The Australian Open draw has been made, and the 30-minute delay due to the late arrival by boat of defending champions and No. 1 seeds Novak Djokovic and Victoria Azarenka kept people restless. The wait turned out to be well worth it. The biggest question of the day surrounded the No. 3 seeds: On whose side of the draw would Andy Murray and Serena Williams land? Murray landed in Roger’s Federer’s half, while Serena finds herself in Azarenka’s half. Federer may have to beat both Murray and Djokovic to win the title (while Djokovic would only have to beat one of the two). That’s a significant difference.
First off, here are the projected quarterfinal matchups based on the seedings to help you get oriented:
Men: Novak Djokovic vs. Tomas Berdych, David Ferrer vs. Janko Tipsarevic, Juan Martin del Potro vs. Andy Murray, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs. Roger Federer.
Women: Victoria Azarenka vs. Sara Errani, Serena Williams vs. Petra Kvitova, Li Na vs. Agnieszka Radwanska, Angelique Kerber vs. Maria Sharapova
1. Roger Federer has the toughest road to the title. If there’s a “Group of Death” in the draw, Federer has found himself in it. He’ll open against flashy Frenchman Benoit Paire — he of of the ridiculous leaping ‘tweener we featured this week — and then could see this: Former No. 4 Nikolay Davydenko, who had a resurgent tournament in Doha last week where he made the final, Bernard Tomic, who hasn’t lost this year, and big-serving Milos Raonic, who pushed Federer deep in to a decisive set in their three previous matches. That’s just to get to the quarterfinals.
Once in the quarters, Federer is projected to face Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who famously came back from two sets down to beat Federer at Wimbledon in 2011. An Australian Open finalist in 2008, the dynamic Tsonga has started the season well. Should Federer win there he’ll likely face either Murray or Del Potro. That’s tough for Federer either way, particularly in light of Del Potro’s performance last fall when he beat Federer in Basel and the World Tour Finals.
The good news for Federer is there are questions surrounding each one of these potential opponents. Murray still hasn’t beaten him at a major, Raonic hasn’t been convincing in his warm-ups, and Tomic and Tsonga are just as capable of losing early as they are making a deep run. As for Del Potro, it’s hard to know what to expect from him since he chose to skip the competitive tune-ups.
Federer said he likes the challenge. This is the toughest draw he could have asked for.
2. Write Novak Djokovic into the final: With Murray in Federer’s half, Djokovic clearly has the easier draw. His projected path to the title: Paul Henri-Mathieu, Ryan Harrison, Radek Stepanek, Stanislas Wawrinka, Tomas Berdych, David Ferrer and Federer or Murray. An Aussie three-peat looks doable.
3. Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka drawn in the same half. One thing’s certain: No Serena-Azarenka rematch in the final. The two would meet in the semifinals, giving Maria Sharapova a fairly clear path to the final if she can navigate it. No. 1 is on the line and will be decided between Azarenka, Sharapova and Serena, though Azarenka has to reach the final to have any chance of retaining it. As a result, should Serena and Azarenka meet, that match could be for the No. 1 ranking.
4. Floaters are dangerous. Many unseeded players look primed to bust brackets. Tomic was the one most people had their eye on, particularly in light of his week in Sydney, where he’s into the semifinals and looks poised for his first ATP title there. He’s looked fantastic these last two weeks, showing a stronger physique, amped-up serve and more aggressive tactics. It’s a shame he’s in Federer’s section, as he really does look ready for a second-week run, but Federer cleaned his clock last year 6-4, 6-2, 6-2. Tomic loves a big-stage match, and it doesn’t get any bigger than Federer on Rod Laver Arena at his home tournament.
Speaking of Aussies, Lleyton Hewitt is still kicking. He gets No. 9 Janko Tipsarevic in the first round. Tipsarevic is coming off a win in Chennai, but Hewitt has shown great form this week in Kooyong, where he’s beaten Raonic and Berdych. If he pulls off the upset then that section of the draw, anchored by Tipsarevic and No. 11 Nicolas Almagro, is wide open, making way for the likes of Grigor Dimitrov, another floater, to have a career run. Dimitrov, who made his first ATP final last week in Brisbane, plays No. 32 Julian Benneteau in the first round.
Last but not least, Gael Monfils. The crowd favorite is unseeded after a knee injury interrupted his 2012. He’ll open against the No. 18 Alexander Dolgopolov in a must-watch match. You’d be hard pressed to find two quicker, more dynamic players who put a premium on shotmaking over simple common sense.
As for the women, Caroline Wozniacki’s bad luck continues. She starts against No. 37 Sabine Lisicki, whom she hasn’t beaten since 2008, though that win did come in Melbourne. Lisicki made the fourth round last year, losing to Sharapova in three tough sets. Another name to look out for is Svetlana Kuznetsova, who had a big win over Wozniacki this week in Sydney. The two-time major champion, now unseeded, is in a soft part of the draw headlined by Wozniacki and Sara Errani.
5. Must-see matches: Everyone is looking forward to Sharapova and Venus Williams in the third round. The women look more primed for significant early match ups than the men. That’s nothing new. The WTA features more parity from Nos. 1 through 100. But keep an eye on top American Sam Querrey. He’s got a good shot at the fourth round.
Men: Lleyton Hewitt vs. Janko Tipsarevic (first round), Gael Monfils vs. Alexandr Dolgopolov (first round), Roger Federer vs. Benoit Paire (first round), Grigor Dimitrov vs. Julien Benneteau (first round), Lukas Rosol vs. Milos Raonic (second round), Tommy Haas vs. Richard Gasquet (third round), Sam Querrey vs. Brian Baker (second round), Sam Querrey vs. Stanislas Wawrinka (third round), Jerzy Janowicz vs. Nicolas Almagro (third round).
Women: Caroline Wozniacki vs. Sabine Lisicki (first round), Petra Kvitova vs. Francesca Schiavone (first round), Melanie Oudin vs. Laura Robson (first round), Jamie Hampton vs. Urszula Radwanska (first round), Sam Stosur vs. Zheng Jie (second round), Laura Robson vs. Petra Kvitova (second round), Maria Sharapova vs. Venus Williams (third round), Sloane Stephens vs. Petra Kvitova or Laura Robson (third round), Ana Ivanovic vs. Jelena Jankovic (third round), Madison Keys vs. Angelique Kerber (third round).