Sports Illustrated's Jon Wertheim breaks down the men's and women's seeds at the 2018 Australian Open. Read on for the dark horses, top first-round matchups, predictions and more.
I don’t practice Santaria / I ain’t got no crystal ball… But some prognosticating before the 2018 Australian Open as we anticipate another Federer-Nadal showdown?…..
1. Rafael Nadal (ESP)
Sadly, we'll make an early reference to our tournament tennis mantra: “Health is the great variable.” At full strength, Nadal can go a set better than last year and win the title. His intermarriage of spin and power remains formidable, as we saw at the previous Slam. If Nadal is physically compromised—and sadly we hear that’s the case—all bets are off.
2. Roger Federer (SUI)
What a difference a year makes. At this point in 2017, Federer was a 35-year-old coming off a knee injury, who wasn’t among the top 16 seeds. This year he is not only the defending champ but the odds-on favorite.
3. Grigor Dimitrov (BUL)
Dimitrov was coming off the biggest win of his career—the Cincy title—but failed to build on it at the U.S. Open. This year, he’s coming off the new biggest win of his career—the 2017 ATP World Tour Finals year-end title in London. We’ll see if there’s a catalytic effort. Possesses the full palette of shots; that we’ve long known. Does he possess the full range of emotion to survive seven rounds? Big opportunity here.
4. Alexander Zverev (GER)
Watch for that Round of 16 match with a guy named Djokovic. The future has become the present, as his seeding will attest. There’s so much to like here, starting with the German pragmatism. So it is that he knows this truth: he needs to improve his play in best-of-five matches before he has full certification. His fate lies largely in his legs (and lungs) and not in his arms.
5. Dominic Thiem (AUT)
You wish the court were playing a bit slower, but Thiem—now with Galo Blanco as coach— is a contender. He’s been embedded in the top echelon for a while. Can he continue his upward mobility?
6. Marin Cilic (CRO)
No longer with Jonas Björkman (an underrated partnership). Has had a rough go of it Down Under recently. (Last year he was knocked out early by Dan Evans.)
7. David Goffin (BEL)
Such a solid player. He plays the minor keys but is capable on all dimensions. One of those guys who may lack the firepower to win Slams, but will always give himself the best chance. And, meanwhile, you admire the professionalism.
8. Jack Sock (USA)
Yet another strong finish to a season for the highest-ranked American. Now, he needs a deep run at a Slam to burnish his credentials. Injuries and questionable fitness have curtailed his Slam progress in the past. Is he ready now?
9. Stan Wawrinka (SUI)
Says a lot that Wawrinka didn't win a match in the second half of 2017 and still clocked a top ten ranking. Former champ, now age 32, would be a contender were he fully healthy and fully recovered from a knee injury; sadly that doesn't appear to be the case.
10. Pablo Carreno Busta (ESP)
Coming off a strong U.S. Open, you can say safely PCB is the least heralded player in the top ten. Lithe and athletic, he’s deceptively fun to watch. Coming off a semifinal run at the 2017 U.S. Open.
11. Kevin Anderson (RSA)
Missed 2017 Australian Open. Now, with a new coach (Brad Stine) and a new ranking, Anderson is an intriguing prospect. Coming off a run to the final of the previous major.
12. Juan Martin del Potro (ARG)
Delpo is a top five player, rankings be damned. Especially when healthy. He’s a contender to win any hardcourt Slam he enters. Missed this event in 2017 so he’s playing with house money.
13. Sam Querrey (USA)
Fine late-career surge, including a run to the Wimbledon semis last year. But faces a dangerous first rounder against ageless Feliciano Lopez
14. Novak Djokovic (SRB)
His record in Melbourne speaks—nay, screams—for itself. But you worry about the lingering elbow injury. As we write this, he is still in the draw. That we had to timestamp is discouraging. If get through three rounds, a showdown with Zverev looms.
15. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA)
A likable dangerous-for-a-day player, but it’s getting late in the day.
16. Andy Murray (GBR)
Ever since his Cannonball Run to finish atop the ranking in the fall of 2016, Murray has been diminished. Hip injuries are serious in this business.
16. John Isner (USA)
A strong bounce-back summer for the big American. Unfortunately that also means he’s played a lot of tennis. The easier he gets through his early matches, the more you like his chances.
17. Nick Kyrgios (AUS)
He’s like San Francisco weather. Wild and shifting and if you wait a bit, be assured it will change. Which is all part of the fun. He is 22 now and still shedding his skin. An iffy track record at his home Slam—including a messy loss in 2017—and he still cuts a polarizing figure. But watch what happens when the “good Nick” shows up and he wins a few rounds.
18. Lucas Pouille (FRA)
Never won a match at the Australian Open. A revelation in 2016, tuned in a surprisingly meh 2017. Strong Davis Cup play salvaged his year. Lots to like here. And he trains in the heat. So consider him a player well worth watching in Melbourne, even with the 0-4 career record.
19. Tomas Berdych (CZE)
Crazy as this sounds, you get the feeling Berdych never truly recovered from the beatdown Federer laid on him in Melbourne last year.
22. Milos Raonic (CAN)
A semifinalist (and nearly finalist) two years ago, Raonic attempts to rebuild in 2018 around a new team.
24. Diego Schwartzman (ARG)
Tennis’ little man has quietly become a reliable winner.
32. Mischa Zverev (GER)
Conqueror of Andy Murray in Melbourne last year.
Dark Horse Corral
Gael Monfils: Sadly—not unlike Tsonga and Gasquet—there’s a sense the credits are about to roll on a rollicking film. Savor the end.
David Ferrer: By industriousness alone, he’s reached dark horse status.
Karen Khachanov: Best of the Russian brigade that’s coming.
Dennis Shapovalov: Tennis’ iPhone 9. The future isn’t the present. But it’s coming.
Gilles Simon: How the hell did his ranking drop out of the top 80? Took two sets off Djokovic in 2016. Won Pune tune-up last week, beating Kevin Anderson in the final, which bolstered his ranking a bit.
Fernando Verdasco: Still capable of any-given-day upsets.
Hyeon Chung: His army of fans included the folks in the ATP offices eager to see a top player emerge from an emerging market. Winner of the Milan event now seeks to build.
Stefanos Tsitsipas: Greek teenager has the makings of a future star. Everyone aboard the band-chariot!
First Round Matches to watch
Djokovic vs. Donald Young: Between the new service motion, the new serve, the new coach and the new health (one hopes), lots to anticipate.
del Potro vs. Frances Tiafoe: Experience versus youth. Good test for both.
Berdych vs. Alex De Minaur: Good test for both.
Ferrer vs. Andrey Rublev: Experience versus youth. A good test for both, as they say.
If he’s not fully healthy/mobile, Wawrinka could be run ragged by Ricardas Berankis, who makes opponents hit many balls.
Peers and Kontinen until proven otherwise.
Federer d. Zverev
Nadal d. Dimitrov
Federer d. Nadal
With Serena Williams out, the draw is, as they say, wide open. Likening women’s tennis to the Wild West would oversell the vastness and chaos of the American frontier. Whose Conestoga wagon will make it through seven rounds? Who will ascend tennis’ Pike’s Peak? With that metaphor officially killed, let’s consider the field.
1. Simona Halep (ROU)
As an observer notes “her toughest opponent is in the mirror.” Still has trouble closing tight matches, but credit her for owning up to her shortcomings and addressing them with candor. Comes in as the top seed and—though she hasn’t won a match in Melbourne since 2015—you have a feeling the time has arrived for her to fulfill that. Meanwhile, someone get her an apparel deal!
2. Caroline Wozniacki (DEN)
A hot pick to win and not unreasonably so. After a dismal 2016, Wozniacki has been a star for the last 18 months. Still has a tendency to play with passivity unbecoming her athleticism (and height) but knows how to win, especially when confident. Even on a fast court, she has to be considered a top favorite.
3. Garbine Muguruza (ESP)
Still a smidge enigmatic; and still a smidge injured. But two Slams is two Slams. Has a chance to assert and exert some authority by winning a third.
4. Elina Svitolina (UKR)
As a friend says, “we still need to see if she’s a middleweight or a heavyweight.” Lots of game, lots of smaller titles; but you make your bones at the majors.
5. Venus Williams (USA)
Well…Let’s pause for a moment before we go further and note it was 20 years ago—as in two decades; pre-cell phones—when she flew coach and made her Melbourne debut.
“The flight to Australia took forever, Florida to Los Angeles, L.A. to Sydney. The girls' father, Richard, was going to go, and the Williamses were going to travel business-class. [Oracene] was astounded at the price, more than $29,000 for the family. She thought it almost sinful. A lot of people work a year for less than $29,000. Richard decided not to go. [Oracene] decided she and the girls would travel coach for slightly more than $6,000. Stuffed into a stuffed plane from Los Angeles—6'1" Venus in the aisle seat to get room for her long legs—they landed in Sydney 14 hours later. Television cameras were waiting at the airport.”
New aunt will benefit from the day off between matches, the extra rest time helpful to a 37-year-old. She’s a finalist last year—and the winner isn’t here to defend. Venus is a sentimental favorite but does she have seven matches in her?
6. Karolina Pliskova (CZE)
She was the favorite of Wimbledon, was defenestrated by a player ranked outside the top 100 and hasn't really been the same since. Suddenly outside the top five. She’s now with new coach Tomas Krupa. The game is there. Is the self-belief as well?
7. Jelena Ostapenko (LAT)
French Open gets an early test against tricky Italian veteran (and fellow surprise French Open champ) Francesca Schiavone. You like the Ostapenko attitude and confidence (sense of entitlement?) and she seems determined to extinguish all notions that she’s a One-Slam wonder.
8. Caroline Garcia (FRA)
A newcomer to the top ten will now try and assert herself with a strong Slam showing.
9. Johanna Konta (GBR)
Now a Joycean disciple (she’s working with Michael Joyce now), Konta tries to rebound from a rough second half of 2017. She played the Australian Open only twice before. She reached semi and a quarter. Enough said.
10. CoCo Vandeweghe (USA)
Say this: she comes to play at the biggest events. A 2017 semifinalist in Australia, a Week-Two player at Wimbledon, a semifinalist at the U.S. Open. First Aussie Open with Pat Cash could be a minor twist.
11. Kristina Mladenovic (FRA)
Absolutely mystifying player. Among the best athletes in the women’s game and brings a full set of skills. But can also vanish (as she did in round one last year.) When does she truly break through in singles?
12. Julia Goerges (GER)
German veteran has done a wunderbar job reviving her career. Tall, stylish player who can be her own worst enemy. Starts against young American Sofia Kenin.
13. Sloane Stephens (USA)
Nike Deal? Yes. Full health? No. Winner of the previous Slam is apparently healthy enough to play; but she is sufficiently healthy to contend? (Aside: could it really be FIVE years since she beat Serena and reached the SF?) Draw gods did her no favors.
14. Anastasija Sevastova (LAT)
The best player you, perhaps, have never seen. Steady veteran will try and build on 2016.
15. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (RUS)
Settled into a role as a solid player, capable of reaching quarterfinals, but not a threat to win the biggest titles.
16. Elena Vesnina (RUS)
Credit her for later career resuscitation of her career (her singles career, anyway) but more annoyance than threat to win.
17. Madison Keys (USA)
As we saw the previous Slam, if she’s healthy, she can win the whole shebang. It’s all about the absence of pain—and the full confidence that comes with it.
18. Ash Barty (AUS)
This has quickly escalated from pleasing story to legitimate contender.
20. Barbora Strycova (CZE)
Feisty, sneaky and dangerous, especially on faster courts.
21. Angelique Kerber (GER)
The champion in 2016 is trying to forget her dismal 2017 and restart with new coach Wim Fissette. Early returns: she’s playing well. Absolutely should be included in a contender conversation.
23. Daria Gavrilova (AUS)
Plays well in front of local crowds.
26. Agnieszka Radwanska (POL)
Now playing with a new racket, gets mention because of earlier work. But this is a career trending in the wrong direction.
27. Petra Kvitova (CZE)
Who knows which Petra will show in Melbourne. But players who have won multiple fast-court majors merit mention.
28. Mirjana Lucic-Baroni (CRO)
A semifinalist in 2017.
31. Ekatarina Makarova (RUS)
Former semifinalist rediscovering form.
Dark horse pasture
Maria Sharapova: Can a former No. 1 and former winner also be a dark horse? If so, here’s one at the top of the list.
Camila Giorgi: May be playing herself out in Sydney, but what a start to the year.
CiCi Bellis: Interesting to see what sophomore year holds in store.
Kristyna Pliskova: Big lefty server is the epitome of a dangerous floater.
Oceane Dodin: A top ten player by 2020.
Aryna Sabalenka: Meet her here.
First Round Matches to watch
Venus Williams vs. Belinda Bencic: Former finalist against former top ten player.
Ostapenko vs. Schiavone: Battle of the surprise French Open winners.
Stosur vs. Monica Puig: Two players who would benefit from a win.
Barty vs. Sabalenka: Two players who made big rankings jumps in 2017. Comeback story vs. newcomer story.
Zhang Shuai to beat a less-than-healthy Sloane Stephens.
Halep d. Keys
Wozniacki d. Venus
Halep d. Wozniacki