Anticipation for tennis’ first Grand Slam of 2015 ratcheted up on Friday with the draw for the Australian Open revealed. On the men’s side, Novak Djokovic goes into the event, which starts in Melbourne on Monday, as the top seed, but Stan Wawrinka is the defending champion after his stunning victory 12 months ago that set the tone for a year in which the dominance of famed “Big Four” began to show signs of slipping. With Rafael Nadal still yet to return to his best after injury, Andy Murray looking to seriously challenge for a Grand Slam for the first time since winning Wimbledon in 2013 and the 33-year-old Roger Federer continuing his resurgence, it promises to be a tournament full of intrigue.
Here’s how the quartet, with 40 Grand Slams titles between them, fared in the draw.
The world No.1 has the benefit of the kindest draw in Melbourne. After taking on a qualifier in the opening round, Djokovic’s next opponent will be either Andrey Kuznetsov or Albert Ramos-Vinolas, neither of whom have ever passed the second round Down Under. Fernando Verdasco, now some way past his peak, is the first seed he could face, with Roberto Bautista Agut or giant American John Isner, with one Grand Slam quarterfinal appearance between them, likely to then await in the fourth round. Seeded quarterfinal opponent Milos Raonic is looking to continue his progress of last year, but Djokovic has won all four of his meetings with the big-serving Canadian. By far his biggest test is likely to await in the semifinals, where he will likely face either the man who shocked him in the previous round last year, Wawrinka, or his conqueror in last year’s U.S. Open semifinals, Kei Nishikori. Still, it is asking a lot for either to repeat those feats against the four-time Australian Open champion.
Nadal has seemingly been trying to temper expectations heading into his first Grand Slam since last year’s Wimbledon. Hampered by wrist, back and appendix trouble, the Spaniard has played just eight matches on the ATP Tour in the seven months since, winning only four of them. More than any of the challengers, he required a favorable early draw to ease himself into the event and get some matches under his belt. His first round opponent, veteran Mikhail Youzhny, has the potential to be tricky, but the Russian is in poor form having record three successive first-round defeats.
After taking on either a wild card or qualifier in the second round, he is seeded to meet the man who famously ousted him from Wimbledon two years ago, Lukas Rosol. But, get through that and he will be confident of going far. Either Richard Gasquet or Kevin Anderson are likely opponents in the last 16 before a probable meeting with a man who hasn’t beaten him in more than eight years, Tomas Berdych, in the quarterfinals. There could then well be another tussle with his long-time foe Federer in the last four. While the Swiss is in fine form, you have to go way back to the 2007 Wimbledon final to find the last time Nadal lost to him in a Grand Slam.
Federer has a tough path just to even reach the semi-final. The 17-time Grand Slam winner, who just claimed his 1,000 the career win when lifting the title in Brisbane, faces Yen-Hsun Lu in the opening round, before Simone Bolelli or Juan Monaco and then likely 29th seed Jeremy Chardy. All are solid operators, but shouldn’t pose a major threat. The challenge gets significantly more difficult for Federer from there on, however. In the last 16, Ivo Karlovic, fresh from his defeat of Djokovic, or tough veteran Tommy Robredo await and then No. 6 seed Murray is his seeded quarterfinal opponent. Federer ousted the Scot at the same stage last year, but the possibility of having to go through Murray, Nadal and Djokovic means an 18th Grand Slam title is unlikely to be straight forward.
Of course, that’s if Murray makes it that far. The three-time Australian Open runner-up, faces a qualifier to the first round. In the second, he faces either a qualifier or Marinko Matosevic, who is without a win in his home Grand Slam. The lowest-ranked seed, Martin Klizan, shouldn’t pose an undue test next up, either. But the step up in quality of his probable opponents is then huge, starting with a seeded meeting against the man who brushed him aside in the quarterfinals of Wimbledon last year, Grigor Dimitrov. Murray showed signs of rediscovering his fire and best tennis at the end of last year, but he faces some tough tasks if he is to follow in the footsteps of his coach, Amelie Mauresmo, and land an Australian Open title.