This year’s Australian Open boasts an Aussie contingent quite unlike any other year.
With the men’s side rocked by withdrawals and the women’s without reigning champion Ash Barty, it truly is anyone’s for the taking at the first major of the year.
The women’s draw is particularly intriguing given the only two Aussie women ranked in the top 160, Ajla Tomljanovic and Daria Saville, are out through injury.
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It means there is a very real chance for the first time at an Australian Open, no Aussie women advance into the second round.
On the men’s side, with two seeded players – including Wimbledon finalist Nick Kyrgios – the wins should flow more freely.
A total of 16 Australians will be competing in the main singles draws starting from Monday – foxsports.com.au explains who they’ll play and predicts how they’ll fare.
Alex de Minaur (world No.24)
First round opponent: Yu Hsiou Hsu (world No.208)
De Minaur has been given a great first outing with Hsu, who is a solid player but not one that should be in with a chance against the world No.24. Hsu doesn’t boast huge weaponry, which is great news for de Minaur given the Australian sometimes finds himself overpowered by the bigger-hitting players.
De Minaur enters this year’s tournament having had a breakthrough win over Rafael Nadal at the United Cup, which should supercharge his confidence. The bad news for de Minaur is that things don’t look as rosy beyond the first round. He could potentially face big-serving John Isner in the second round, while a third-round bout against Spanish veteran Pablo Carreno Busta is another tricky prospect.
Verdict: Hsu is not a player de Minaur should have any trouble defeating, given he primarily plays on the Challenger circuit and has had to come through qualifying to seal a spot in the main draw. It’s about as good a first round draw as de Minaur could have hoped for, so it’s now about converting it into a comfortable win and not expending too much energy.
From there, de Minaur will have his work cut out for him, facing no shortage of challenges if he’s to get through to the second week and go deep – after all Novak Djokovic likely awaits in the fourth round. His performances in the lead-up are incredibly encouraging, however.
Chris O’Connell (world No.79)
First round opponent: Jenson Brooksby (world No.48)
Brooksby is a tricky opening match for O’Connell, but the good news for the Australian is that he defeated the American last year on hardcourt, coming through in three sets in San Diego. Brooskby won’t blow O’Connell off the court and this is also his first Australian Open main draw appearance.
There’s a stack of upside in the 22-year-old, but he is still a ways off realising it fully. While he likely enters the match as favourite, Brooksby is well and truly beatable for O’Connell, who’ll be buoyed by a huge support base.
Verdict: Brooksby enters the match the favourite on paper, but O’Connell has already proven he can beat the American on hardcourt, while the home crowd advantage is another factor in his favour.
It could easily be a long, gruelling match, but either way O’Connell will be right in it and in the frame for a third consecutive trip to the second round of his home slam – which would likely see him battling No.2 seed Casper Ruud.
Jordan Thompson (world No.85)
First round opponent: J.J. Wolf (world No.66)
Wolf can certainly draw a crowd and create an atmosphere, but Thompson would not be afraid of the American as they enter their first-round clash. This will be Wolf’s first main draw appearance at the Australian Open and just his third main draw appearance at a major. After bowing out in the first round last year to Steve Johnson, Thompson will be keen to do better this time around.
Verdict: It’s a line ball contest here, with both capable of winning through. This could easily go five sets and be filled with drama, with both having tenaciousness on the court and likely to be amped up further by the Aussie atmosphere.
The cagey Argentine No.23 seed Diego Schwartzman would likely be next for the winner.
Jason Kubler (world No.86)
First round opponent: Sebastian Baez (world No.41)
Kubler has been plagued by knee injuries across his career, but has started to enjoy some more consistency and a charge up the rankings as a result, now sitting in the top 100 after starting 2022 outside the top 200. Drawing the world No.41 isn’t great on paper, but Baez has been well and truly out of form since his run to the finals of Bastad in July last year. He lost 11 consecutive matches and won just one for the remainder of the year, then started his 2023 off with a loss in Pune. Kubler enters this with a genuine chance of winning and is comfortably the better player on form.
Verdict: Kubler won’t get a much better chance to make it through to the second round of the Australian Open than this. He is below Baez in the rankings but has turned a corner in his career as he enters his 30th year. Body permitting, Kubler will be right in this if he pounces early on Baez, whose form slump is significant.
Whoever wins is most likely to get No.18 seed Karen Khachanov in the second round – who made the semi-finals of the US Open last year, though he has never been past the third round at Melbourne Park.
Thanasi Kokkinakis (world No.110)
First round opponent: Fabio Fognini (world No.57)
This is likely to be one of the best matches of the opening round, with both Kokkinakis and Fognini boasting significant weaponry and a tendency to get the crowd involved. The combustible Fognini may well respond to the crowd throughout, but when he lets his racquet do the talking he’s a force to be reckoned with and far better than his ranking suggests. Kokkinakis has won both battles between the pair, but their last meeting on hardcourt came in 2015. Fognini will not be a pushover and Kokkinakis has his work cut out for him.
To be honest, Kokkinakis has his work cut out for him getting to the third round for the first time, given his second-round opponent will be either Matteo Berrettini or Andy Murray.
Verdict: Kokkinakis should enter this match as the favourite despite his lower ranking. He has the game to take out Fognini and the Italian is far from his top-10 best of yesteryear. Still, if there’s a game to be at in the opening round for Australian fans, it’s this one.
From there, it’d be foolish to look anywhere beyond the second round given the calibre of player that will await him there if he wins through.
Alexei Popyrin (world No.113)
First round opponent: Chun-Hsin Tseng (world No.117)
Popyrin plays his best tennis on hardcourt and a lot of his best tennis in January. He has put in two impressive showings in both Adelaide lead-in events and took out Tseng in last year’s US Open first round, coming through in straight sets but requiring two tiebreakers to do so.
It’s about as good an opening round matchup as Popyrin could’ve hoped for given his ranking, so the onus is on him to make the most of it. Eighth seed Taylor Fritz will take some beating in the second round should Fritz overcome tricky customer Nikoloz Basilashvili in the opening round.
Verdict: Popyrin always draws a crowd Down Under and will be buoyed by the support as well as confident in his form so far in 2023. Tseng will present some challenges, but Popyrin enters this one comfortably in the box seat. Likely second round opponent Taylor Fritz is far less comfortable, but he’s avoided the top five seeds and that’s always cause for hope.
Aleksandar Vukic (world No.129)
First round opponent: Brandon Holt (world No.216)
Coming through qualifying, Vukic has got a dream first-round against Holt, facing a fellow qualifier. Vukic enjoyed his first main draw singles win at a major here last year and will be looking for a second consecutive appearance in the second round. While he’s never been able to crack the top 100, Vukic upset the 30th seed here last year in Lloyd Harris, so he can play locked in tennis on his day.
Verdict: Vukic enters the favourite against Holt, which will be welcome pressure for the Australian given he could’ve easily drawn far more formidable opponents. No match is easy at grand slam level, but Vukic needs to capitalise on the draw he’s been given.
Would likely play No.24 seed Roberto Bautista Agut in the second round where given the Spaniard’s experience Vukic would be a clear underdog.
John Millman (world No.148)
First round opponent: Marc-Andrea Huesler (world No.55)
Winning through qualifying and then his first round at Adelaide International 2 may’ve done a world of good for Millman, who has struggled for form and consistency in recent times and returned to the Challenger circuit as a result. Huesler is a steady performer, but Millman has the capability to cause an upset here against the left-hander and get through to the second round here for the sixth time in his career.
Verdict: Millman has not been playing at the level he once did, but the 33-year-old is well and truly in the frame for a win over Huesler, who is a solid player without being truly threatening on the Tour just yet. The Australian will thrive on the local support after a backend of 2022 spent largely at Challenger events with middling crowds.
A likely second-round match-up with Daniil Medvedev, a back-to-back finalist at Melbourne Park, would heavily limit Millman’s prospects from there.
Rinky Hijikata (world No.169)
First round opponent: Yannick Hanfmann (world No.128)
A lot separates these two in age – Hanfmann is a decade older – but very little separates them in the rankings and in the matchup itself. It’s the first time they’ve met on the Tour, but both have had a relative lack of success in the main draw of majors, with Hanfmann’s second-round appearance here last year his best at any slam.
At just 21, Hijikata has a lot more upside, which he showed at the US Open last year when he took a set off Rafael Nadal. He pushed Denis Shapovalov to a deciding set in Adelaide and is in some very good form.
Verdict: Hijikata’s ranking is a bit misleading given he’s 21 and finding his feet at Tour level. He is definitely able to get a win over Hanfmann in his first meeting based on the form he has shown in the lead-up and Hanfmann is a great draw for him first up despite the German’s big-hitting game.
A potential blockbuster clash with No.3 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas would loom in the second round.
Max Purcell (world No.204)
First round opponent: Emil Ruusuvuori (world No.46)
He won his way through qualifying without dropping a set, but Purcell will have his work cut out for him against Ruusuvuori, who seems a class above on paper. Purcell has enjoyed most of his success at doubles level, but has shown promise at Challenger level in singles. Still, Ruusuvuori is a tough customer even though he hasn’t enjoyed much success at majors, never progressing past the second round at any of them. At 23, he is also on the up and lost just three games in the pair’s only meeting back in 2020.
Verdict: Purcell has done well to qualify, but Ruusuvuori enters Tuesday’s match as a comfortable favourite, looking to improve on last year’s underwhelming Australian summer results. Whoever wins will be an underdog in the second round against the victor of the brutal Andrey Rublev-Dominic Thiem clash.
Jaimee Fourlis (world No.160)
First round opponent: Linda Fruhvirtova (world No.80)
The retirement of Ash Barty and injuries to both Ajla Tomljanovic and Daria Saville make Fourlis the highest ranked Australian woman in the draw, which is bizarre given her ranking of world No.160. She will enter a comfortable underdog against Fruhvirtova, who despite being world No.80 is improving at rapid speed, winning her first WTA Tour title last year despite being just 17 years of age. The Czech will fancy her chances of making it to the second round in Australia for the first time. Should Fourlis cause an upset, seeded Kaia Kanepi or compatriot Kim Birrell await in the second round.
Verdict: Fourlis may be the top-ranked Australian woman in this year’s draw, but to expect her to defeat Fruhvirtova may be hoping for a bit much. She’s comfortably the more experienced age-wise at 23, but Fruhvirtova has already enjoyed more success at WTA level despite being a teenager.
Kimberley Birrell (world No.166)
First round opponent: Kaia Kanepi (world No.32)
Ironically, Kanepi may be more of a chance to lose against Birrell than she would be against a seeded player. The Estonian has made a habit of taking out some of the game’s biggest names over her career and made an unlikely quarter-final run here last year. The 37-year-old often wins or loses games on her own racquet, so Birrell will have to hope her opponent is having an off day. Birrell hasn’t managed to win a main draw match at a major since her third-round run at the 2019 Australian Open, which gave way to a nasty elbow injury that saw her ranking plummet. If she manages to defeat Kanepi, Birrell would have a decent chance against either of her second-round opponents in fellow Aussie Jaimee Fourlis or world No.80 Linda Fruhvirtova.
Verdict: There’s a huge discrepancy in the rankings, but Kanepi’s erratic style of play means there is always a chance of an upset win, with Birrell better than her ranking suggests due to the role injury has played in her career. She could easily take a set off Kanepi and won’t have much pressure on her at all given her opponent’s ranking.
If both Birrell and Fourlis win on Tuesday they would face each other in the second round.
Olivia Gadecki (world No.200)
First round opponent: Polina Kudermetova (world No.182)
Mentored by reigning Australian Open champion Ash Barty, Gadecki was absent from both her home slam and US Open last year due to her refusal to be vaccinated against Covid-19. She’s back now and world No.200 doesn’t do her ability justice given the tennis she missed last year and the fact she’s just 20 years of age. Similarly, Kudermetova’s ranking is not reflective of her ability given she is just 19 years of age. She’ll enter favourite in the match, but expect to see these two clash many more times in the years ahead as they realise their potential.
Verdict: Kudermetova gets the edge in this one given she’s won her way through qualifying and has already shown so much at 19 years of age. It could be a seesawing affair though and one to watch over the years as they work their way up the rankings.
Amanda Anisimova, a former French Open semi-finalist, or Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk loom in the second round for the winner.
Storm Hunter (world No.227)
First round opponent: Wang Xinyu (world No.89)
Xinyu is looking to reach the second round here for the second consecutive year and is gradually building at 21 years of age. Hunter has struggled for form at Tour level and was soundly beaten by Xinyu in March last year at the Miami Open qualifying. A far more qualified doubles player, Hunter may struggle to make inroads in the singles draw.
Verdict: Hunter is yet to win through to the second round of the Australian Open singles draw in her career and she’ll likely struggle here against a player who is looking more assured as each year passes and she grows into her game. An even more difficult task against reigning semi finalist Madison Keys would likely be next.
Talia Gibson (world No.340)
First round opponent: Clara Burel (world No.131)
She may be world No.340, but Gibson boasts a stack of potential, with the 18-year-old launching herself up the rankings from 1200 at the start of last year. There’s a lot to like about Gibson and her chances of winning through the first round only increased when she drew a qualifier in Burel. While a very promising junior, Burel is yet to make the second round at the Australian Open, but is coming off a third-round appearance at last year’s US Open. That run saw her ranking leap up, but Gibson will still rate herself a genuine chance on Monday.
Verdict: Burel easily has more success at major level, but Gibson is enjoying a meteoric rise up the rankings and is oozing with potential. Burel still enters favourite given the considerable development still ahead for Gibson; the winner may get 2021 French Open winner Barbora Krejcikova next.
Originally published as Genuine title threat; ugly Aus Open truth we can’t ignore — Verdict on every Aussie’s chances