The seeds have been announced, the draw has been made. We now await the start of the first Grand Slam of the tennis year in Melbourne on Monday.
But before the action gets underway, let’s take a closer look at the draw for the Men’s Singles.
The top quarter is headed by world number one and top seed Novak Djokovic, who is in search of his fifth Australian Open title, and his fourth in the last five years. He will open up his campaign against a yet-to-be-confirmed qualifier, and could well meet Britain’s James Ward in round three if both men get through their first two matches unscathed. On the whole, it appears that the draw has been kind to the Serb, with 19th seed John Isner or 13th seed Roberto Bautista-Agut the only real threats to his run to the quarter-final.
After that, it gets a little bit trickier. The likelihood is of a quarter-final meeting with eighth-seeded Canadian Milos Raonic, whom he has beaten four times out of four, although the bottom half of this quarter is littered with dangerous players. The 12th-seed Feliciano Lopez is the likely fourth round opponent for Raonic, and the Spaniard won the last meeting between the two in Toronto last year. Also, the 17th-seeded Frenchman Gael Monfils, widely regarded as the best athlete in the game, could go far in the tournament, although he will have to put his recent results in Melbourne behind him as he has not gone beyond the third round in the last five years. Another player to keep an eye on is Lleyton Hewitt who, although his best tennis is behind him, still has the potential to cause an upset or two in his homeland.
The bottom half also includes a tasty first round match-up between the returning Juan Martin del Potro, the 2009 US Open champion appearing in his first Grand Slam since this time last year, and big-serving Jerzy Janowicz, who reached the semi-finals of Wimbledon in 2013, with both players unseeded but having the potential to upset a few seeds along the way.
Predicted semi-finalist: Djokovic
Defending champion Stanislas Wawrinka is the top ranked in the second quarter, with the fourth seed beginning his defence against Turkey’s Marsel Ilhan in round one. Similarly to Djokovic, you would expect the Swiss number two to comfortably progress to the quarter-finals, the stage he has reached in the last two Majors. Although, a fourth-round match against either 21st -seed Alexandr Dolgopolov or 16th-seed Fabio Fognini could cause him some problems.
The second half of the quarter is loaded with talent, headed by fifth-seed Kei Nishikori. The Japanese star ended 2014 brilliantly, reaching the semi-finals at London’s season-ending ATP World Tour Finals in November, before losing to eventual champion Djokovic and firmly becoming a part of the top ten. The main highlight came at the US Open, where he beat Raonic, Wawrinka and Djokovic en route to the final (all of whom are in his half of the draw), before eventually succumbing to Marin Cilic.
However, Nishikori will have to produce a similar sort of run to go deep in this tournament, with a first-round match-up against Spaniard Nicolas Almagro a potential banana-skin for the world number five. Ninth-seed David Ferrer or 18th-seed Gilles Simon likely lie in wait in round four, although Nishikori’s four unanswered wins against Ferrer in 2014 puts him in good stead if that match-up comes to fruition.
If Nishikori can get through the draw reasonably unscathed, he will provide a stern test for Wawrinka if they meet in the quarter-final, one that the Japanese man may well go on to win.
Predicted semi-finalist: Nishikori
One of the biggest questions surrounding this year’s Australian Open is the fitness of the 2009 champion, Rafael Nadal, who appears in the third quarter of the draw. The 14-time-Grand Slam champion was once again plagued by injury in 2014, with his fourth round defeat to Nick Kyrgios at Wimbledon in July his last competitive match before the Asia swing at the start of October, meaning he was unable to defend his US Open title at Flushing Meadows. He then announced after his shock defeat to Borna Coric in Basel that he would miss the rest of the season to have surgery after suffering from appendicitis.
To become only the third man behind Roy Emerson and Rod Laver to win each of the Grand Slams twice, Nadal begins his quest for a second Australian Open crown against former top ten player Mikhail Youzhny in round one, with Nadal prevailing in the last five meetings. A clash against the 28th-seed Lukas Rosol, the man who famously beat the Spaniard at Wimbledon in 2012, could take place in round three.
If Nadal were to struggle with injury and exit the tournament early, it may open the door for seventh seed Tomas Berdych in the top half of this quarter.
If Nadal were to struggle with injury and exit the tournament early, it may open the door for seventh seed Tomas Berdych in the top half of this quarter. The Czech reached the semi-finals in Melbourne last year before losing to eventual winner Wawrinka and, with quarter-final appearances at the French Open and US Open last year, the 2010 Wimbledon finalist knows how to go deep in Grand Slams. A potential fourth round match-up against 11th-seed Ernests Gulbis could be interesting, as the Latvian was the man who knocked him out of the French Open last year en route to his career-best semi-final, where he lost to Djokovic.
If Nadal stays fit then you would expect him to at least make the quarter-finals, and likely a clash with Berdych, whom he has beaten 18 times out of their 21 meetings, including the last 17.
Predicted semi-finalist: Nadal
Roger Federer, chasing an 18th Grand Slam title and fifth in Australia, is the top seed in a tough-looking fourth quarter of the draw. The Swiss, fresh from a 1,000th career win last week in Brisbane, opens up against Yen-Hsun Lu of Chinese Taipei in round one, and he may well entertain 18-year-old Borna Coric, the man who beat Nadal in Basel back in October, in round three. Predicting Federer’s likely fourth round opponent is difficult, as 15th-seed Tommy Robredo, 23rd-seed Ivo Karlovic – who beat Djokovic in Doha a few weeks ago – and Australian teenager Nick Kyrgios could all make a run to the last 16.
The possibility of Britain’s sixth seed Andy Murray, three times a finalist in Melbourne, taking on the tenth seeded Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov in the fourth round is a mouth-watering prospect
The top half of this quarter is loaded with quality, with the possibility of Britain’s sixth-seed Andy Murray, three times a finalist in Melbourne, taking on the tenth-seeded Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov in the fourth round a mouth-watering prospect. Dimitrov ended Murray’s defence of his Wimbledon crown in the quarter-finals last year, although the multiple Grand Slam champion did beat the 23-year-old in Paris back in October. However, Murray could face 32nd-seed Martin Klizan in round three. Dimitrov faces a tricky opponent in Dustin Brown in round one, before the likelihood of 20th seed David Goffin in the third round. Although it is likely that both Murray and Dimitrov will come through, it is not a foregone conclusion.
Federer is the favourite to make it through this quarter, although a quarter-final meeting with either Murray or Dimitrov has the chance to derail his march to the last four.
Predicted semi-finalist: Federer
Regardless of what happens, we can be sure that it will be another fantastic two weeks of Grand Slam action, and a great way to kick-off the tennis year.
Follow Marcus on Twitter: @RFCOadesey
Update: (17/1/15, 12pm) Murray’s first-round opponent will be 22-year-old Indian world number 314 Yuki Bhambri, who came through qualifying. Britain’s Kyle Edmund, 20, has also made it through to his first Grand Slam.