Out of the four major tournaments, the Australian Open has always been my least favorite to predict. After all, it’s the first major of the season and it’s tough to know how players are going to do with such a small sample size coming into the tournament. That particularly applies to players who are coming off various injuries.
Nonetheless, I will try my best to channel my inner-psychic abilities and predict who will win this year’s Australian Open.
No. 1 Seed Rafael Nadal’s Quarter of the Draw
TOP HALF FT. NADAL, JOHN ISNER, etc.
On paper, it sure looks like Nadal will coast to the Round of 16.
But not if No. 28 seed Damir Dzumhur has anything to say about it.
The 25-year-old from Bosnia and Herzegovina saw an increase in form during the second half of 2017, advancing to three ATP World Tour finals and winning two titles (St. Petersburg and Moscow). Along the way, Dzumhur defeated the likes of Pablo Cuevas, Fabio Fognini and Alexander Zverev. Technically, he owns a win over Nadal from back in 2016, but the Spaniard withdrew in the third set of that match.
Dzumhur is coming into Melbourne after a withdrawal of his own this past week in Sydney due to a hamstring injury. On the other hand, Nadal has yet to play a match since the ATP World Tour Finals back in November, so it could take some time to re-gain last year’s form. If healthy, I think Dzumhur has a great chance to catch Nadal, and the rest of the world, off guard in a potential third round matchup.
As for No. 16 seed John Isner, the American had a solid summer in 2017, capturing two ATP titles in Newport and Atlanta. The 32-year-old did play a lot of matches in the second half of 2017, which could be why he lost to Hyeon Chung in the Round of 16 in Auckland, his lone match of 2018. Isner could have a difficult time in a potential second round matchup with Ukraine’s Alexandr Dolgopolov, an experienced and unorthodox player who hits a lot of winners. One would think that would open the door for No. 24 seed Diego Schwartzman, but Dologopolov beat the 5’8″ Argentinian just last week in Brisbane. Add in his win over Dzumhur a few months ago in Shenzhen, and – dare I say – Dolgopolov could make the quarterfinals of the Australian Open.
BOTTOM HALF FT. MARIN CILIC, PABLO CARREÑO BUSTA, etc.
Coming off a semifinal run at the U.S. Open, No. 10 seed Pablo Carreño Busta is one of the more athletic and fun players in men’s tennis. That being said, the Spaniard could run into some trouble in the third round against No. 23 seed Gilles Muller, who actually knocked him out in the first round of this tournament back in 2015.
Ryan Harrison could give either No. 31 seed Pablo Cuevas or Russia’s Mikhail Youzhny some trouble in the second round. But even if Harrison does advance to the third round, the No. 6 seed Marin Cilic will be waiting. With Carreño Busta potentially on upset alert in the third round, Cilic should easily reach the quarterfinals and redeem himself after last year’s second round loss to Dan Evans.
No. 3 Seed Grigor Dimitrov’s Quarter of the Draw
TOP HALF FT. DIMITROV, JO-WILFRIED TSONGA, NICK KYRGIOS, etc.
When I saw that Dimitrov and Kyrgios were in the same quarter, I immediately returned to this tweet from ESPN’s Howard Bryant:
You're Nick Kyrgios. You see that Grigor Dimitrov will finish the season ranked THIRD. Get healthy, focused and just dominate 2018, man…
— Full Dissident (@hbryant42) November 19, 2017
Unfortunately, Kyrgios has yet to reach his full potential and is coming off an up-and-down 2017 season, by his standards. At one point, he was knocking off Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Nadal, all in the same tournament. Then, he was losing first round matches in major tournaments to the likes of Pierre-Hughes Herbert and John Millman. On the bright side, Kyrgios is still just 22-years-old, so there’s still plenty of time for him to reach his ceiling.
More importantly, though, this is a very favorable draw for him. Questions still remain about No. 3 seed Grigor Dimitrov’s performance at major tournaments after title wins. For instance, he followed up his title in Cincinnati last year with a second round loss at the U.S. Open against potential third round opponent at this tournament, Andrey Rublev. After winning the ATP World Tour Finals in November, we’ll see if Dimitrov can follow-up the biggest win of his career with a long-awaited breakthrough performance at a major. As for No. 15 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, he’s certainly capable of a big upset, but at age 32, his days as a top player are dwindling.
In short, there are certainly cracks in this draw that Kyrgios can break through. It all depends on which version of the Aussie shows up to this tournament.
BOTTOM HALF FT. JACK SOCK, KEVIN ANDERSON, LUCAS POUILLE, etc.
No. 8 seed Jack Sock has never made it past the third round at this tournament, but I’m not even sure it’s a given that the American will make it out of the first round. His opponent, Japan’s Yuichi Sugita, defeated Sock in straight sets last year in Cincinnati. In addition, Sock is not coming into Melbourne in good form after losing his first match in Auckland to Peter Gojowczyk.
With Sock potentially out of the picture, it could open the door for either No. 11 seed Kevin Anderson or No. 18 seed Lucas Pouille, both of whom could face off in the third round. Believe it or not, Pouille has never won a match at the Australian Open. Anderson, however, is coming off his first Grand Slam finals appearance at the U.S. Open and a finals appearance in Chennai last week.
No. 4 Seed Alexander Zverev’s Quarter of the Draw
TOP HALF FT. DOMINIC THIEM, STAN WAWRINKA, ROBERTO BAUTISTA AGUT, etc.
Sticking with the upset theme, I don’t think No. 5 seed Dominic Thiem gets out of the first round either. His opponent, Argentina’s Guido Pella, has defeated him in straight sets in both of their matchups, including last season in Chengdu. In addition, Thiem withdrew from his semifinal match in Doha last week due to illness. An early loss sure would not be a good start to his partnership with new coach Galo Blanco.
So with Thiem potentially out of the picture, 24-year-old Jiri Vesely of the Czech Republic should advance to the Round of 16, which also means No. 9 seed Stan Wawrinka can once again make a deep run at this tournament. The 32-year-old has been out of action since Wimbledon due to a knee injury, but it says a lot that he’s still ranked in the top ten after six months without a win. Unfortunately, Wawrinka’s path back to the final could be spoiled in a potential third round matchup with Spanish left-hander Fernando Verdasco. If he can win that match, Wawrinka will assert himself as a threat to win the entire tournament.
BOTTOM HALF FT. ZVEREV, NOVAK DJOKOVIC, etc.
Don’t be so quick to write in that third round matchup between brothers Alexander and Mischa Zverev. Sure, Mischa knocked Andy Murray out of last year’s tournament and Alexander is one major victory away from solidifying himself as a tennis superstar. But South Korea’s rising superstar, Hyeon Chung, defeated both Zverev brothers last season. The 21-year-old has already beaten the likes of Isner and Muller in 2018, and is more than capable of disposing of both Alexander and Mischa once again.
With another top five seed on upset alert, it opens the door for another superstar returning from injury – No. 14 seed Novak Djokovic. His resumé at Melbourne speaks for itself. If his elbow injury doesn’t nag him, Djokovic more than capable of winning his seventh career Australian Open title and 13th career Grand Slam tournament.
No. 2 Seed Roger Federer’s Quarter of the Draw
TOP HALF FT. DAVID GOFFIN, JUAN MARTIN DEL POTRO, TOMAS BERDYCH, etc.
Besides Thiem in the Round of 16 at Wimbledon, No. 19 seed Tomas Berdych simply beat inferior players last season. In other words, the 32-year-old just could get over the hump against top quality players. On top of that, Berdych started off 2018 on the wrong foot, losing his first match in Doha in three sets to Jan-Lennard Struff. Things won’t get better for Berdych when he takes on Australian teenager Alex De Minaur, who is reeling after a semi-final appearance in Brisbane and a finals appearance in Sydney.
With all that being said, No. 7 seed David Goffin and No. 12 seed Juan Martin del Potro should advance to the Round of 16 without much of a problem. Due to relatively recent wins over Federer and Nadal, I give the slight edge to Goffin, but it could go either way.
BOTTOM HALF FT. FEDERER, SAM QUERREY, etc.
The No. 13 seed, Sam Querrey, enjoyed a nice run to the Wimbledon semi-finals last year. Unfortunately, the American will be on upset alert against 36-year-old Spaniard Feliciano Lopez, who is more than capable of a big upset at a major tournament. An early exit from Querrey could open the door for the No. 22 seed Milos Raonic, a former semifinalist back in 2014 but has since fallen out of the top 20 due to early exits and various injuries.
Unfortunately for the big-serving Canadian, he’s in the same quarter as Roger Federer. Need I say more?
Marin Cilic  DEF. Alexandr Dolgopolov
Kevin Anderson  DEF. Nick Kyrgios 
Novak Djokovic  DEF. Stan Wawrinka 
Roger Federer  DEF. David Goffin 
Marin Cilic  DEF. Kevin Anderson 
Novak Djokovic  DEF. Roger Federer 
Novak Djokovic  DEF. Marin Cilic