The start of the 2022 tennis season has delivered an Australian Open unlike any other, and the tournament draws will be impacted by the events surrounding Novak Djokovic. His vaccination and visa cancellation saga has turned Down Under upside down.
Still, as we preview the men’s and women’s draws for the 2022 Australian Open, Djokovic sits atop the men’s draw with– from a tennis perspective– a fairly uncomplicated path to the final. That doesn’t account for off-court events, which include a possible deportation from Australia, a crowd that is angered by his presence, and fellow players who are eager to stop him from winning a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam.
Ash Barty, Australia’s favorite daughter, reigns as the top seed on the women’s side. Although an intriguing potential match-up lurks. If Barty, who has won the French Open and Wimbledon, is able to get through an unremarkable group in her first three rounds, she faces a potential blockbuster matchup with Naomi Osaka in the Round of 16. That’s tough for both players. Osaka won the Australian Open in 2021 but took time off for the majority of the year for mental health reasons. As such, her ranking slipped. That’s how she finds herself with the prospect of playing Barty so early.
The bottom of the draw features the 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka. Unfortunately, the Belarussian has been saddled with a case of the yips on her second serve and certainly cannot be a favorite to advance deep in the tournament. Players to watch include Simona Halep, who won a warm up tournament last week, former French Open champion Iga Swiatek, and American Coco Gauff, who has made adjustments to shorten the backswing on her forehand in line with the Aussie surface.
The first-round barnburner match belongs to Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic and 2021 Indian Wells champ Paula Badosa, who has seen her game catch fire in the past 6 months.
Other than Sabalenka, the player who appears out of form is 2021 US Open Champion Emma Raducanu, who has only won two matches since her triumph in New York.
Semifinals: Barty over Gauff, Swiatek over Halep.
Finals: Barty over Swiatek.
The rational number on the women’s side is 81. That’s the percentage that Barty held her serve in 2021, and it was a large sample size with 49 matches played. This stat that is tops on tour.
As of this writing, Djokovic is in the draw. The world number one and current GOAT is always a factor when he’s entered in any tournament, even if the walls of Pompeii are tumbling around him. If he can block out the hostile crowds and get through the likes of fellow Serb Miomir Kecmanovic and American Tommy Paul, his only big problem before the quarters is potentially an in-form Gael Monfils. Then it gets a little stickier with a possible matchup with the likes of Matteo Berrettini, Nole-kryptonite Pablo Carreno Busta or Next Gen superstar Carlos Alcaraz.
In contrast, 20-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal’s draw is harder than the surface in Rod Laver Arena. Potential matchups include: Australian comeback kid Thanasi Kokkinakis, stalwart Karen Khachanov, elite tour player Hubert Hurkacz and last year’s breakthrough star Aslan Karatsev. Rafa can get through the matches, no question. But at what cost? Any extra sets the Spaniard superhero has to play will potentially tax his 35-year-old body for the next round.
US Open Champion Daniil Medvedev and ATP World Tour Finals King Alexander Zverev look relaxed and limber ahead of this tournament. Look for strong runs from both.
An under-the-radar player who looks strong is American Taylor Fritz, who has shown growth and took Djokovic for a 5-set spin at last year’s Australian Open.
A player who might be a question mark is Alcaraz, who arrived Down Under only recently and decided to forego any of the plethora of warm up tournaments.
Semifinals: Zverev over Djokovic, Medvedev over Fritz.
Finals: Medvedev over Zverev.
The rational number here is 46. That’s the percentage of break points converted– shared by only three men in the past year: Nadal, Djokovic and Medvedev. Because of the server’s dominance on hard courts, converting break opportunities will be a valued skill Down Under.