Men’s draw: Novak’s tough test

  • Dan Imhoff
  • Getty Images

Six times the lights have dimmed, and six times, one final spotlight has shone bright on Novak Djokovic as the last man standing on Rod Laver Arena. If he is to hold the honour again at the conclusion of Australian Open 2018, the Serb faces his most challenging route yet.

In Djokovic’s first tour-level event since a right arm injury ended his season during Wimbledon last July, much is expected of the former world No.1 as he builds towards a return to the top. Seeded 14th, he will open his 14th Melbourne Park campaign against American lefty, Donald Young.

MORE: Check out the men’s singles draw in full

Fifth-seeded Austrian Dominic Thiem, defending champion Roger Federer and top seed Rafael Nadal present a torrid potential final three hurdles to title No.7.

But Djokovic’s first-week obstacles could prove as great a challenge.

This week’s Doha champion and former world No.6, Gael Monfils, lurks as a likely second-round obstacle. The ledger is a lopsided 14-0 in Djokovic’s favour, but with a tough draw, the Frenchman has little to lose.

Having debuted a new service motion in Melbourne this week and a right-arm compression sleeve, there are also tweaks in the assembly of Team Djokovic, with the recently-retired Radek Stepanek now on board. A handy consultant last season, four-time champion Andre Agassi is said to be now planning a late dash Down Under to re-join the team after a snowboarding mishap back home.

It makes for a bounty of wise tennis heads in the Serb’s corner, and he will need them for a projected fourth-round date with No.4 seed Alexander Zverev.

For all the hype, the 20-year-old German is yet to reach a Grand Slam quarterfinal. If he is to do so in Melbourne he could have to get past his brother, No.28 Mischa Zverev, in the third round before a true test of where he stands, should Djokovic cement his spot in the fourth-round clash. Djokovic fell to Zverev in their only prior clash in the final of last year’s Masters 1000 in Rome.

Slovenian Aljaz Bedene is defending champion Federer’s first task on Rod Laver Arena for 2018. The five-time champion could meet a one of the tour’s biggest servers on tour in either No.13 seed Sam Querrey or former semifinalist Milos Raonic in the fourth round.

But his toughest test could come in the quarterfinals, where either in-form No.7 seed David Goffin – the Belgian who ended the Swiss star’s ATP Finals run – or his US Open vanquisher, No.12 seed Juan Martin del Potro, are drawn to end up.

Del Potro could run into two-time Australian Open semifinalist Tomas Berdych in the third round, should the Czech take down fleet-footed Australian wildcard Alex De Minaur.

Four years since Nadal entered the year’s first Grand Slam as the top seed, the Spaniard again finds himself with the No.1 next to his name on the draw. Dominican journeyman Victor Estrella Burgos is a comfortable first-round task on paper, with sixth-seeded 2017 Wimbledon finalist Marin Cilic or Nadal’s 10th-seeded countryman Pablo Carreno Busta tipped to be his first serious test in the quarterfinals.

A rematch of last year’s Australian Open semifinal with 2017’s strongest finisher, Grigor Dimitrov, is on the cards. The third-seeded Bulgarian, despite falling in the semifinals in his Brisbane International title defence last week, has imposed himself at last as a serious contender with victory in the season-ending ATP Finals.

He starts against a qualifier and could meet his Brisbane conqueror and home hopeful, 17th seed Nick Kyrgios, in the fourth round. Kyrgios would likely have to make it past former Australian Open runner-up and 15th seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, provided the Frenchman avenges a US Open defeat to fast-surging 18-year-old Canadian Denis Shapovalov in round two.