It has been a wild ride to the start of this year’s Australian Open, but on Monday, the tournament will officially begin. With Sunday’s court decision upholding the decision that Novak Djokovic is to be deported and will not play, the drama over his visa cancellation is over — but that leaves other questions.
Who will win on the men’s side now? Will world No. 1 Ash Barty win her first Australian Open title in front of her home crowd? Who could surprise us all? Our experts weigh in.
With Djokovic out, who will win the men’s singles title?
Bill Connelly: Daniil Medvedev is good enough on hard courts at this point that it was already a Djokovic vs. Medvedev vs. the Field situation, or close to it. While Djokovic’s absence certainly improves the odds for players such as Alexander Zverev, Rafael Nadal and Carlos Alcaraz — all originally on Djokovic’s side of the draw — Medvedev is very much the favorite now.
Tom Hamilton: Medvedev has shut himself off from all the outside noise and carried his US Open-winning form over to this year’s ATP Cup. If he can get past potential tricky meetings with Nick Kyrgios early on (if Kyrgios tests negative for COVID-19), and then Ugo Humbert in the third round, then he will have the momentum to go all the way.
Aishwarya Kumar: I’m going back and forth between Zverev and Medvedev, but I’m going to say Zverev only because when it comes to big stages and opponents who are seeded higher, Zverev somehow finds it in him to up his game. We saw that at the US Open when he pushed Djokovic to a five-setter and looked like he was going to win it at several points during the match. Then he finished 2021 on a high, beating Djokovic and Medvedev to win the ATP Finals trophy. Since the Tokyo Olympics, which he won, Zverev has won 32 out of the 36 matches he’s played — that’s a pretty darn good record.
D’Arcy Maine: There are some potential early tests against Kyrgios and Humbert, but Medvedev enters the tournament brimming with confidence and arguably boasting the best hard-court game currently on tour. When he’s at his best and focused, as he was in the US Open final, he is virtually unstoppable. And his momentum has shown no signs of slowing down — he had a dominant showing in the season-opening ATP Cup with wins over top-10 players Felix Auger-Aliassime and Matteo Berrettini.
Medvedev has proved he can win a major even with Djokovic in the draw — and across the net in the final — and now, as the top seed, this is his title to win.
Jake Michaels: It has to be Medvedev. He’s the class player in the men’s field now that Djokovic has been forced to withdraw, and he will take great confidence from his breakthrough win at last year’s US Open. Don’t forget, Medvedev cruised to the final last year in Melbourne, where he ultimately lost to Djokovic. That obstacle has gone and he’s a better player 12 months on. It’s Medvedev’s tournament to lose.
Kevin Van Valkenburg: Going to make a sentimental pick here and say Rafael Nadal, who looked sharp in his return, winning his warm-up in Melbourne. If Djokovic was in his path, it would be hard to see him having enough fitness and firepower to get past him, but in his absence, why not turn back the clock and embrace his role as elder statesman, almost like Pete Sampras winning the US Open in 2002 after everyone thought he was done.
Matt Walsh: It is Medvedev’s year. Think back to last Australian Open and how impressive he was; there was talk he should have been favorite against Djokovic after he dropped just two sets on his way to the final, but then Djokovic came out and blitzed him in straight sets. With no Djokovic on the horizon, I think Medvedev is primed to win a second straight Slam title.
Ohm Youngmisuk: I’m going to give the edge to Medvedev over Zverev. Zverev is poised for that Slam breakthrough that could come here. But Medvedev is coming off his greatest win and an historic one at that by derailing Djokovic at the US Open. Already considered a master tactician, Medvedev now knows what it takes to win a Slam. His US Open experience should propel him to another level, especially without Djokovic to deal with.
Who will win the women’s singles title and why?
Connelly: I’ve got two lines of thinking here: 1. Barty will win because she’s the best player in the world and the best hard-court player in the world. 2. Because the draw could pit Barty and Naomi Osaka — still one of the best hard-court players in the world, even if she’s still shaking off rust — in the fourth round, the odds might most favor someone outside of that portion of the draw. Aryna Sabalenka is the No. 2 seed but in very shaky form at the moment, so I would take Garbine Muguruza. But I’ll still lean Barty.
Hamilton: While the likes of Osaka, Muguruza and Iga Swiatek will have eyes on the title, Barty has the form after winning at Adelaide, and home support to steer her home. Though she’s in a tough draw, if she gets through to the final eight, it’s her title to lose.
Kumar: The women’s draw is the most exciting because at least 10 people are in a good position to win the title. That being said, I’ll go with world No. 1 Barty. A three-time major winner, Barty has the home-court advantage but has never won this tournament. Plus, if all goes according to plan, she will meet defending champion Osaka in the fourth round, a matchup fit for the final. If Barty somehow finds a way to hold on there, there’s a solid chance she’ll win the championship.
Maine: Barty. There are plenty of reasons she might not be able to do it — starting with the overwhelming pressure of the home Aussie crowd — but Barty lived entirely out of a suitcase for seven months during the 2021 season and still won a tour-best five titles, one of which was Wimbledon. She’s proved to everyone, including herself, she can win no matter the circumstances. She started the 2022 season with the singles and doubles titles in Adelaide and looks to be in prime form to become the first Australian player to win the Australian Open title since 1978. (And after the frenzied and uncertain start to this tournament, wouldn’t that be the perfect ending?)
Michaels: I’m going with Simona Halep. She’s had an injury-interrupted couple of seasons but has always been quite consistent in Australia, reaching at least the quarterfinal stage in three of the past four years. Her lead-in form looks very impressive with a title under her belt earlier this month, and with a favorable draw she could make another serious run.
Van Valkenburg: I see no reason to pick someone other than Barty. Sure, there will be pressure to perform in front of the home crowd, but she’s healthy, and that may be what’s most important. I would be shocked if she doesn’t make the final. It would be great for the sport if Osaka got in the mix (she is the defending champion), but that’s a lot to expect from someone who left the court in tears the last time we saw her at a major.
Walsh: I think it’s finally Barty’s year. The world No. 1 has started 2022 well with a win at Adelaide, while — for example — No. 2 seed Sabalenka has been out-of-sorts, and she’s a massive confidence player. Osaka was a bit sore after one of the lead-up events and is managing her run, while young guns like Emma Raducanu will need a big effort to back up the impact they had in the second half of last year. The home-crowd hero Barty has a level head on her shoulders, and I don’t think the pressure is too much for her.
Youngmisuk: Osaka could regain her dominance. Muguruza is coming off the WTA Finals championship, which perhaps could be what she needs to be more consistent. But Barty is the favorite. Make no mistake, she has a tough draw with a potential fourth-round showdown with Osaka looming. If that happens and Barty gets by Osaka, the Aussie should be holding up her first Australian Open trophy at the end.
Of all the young players who surprised at Slams in 2021, who will have the best tournament in Australia?
Connelly: Alcaraz has accomplished the most outside of his Slam breakthrough — he has beaten Jannik Sinner and Andy Murray since the US Open, among others, and he had enjoyed more success before the US Open, too — so he’s probably the most well-established to make a decent run. Potentially facing Matteo Berrettini in the third round isn’t the greatest draw, though. On the women’s side, I might actually feel the most confident in one of 2020’s breakthrough players, Iga Swiatek.
Kumar: I know Raducanu has had a rocky post-US Open year, but let’s take a moment to remember that she, a wild-card teenager, won it all just a few months ago at Flushing Meadows. This is the first major tournament since that win, and knowing Raducanu and how much she loves the big stage, I won’t be shocked if she comes out and wipes the top seeds off the draw, including the 2017 US Open champion, Sloane Stephens, whom she is playing in the first round.
Michaels: We all knew he was supremely talented, but 2021 felt like a real breakout year for Auger-Aliassime, who reached the quarterfinals at Wimbledon before going on to make the last four in New York. Still just 21, Auger-Aliassime will continue improving with each major appearance, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him going deep this year and challenging some of his more fancied rivals.
Walsh: Can I cheat a little and say Aslan Karatsev? He might not be young (age 28), but he’s young on the scene, and after his incredible semifinal run here last year, he won two titles in 2021 (both on hard courts) and has already looked solid so far in Australia this year. His game suits these courts, and I can see him making it into the second week.
Van Valkenburg: I’ll go with Leylah Fernandez. No one thinks her US Open run was a fluke, but I think she can take another leap forward this year. It’s always fun to watch left-handed players get into the heads of their opponents by making them chase down balls most righties can’t get to.
Of all the big names besides Djokovic not playing in Melbourne, whose absence will you miss most?
Connelly: When Serena Williams is playing well, there’s a very fun four-generation vibe in a women’s draw — Williams vs. the Halep/Muguruza/Azarenka generation vs. the Barty/Osaka generation vs. the youngsters. There will still be loads of fun matchups, but when you don’t know how many Slams Serena’s got left, any tournament she misses is a missed opportunity.
Hamilton: It must be Roger Federer. He’s getting toward the stage now where our Federer experience is an appreciation of him through memories rather than eager anticipation of what’s to come. Sidelined after a series of knee operations, we’re getting to the twilight of his career.
Kumar: This is an unconventional choice, but I’ll really miss Bianca Andreescu. I love watching her dig deep in big tournaments, and her three-hour marathon fight against Maria Sakkari into the wee hours at last year’s US Open is still fresh in my mind. I’ll miss the drive and the passion she brings to a tournament.
Maine: Serena Williams. She had an incredible run to the semifinals at last year’s tournament and showed resurgent flashes of her signature brilliance throughout. But her exit from the tournament — an emotional wave to the crowd after her loss to Osaka and a news conference in which she abruptly left in tears — left questions about whether it would be her last time at the Australian Open. While we still don’t actually know the answer to that question, and she might not either, her absence looms large this year.
Youngmisuk: We haven’t seen Federer play since Wimbledon, but he hasn’t played at the Australian since his 2020 semifinal showing. The end, if it isn’t already here, is upon us for Federer’s legendary career as he recovers from knee surgeries. But it would have been amazing to watch Federer, 40, play the Australian one more time. Even if No. 21 is a long shot, watching Fed play in what likely would’ve been treated by the fans as his final go-round in Australia would have been something else. Every match, every winner, every ace, every volley would have been something to savor for the Australian fans. Unfortunately, we won’t get to see that Aussie farewell.
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