- Alex Sharp

Roger Federer and Caroline Wozniacki attended the draw as the players learned their first round fate.

Roger Federer answering to the press the day after his victory at the 2018 Australian Open©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Reigning champions Roger Federer and Caroline Wozniacki attended the draw in Melbourne on Thursday as the world’s finest players learned their first round fate.

The holidays are over, the sun is beaming down and the finest players are in town, it can only be the Australian Open.

Next week the opening Grand Slam of the season ignites into action at Melbourne Park.

Who will navigate through the field and hold the trophies aloft on Rod Laver Arena?

Land of opportunity in the women’s draw


The depth and range on the WTA is captivating for fans. We’ve witnessed eight different champions in the last eight Grand Slams.

Scanning the women’s draw at Melbourne Park and into the 4th round could be an absolute classic. Serena Williams, chasing a record-levelling 24th major, is on the path to face world No.1 Simona Halep.



At Hopman Cup Serena, who opens against Tatjana Maria, gained much-needed match practice, whilst Halep faces a daunting US Open re-match.

World No.70 Kaia Kanepi dismantled Halep 6-2 6-4 in New York. Will the top seed gain revenge?

Having clinched a maiden major at Roland Garros, Halep is a different prospect who came agonisingly close in last year’s final. Surely another deep run for the Romanian. Who wouldn’t want to see Serena vs Halep?

Defending champion Caroline Wozniacki suffered an early exit in Auckland, but has been striking the ball superbly in practice in Melbourne. However, the world No.3 has a tricky first battle up against Belgian Alison Van Uytvanck.

2016 champion Angelique Kerber will hope to maintain her Hopman Cup and Sydney form to edge past Polona Hercog, whilst US Open winner Naomi Osaka faces Magda Linette.

Established guard to continue their grip on the top prizes?


50 out of the past 60 men’s Grand Slams have fallen into the clutches of the Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal triumvirate. That’s 83% since 2004!

World No.1 Djokovic and two-time defending champion Federer are gunning for an unprecedented seventh triumph in Melbourne.

Denis Istomin, who stunned Djokovic in the 2017 second round down under, is Federer’s first hurdle. The 20-time Grand Slam champion is in fine fettle with another unbeaten Hopman Cup campaign under his belt.

He’s simply stated preparation has been “perfect,” but Federer has also insisted Djokovic is the favourite.




The Serbian, off the back of an absorbing renaissance in 2018, returned to the Tour with a Doha Open semi-final. A qualifier up first, but 2008 final opponent Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is a possible spectacular second round.

Looking to spoil a Federer v Djokovic final, Nadal has landed in the defending champion’s half. Nadal, the 2009 champion, takes on Aussie wildcard James Duckworth, but it’s been a turbulent off-season for the 11-time Roland Garros champion.

Ankle surgery, thigh issues and a lack of match practice. Can Rafa rise to the occasion? His unrelenting faith certainly remains.



Who can boot out the legendary triumvirate?


Two months on from lifting the giant ATP Finals trophy, Next Gen leader Alexander Zverev is picked as the front runner to finally make a major breakthrough.

A single Grand Slam quarter-final (French Open 2018) questions his major resolve. Well, the towering German, taking on Aljaz Bedene in the first round, now has Ivan Lendl entrenched in his camp who should install more Grand Slam grit.

Stefanos Tsitsipas, in Federer’s quarter, Alex de Minaur and Borna Coric are three other names that spring to mind. They need to re-watch Hyeon Chung’s 2018 semi-final run. The South Korean’s electrifying brand of tennis was a blue print for the Next Gen.



Strong French contingent out to impress

 

Caroline Garcia (19) vs Qualifier

Kristina Mladenovic vs Donna Vekic (29)

Alize Cornet vs Lara Arruabarrena

Special mention to Junior world No.1 Clara Burel. The teenager will tackle 23rd seed Carla Suarez Navarro.

 

Gael Monfils (30) v Damir Dzumhur

Benoit Paire vs Dominc Thiem (Roland Garros runner-up)

Ugo Humbert vs Jeremy Chardy

Lucas Pouille (28) v Mikhail Kukushkin

Gilles Simon (29) vs Qualifier

Pierre-Hugues Herbert v Sam Querrey



First round sizzlers to produce Melbourne magic


Look no further than 2016 Wimbledon finalist Milos Raonic up against the unseeded home charge Nick Kyrgios. Split with a 3-3 record, this should be a cracker – finely poised and firepower in abundance.

Add to that the eventual winner takes on 2014 champion Stan Wawrinka or the engaging Ernests Gulbis in the second round.

Marin Cilic (6) vs Bernard Tomic

Kyle Edmund (13) vs Tomas Berdych

Roberto Bautista Agut (22) vs Andy Murray

 

Daria Kasatkina (10) vs Timea Bacsinszky

Sloane Stephens (5) vs Taylor Townsend  

Madison Keys (17) vs Destanee Aiava (WC)

Jelena Ostapenko (22) vs Maria Sakkari



Summer sizzlers and dark horses lurking in the draw


So far some talented, explosive and dangerous players have picked up early silverware in the build-up events.

Aryna Sabalenka (Shenzhen), Kei Nishikori and Karolina Pliskova (Brisbane), Julia Goerges (Auckland) have all sent out signals of intent for their efforts down under.

Looking at outside chances, 2018 finalist Marin Cilic is always a threat and must be buoyed by Croatia’s Davis Cup triumph.

Similarly, Karen Khachanov burst into prominence by dismissing Djokovic to clinch the Rolex Paris Masters and will feel he belongs on the big stage.

On the women’s side, Ashleigh Barty is exciting local media and fans courtesy of some mesmerising performances. A ‘solid’ Hopman Cup campaign was complimented by a clinical 6-4 6-4 scoreline over world No.1 Halep in Sydney on Wednesday.

The leading Aussie light is still in title contention in Sydney. Will the 15th seed transfer this success to Melbourne Park?

“I certainly fear no one, and I feel like I can go out there and match it with the world's best." How about that belief from Barty!