lokoli. The 28-year-old suffered an extremely heartbreaking loss in the final of the Noumea Challenger just before the qualifying began, missing a match point to take his maiden title at that level. He’s bounced back remarkably, but while very nicely crafted and smart, his tennis rarely is imposing enough to think he’s got much of a shot against David Goffin.

Yu-Hsiou Hsu won the boys’ doubles event in Melbourne back in 2017 (along with two other Majors that year) and managed to qualify for this year’s edition in his Grand Slam debut. He didn’t drop a set along the way, taking four of them in tie-breakers and showing some incredible tenacity. He’ll probably struggle against Alex de Minaur though as the home crowd favorite seems rather firmly out of his range.

While more famous for his doubles efforts (two Australian Open finals, Wimbledon title), Max Purcell is also a very competent singles player and he proved that again by qualifying for the main draw here. His serve and hands at the net are just as excellent as in the other discipline, plus he’s got the added value of having an absolutely brilliant slice. Could that be enough for Emil Ruusuvuori? Probably not and the Australian will need to disrupt the Finn as well as he possibly can to have a chance here.

Dalibor Svrcina taking on Jaume Munar will be an absolute grind-fest. The Czech scored one of the biggest upsets of the qualifying event, giving the in-form Leandro Riedi just four games with some truly outrageous defense. A different skillset will be required here and while the rallies will undeniably be long, it’s hard to imagine him finding a way through someone as solid as Jaume Munar over the course of a best-of-five match.

One of the lucky losers, Juan Pablo Varillas, will take on Alexander Zverev. In his only previous Grand Slam main draw appearance, the Peruvian was two sets to love up on Felix Auger-Aliassime. However, even though Zverev is still far from his best after missing the latter half of the 2022 season, this would be an extreme shock. Varillas has never beaten a top 200 player on hard courts before and was rather handily eliminated by the only one he faced in this qualifying campaign, Yosuke Watanuki.

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