Australian Open predictions: The men

The 2014 Grand Slam season has officially arrived as the Australian Open is set to begin next Monday. Who are the favorites? Underdogs? And who are we most looking forward to watch next week? Courtney Nguyen (SI Beyond the Baseline), Amy Fetherolf (The Changeover), Ben Rothenberg (New York Times) and Svenja Mastroberardino (Let’s Talk Tennis) weigh in on the ATP draw.

THE FAVORITE:

Courtney:
Novak Djokovic.
 If Roland Garros is Rafael Nadal’s backyard then Melbourne Park is Djokovic’s house. He’s been gifted a very easy draw which means he’ll likely be well rested compared to his chief rival Nadal (or anyone else that makes it out of the top half) in the final. In the two Slam finals he lost in 2013, Djokovic felt the effects of two five-set semifinals. It would take a huge effort from Nadal to knock him from his perch.

Amy:
Novak Djokovic. It’s hard to pick against Djokovic in Australia. There’s something about playing Down Under that makes Djokovic practically unbeatable (just ask Stan Wawrinka). With Nadal coming back down to earth a little bit toward the end of 2013, Djokovic’s my pick to win in Melbourne.

Ben:
Novak Djokovic.
He would have been my favorite regardless, but he becomes an even stronger one with his draw. Wawrinka has played him tight, yes, but hasn’t been able to close it out, and Ferrer or Berdych would be little opposition in the semifinal. If Djokovic somehow fails to get to the final, I worry that the final could be a weak one.

Svenja:
Novak Djokovic.
Even if he’d had a tougher draw, Novak Djokovic would still be the undisputed favorite. 3 Australian Open titles in a row and almost invincible on hard-courts – I don’t see any other player winning the Aussie Open this year, not even Nadal. It could very well be that the Serb will sleepwalk into the final and then be fresh as a daisy for the final showdown.

THE DISAPPOINTMENT:

Courtney:
Andy Murray:
Losing early wouldn’t be a disappointment for last year’s finalist. It would be understandable. He comes into the tournament having played just two matches since September, when he went under the knife with back surgery. He’s already tempering his expectations here.

Amy:
Roger Federer or Andy Murray. I could see one or both of these guys going out early. In the wake of his puzzling match against Lleyton Hewitt in Brisbane, especially that error-filled first set, Federer is a big question mark. Murray is defending finals points and looked rusty in his return, post-injury layoff. I’m not sure he can play his way into shape enough to go far at the Aussie Open.

Ben:
Juan Martin del Potro. No particular reason except lack of prep time after a long week in Sydney. Roberto Bautista Agut can be tricky.

Svenja:
Richard Gasquet.
He actually has a pretty good draw and shouldn’t be troubled in the first round. Shouldn’t, but I think he will be. His back injury has been causing him problems lately and almost forced him to withdraw from Doha. Also, his preparation hasn’t been ideal and with his lack of confidence, his Australian Open run could end early.

THE UNDERDOG: 

Courtney:
Juan Martin del Potro.
 He’s coming off a title at the Sydney International and he’s the only player to beat Nadal, Djokovic, Murray, and Federer last season. That’s good news because he’s been drawn into Nadal’s quarter. In order to win the title he may have to beat three of the four.

Amy:
Juan Martin del Potro. Del Potro is stuck as the eternal underdog against the Big Four. I don’t expect him to break through at the Australian Open, but with him, you never know.

Ben:
Philipp Kohlschreiber. If he can survive Isner’s serve, I like him to potentially trouble Murray and even Federer.

Svenja:
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
The Frenchman *loves* the Australian Open. He reached his maiden (and only) Grand Slam final Down Under in 2008 and has often played his best tennis there. Also, he managed to beat both Nadal (2008) and Djokovic (2010). The 28-year-old looks fresh and confident after struggling with injuries last year and is a dangerous opponent for any top player.

FAVORITE PLAYER TO WATCH:

Courtney:
Bernard Tomic.
It’s bad luck that Tomic drew Nadal in the first round, especially given how well he played in Sydney, where he made the final. For all of his bone-headed off-court decisions, Tomic is an astute tactician. I can’t wait to watch him try and solve Nadal and make him uncomfortable. Should be fun.

Amy:
Andy Murray. I’m pretty curious to see how he does in his comeback effort. His game is well suited for this tournament, and nobody’s paying much attention to him at this point.

Ben:
Gael Monfils. Always. Shouldn’t be bad conditions for him, and he’ll put on a good show against Nadal.

Svenja:
Fernando Verdasco. I’m crazy, I know. But ever since that incredible match against Rafa in Melbourne five years ago I believe he has the ability to challenge the very best. Not that he has proven that lately, but: Hope dies last. Just thinking about „what could happen“ when he fires his unique forehand gets me excited.

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