This year’s Australian Open draw was probably the most anticipated in a long time with Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer both seeded outside the top-16 having slipped in the rankings because of injuries.
While the possibility of the two all-time greats facing off in the third round did not transpire, with the draw placing them on opposite sides, Federer and Nadal did throw up intriguing potential classes in the sections which they landed. Federer is in Andy Murray and Kei Nishikori’s quarter, while Nadal turned up in Milos Raonic’s.
Raonic and Nadal have already played twice in the last three weeks, with the Spaniard getting the upper hand in an exhibition clash in Abu Dhabi before Raonic avenged that defeat with victory in their Brisbane quarter-final last week.
While Nadal will be happy to have avoided the quarters of the draw that house the world’s top-two Murray and Novak Djokovic, Raonic would be a serious obstacle for the 14-time grand slam champion, should he make it to the quarter-finals.
Federer is surrounded by qualifiers in his section, which would give him a chance to ease in to the competition, with world No10 Tomas Berdych being the first seed he could face, in the third round.
On the women’s side, Serena Williams was thrown a curveball in the form of Swiss ex-world No7 Belinda Bencic, but it’s worth noting that the teenager is returning from an injury-plagued 2016 and is down to No48 in the rankings.
Here are a few questions thrown up by the Australian Open draw:
WILL VERDASCO DO IT AGAIN?
The Spaniard has a chance to play the role of party-pooper for a second year in a row after he was drawn to face No2 seed Novak Djokovic in the first round.
The powerful Verdasco, whose game is definitely better than what his No40 ranking reflects, upset Rafael Nadal in the first round at Melbourne Park last year.
He also almost beat Djokovic last week in Doha, but inexplicably squandered five match points. Djokovic is someone who learns quickly from his mistakes though and it’s unlikely he’ll face similar trouble to what he had to overcome in Doha.
#Djokovic on Verdasco, his 1R opponent: "I hope I don't have to defend match points again! He's a complete player and can beat anyone"— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 14, 2017
WILL RUST AFFECT SERENA’S CAMPAIGN?
The American legend’s only match since last year’s US Open is a defeat to Madison Brengle in Auckland earlier this month. She committed 88 unforced errors in that clash and was unable to deal with the windy conditions.
Williams’ Australian Open path is potentially a treacherous one. Should she get past Bencic, who beat the American in Toronto in 2015, Williams would have to defeat the likes of Lucie Safarova, Caroline Wozniacki or Dominika Cibulkova should she wish to get through her quarter. She will have no time to ease into her game, Williams must come out blasting from the blocks.
lS KYRGIOS READY TO GO BIG?
The young Aussie has already performed well on the big stage, making the quarters at both Wimbledon and his home slam before. He is in Stan Wawrinka’s quarter of the draw and has several beatable opponents in his potential path.
Is the talented 21-year-old finally ready to reach his first semi? It’s highly possible if the knee injury he is currently nursing is not too serious.
CAN KERBER RECAPTURE HER MAGICAL 2016 FORM?
The German has suffered two losses already this season, to Elina Svitolina in Brisbane and Daria Kasatkina in Sydney. She could face the latter in the fourth round in Melbourne but her draw is fairly tamer than that of Williams.