Australian Open 2020: Seven-time champ Djokovic eyes No1; is drawn in Federer half

Dan Evans, seeded at Major for first time, scheduled to meet Djokovic in Round 3

Rafael Nadal
Rafael Nadal (Photo: Marianne Bevis)

The Australian Open’s two most prolific champions, seven-time winner and world No2 Novak Djokovic and six-time champion and world No3 Roger Federer, have been drawn into the same half for the 2020 playing of the first Major of the year.

World No1 Rafael Nadal, whose solitary Australia title came in a dramatic five-set victory over Federer in 2009, is drawn in the same half as new world No4 Daniil Medvedev who, at age 23, is almost a decade younger than all the former champions in the draw, including 2014 winner Stan Wawrinka.

But the tall Russian has proved to be one of the leading threats among a group of young players who made the seedings cut this year.

Medvedev on course for repeat showdown with Nadal

Medvedev, who took Djokovic to four sets at last year’s Australian Open while ranked 19, went on to beat the then No1 twice 2019, and has already pressed Djokovic hard in their first meeting this season at the ATP Cup. But of particular note for the Russian, he fought back from two sets down against Nadal in the US Open four month ago, eventually losing after almost five hours of dramatic tennis.

Both, of course, have many hurdles to jump before they can set another clash—and their last meeting, at the ATP Finals, also went the distance in a final-set tie-break. Medvedev will have to be fast from the blocks in an opening clash with 21-year-old Frances Tiafoe, who made the quarters in Melbourne last year. In the third round, he has Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who is only gradually returning back to form after knee surgery in 2018—though he is a former Australian finalist—followed by the always dangerous Wawrinka in the fourth.

To reach the semis, Medvedev is scheduled to face either No7 Alexander Zverev, who continues to search for the form that propelled him to No3 and the ATP Finals title at the age of 20, or David Goffin, who beat both Grigor Dimitrov and Nadal at the ATP Cup.

In comparison, Nadal himself has a straightforward first week in a segment boasting three qualifiers, an opening match against the 72-ranked Hugo Dellien, and first seed Pablo Carreno Busta, who has won just one set in four previous meetings with his compatriot.

A potential trip wire, in the shape of the unpredictable, often brilliant Nick Kyrgios, looms in the fourth round, though No16 seed Karen Khachanov has the power and confidence to come through that section instead.

In the quarters, No5 Dominic Thiem should come through, but he could be sorely tested in a tough segment containing the unseeded Kevin Anderson, plus Gael Monfils and Felix Auger-Aliassime.

Nadal has reason to be wary of Thiem if they clash in the quarters: the young Austrian has won two of their last five matches, taken the king of clay to four sets at Roland Garros, and beat Nadal in the Spaniard’s second home, Barcelona.

However, if the seedings pan out, another showdown between Nadal and Medvedev may be the reward. It is a mouth-watering prospect.

Records on the line for Djokovic and Federer

Not only is Djokovic hoping to extend his record in Australia to eight titles but he could also regain the No1 ranking that he conceded to Nadal at the end of 2019. To do so, Nadal will have to fall short of the semis, but the current No2 will also have to negotiate a tricky quarter of the draw, not least in his opener against No37 Jan-Lennard Struff.

Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic (Photo: Jordan Mansfield for The Boodles)

Djokovic’s third round promises a first meeting with Dan Evans, who is enjoying his first seeding at a Major after an outstanding comeback from a ban in 2018 to a current 33. Evans’ focus, fitness and flair were on full show in some fine wins at the ATP Cup over Goffin and Alex de Minaur, but then Djokovic was especially outstanding in leading Serbia to victory in Sydney. He beat No10 Monfils, No33 Cristian Garin, No15 Denis Shapovalov, No5 Medvedev, and finally his greatest rival, Nadal.

Indeed he has been a tour de force this season so far, and with an unparalleled record at the Australian Open—his seven victories are matched by a 68-8 record—it is hard to see anyone stopping Djokovic. His next seed Diego Schwartzman should pose no problem, even though the Argentine pressed him in their last two meetings on clay. When it comes to hard courts, however, Djokovic has few equals, with 57 titles.

Two of those hard-court challengers, though, happen to in the Djokovic quarter: No9 seed Roberto Bautista Agut and No6 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas. The former beat Djokovic twice in 2019, on hard courts, and is enjoying the best form of his career. The latter is 2-2 against Djokovic, with both matches won on outdoor hard courts.

But Tsitsipas and Bautista Agut may first have to face off against each other, as they did this time last year. Then, Tsitsipas edged the win having also beaten Federer in the fourth round.

Whoever survives could meet Federer in the semis, and the Swiss may still be smarting from the defeat handed out by the single-handed Greek. Now, Tsitsipas is a star in his own right, with two wins to his name over Federer plus one apiece against Djokovic and Nadal and many fellow top-10 players. He has game, confidence and youth on his side: little wonder he is one of the young players tipped for Major victory.

However, many will relish the prospect of another meeting between the two most prolific Australian and hard-court champions in the Open era. Djokovic and Federer have met 49 times, with Djokovic the dominant man in recent years. He has beaten Federer in six of their last eight matches, and in all three Majors in that five-year span. He has also beaten the Swiss in their last three meetings at the Australian Open, dating back to 2008, all in semi-finals.

Much may come down to stamina for the 38-year-old Swiss, and he will be tested by several sets of much younger legs in the earlier rounds. There are nine 23-and-under players in his quarter, four of them seeded, and the first, Hubert Hurkacz, is on a strong upward trajectory: He beat Schwartzman, Borna Coric and Thiem at the ATP Cup.

Also in this eighth are John Millman, who beat Federer at the US Open in 2018, and Dimitrov, who beat the Swiss at last year’s US Open. The explosive 20-year-old Shapovalov, up to a career high No13 after wins over young rivals Zverev and Tsitsipas in the ATP Cup, is dangerous, while the youngest man in the top 100, Jannik Sinner, created a huge buzz late last year with some outstanding Challenger results, backed up by the title at the #NextGen Finals. He and Shapovalov could meet in the second round.

Head to the quarters, and Federer could face either 23-year-old Coric, who beat the Swiss twice before suffering an injury-blighted 2019, or another 23-year-old, Matteo Berrettini, who has a 0-2 record against the Swiss but won two titles from three finals last year, and made the semis of the US Open.

However, Djokovic goes into his most successful Major as the favourite, and in peak form. Add into the equation his bid to reclaim the No1 ranking [see below], and it is hard to see him falling in Melbourne.

Britons in main draw

· Dan Evans (No31 seed) plays Mackenzie McDonald

· Cameron Norrie (No62) plays Pierre-Hugues Herbert

· Kyle Edmund (No69 plays Dusan Lajovic (No24 seed)

Headlines to follow along the way

· Nadal could equal Federer on 20 Major titles with victory in Melbourne.

· If Nadal wins, he will be the first man in the Open era, and only the third in history, to win each of the four Major titles twice, following Roy Emerson and Rod Laver.

· Djokovic aims to extend his all-time lead in men’s Australian titles with an eighth victory. He already leads Emerson, who won six in the Amateur era, and Federer, whose six all came in the Open era.

· Nadal will keep the No1 ranking if he reaches the semi-finals, but Djokovic can reclaim the No1 if he wins the title and Nadal falls short of the semis.

· If Nadal and Djokovic meet in the final, it will the ninth time the pair has met in a Major final, equalling the record held by Nadal and Federer. Alternatively, the latter pair could extend their record to 10.

· If one of Nadal, Djokovic or Federer wins the title in Melbourne, they will become the first man to win a Major in three different decades.

· Federer is bidding to become the oldest man to win a Major in the Open era, overtaking Ken Rosewall.

· If Federer wins three rounds in Melbourne, he will reach 100 wins in the tournament.

· Federer will extend his own all-time record for Major appearances: This will be his 79th Major.

Who’s in, who’s out

Defending champion: Djokovic

Most titles: Djokovic (seven)

Former champs in draw: Djokovic, Federer (six), Wawrinka (one), Nadal (one)

Other Major champs in draw: Cilic, Wawrinka

Other Major finalists in draw: Anderson, Medvedev, Milos Raonic, Thiem, Tsonga

New career-high ranks this week: Shapovalov (No13), Andrey Rublev (No18), Evans (No33), Casper Ruud (No46), Corentin Moutet (No70), Dennis Novak (No99).

Withdrawals: Kei Nishikori, Alex de Minaur, Lucas Pouille, Andy Murray, Juan Martin del Potro, Alexandr Dolgopolov, Richard Gasquet

Projected quarter-finals

[1] Nadal vs [5] Thiem
[4] Medvedev vs [7] Zverev
[3] Federer vs [8] Berrettini
[2] Djokovic vs [6] Tsitsipas

Bottom half of men’s draw begins Monday, ie Djokovic/Federer half.

For a general preview of this year’s Australian Open, see:

Australian Open 2020 preview: Nadal tops seeds, but Djokovic favourite for record eighth; Aussie Ash Barty is No1; Naomi Osaka defends; Serena Williams goes for 24

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