It was business as usual for Nadal and Federer at this year’s Australian Open when they both swept aside first round opposition with ease in straight sets and the minimum of fuss. Their respective performances sent a strong message to any doubters and the rest of the Australian Open men’s field that they are ready, fit and healthy and they will not give up their chances of adding to their illustrious Grand Slam haul’s this fortnight without a hell of a fight.
The long awaited and much anticipated return to the ATP Tour of former world number one and six-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic finally materialized yesterday. The Serb has endured a torrid year and a half battling a troublesome elbow injury and, when he announced he was still not ready to return to competitive match play at the start of this year, the chances of him featuring at this year’s tournament did not look good. However, he made it to the starting line without any real competitive matches under his belt for over six months and you could not tell as he proceeded to send Donald Young packing in straight sets. Djokovic looked fit, healthy and most importantly confident during his first round match against Young and if he is really over the worse of his elbow injury, then he has to be classed as a serious contender again based on his imperious record at Melbourne Park over the last decade.
Another top player and former Australian Open champion Stan (the man) Wawrinka also made what is hopefully a successful return from injury and extended period away from the ATP Tour yesterday. Ninth seed Wawrinka looked assured in defeating experienced tour veteran Berankis in four sets and there were no signs that he has not fully recovered from knee surgery. While the Swiss number two was not quite back to his devastating and powerful best there were enough encouraging signs to suggest that he could hit those heights again this fortnight if his fitness and body holds up. Unfortunately, 2016 semi-finalist Raonic’s return from injuries and time away from the tour has not been a successful one so far. The Canadian lost in the opening round at Brisbane against the talented Next Gen Star De Minaur and again this week, this time against the experienced tour veteran Lacko in four sets.
Other top players who have experienced disappointing starts to their 2018 seasons and lost in the first round of the Australian Open were eighth seed Sock, who was upset by the talented Japanese veteran Sugita in four sets, eleventh seed Anderson, who lost an epic five setter against Britain’s Kyle Edmunds, sixteenth seed Isner, who lost in four sets against Aussie veteran Ebden, eighteenth seed Pouille, who lost in four sets against experienced tour veteran Bemelmans from Belgium in four sets, twentieth seed and Auckland winner Bautista-Agut, who lost in straight sets Spanish veteran Verdasco and twenty seventh seed and veteran German Kohlschreiber, who lost against Japanese youngster and world number 166 Nishioka in four sets.
There were other seeds who also came close to losing their respective first round encounters. Twenty fourth seed Schwartzman has not looked at his best so far, this season and he was pushed all the way in his opener against Serbian Lajovic, just scarping through 11-9 in the fifth set. So far in 2018 twenty eighth seed Dzumhur has also not hit the type of form that won him two ATP titles towards the end of last season and he made hard work of dispatching Italian veteran Lorenzi in five sets. Some of the top-seeded players who impressed winning their openers were third seed Dimitrov, who dispatched Austrian Novak in straight sets, fourth seed Zverev, who defeated Italian Fabbiano in straight sets, fifth seed Thiem, who sent the experienced Argentine Pella packing in straight sets, seventh seed Goffin, who recovered from a set down against experienced German Bachinger to win in four sets and twelfth seed Del Potro, who won in straight sets against American Next Gen star Tiafoe.
Also, thirteenth seed American veteran Querrey was one of few highlights for American players winning his first round encounter against experienced Spanish veteran Lopez in straight sets, seventeenth seed and Brisbane winner Kyrgios dispatched Dutra Silva in straight sets and fifteenth seed Tsonga swept aside American qualifier King in straight sets. Also, other seeds to progress to the second round were the likes of experienced veterans nineteenth seed Berdych, twenty first seed Ramos-Vinolas, twenty third seed Muller, twenty fifth seed Fognini, twenty sixth seed Mannarino, twenty ninth seed Gasquet and thirty first seed Cuevas, who all bar Berdych won in straight sets.
By the time you read this article the first half of the men’s second round matches will be almost complete and the fate of top-players and challengers for the title this year like top-seed Nadal, third seed Dimitrov (advised 66/1), sixth seed Cilic and seventeenth seed Kyrgios will be known. Judging by their first round performances, I expect all of this group of players to have progressed to the third round without too much drama. Seeded players who could have easily lost their respective second round matches this morning were tenth seed Carreno-Busta against resurgent French veteran Simon, fifteenth seed Tsonga, who faced the very talented Next Gen start Canadian Shapovalov, who looked very impressive winning his opener against fellow Next Gen star Tsipitas in straight sets. Also, twenty fourth seed Schwartzman could have been upset by potential Next Gen star the talented young Norwegian Casper Rudd, twenty eighth seed Dzumhur may have struggled to beat Aussie Millman and finally I won’t be surprised if thirty first seed Cuevas lost against in form American Ryan Harrison.
The highlights of tomorrow morning’s second round matches look to be between two talented Next Gen stars Chung and Sydney winner Medvedev, which could easily go all the way to five sets and thus it’s a surprise to see Medvedev priced up the clear outsider of the two. Djokovic’s second round encounter against Monfils should be an entertaining affair, but I don’t see an upset occurring here given how assured Djokovic looked in his opener. Finally, eleventh seed Del Potro faces a potentially tricky encounter against the big serving and powerful Russian Next Gen star Khachanov. While Khachanov will no doubt have some highlights, and may potentially win a set, I don’t expect potential title challenger Del Potro will lose a match of this nature given his superior power and vast experience.