Australian Open 2021: Complete Predictions for Men's and Women's Draw
The calendar may have flipped over to a new year, but some of the same storylines prevail in men's and women's tennis ahead of the season's first Grand Slam.
Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal are still considered the favorites to win the men's singles draw, while the women's singles draw is wide open with a plethora of previous Grand Slam champions vying for the crown.
On paper, Djokovic faces a potentially tricky run through his part of the men's draw, but he has proved countless times in the past that he can shake off most challenges thrown in his direction.
The women's bracket could deliver some must-see matches as early as the third round, with most of them coming from the bottom half of the bracket.
Naomi Osaka, Simona Halep, Serena Williams and Garbine Muguruza were all drawn into the bottom half, and if the women's singles champion emerges from that portion, it could go down as one of the most remarkable title runs in recent memory.
Djokovic is the two-time defending champion and has made the final in six of the last nine Grand Slams.
The men's No. 1 seed could face some tricky matchups on his way to the final eight, as Stan Wawrinka, Milos Raonic and Taylor Fritz are the seeded players in his part of the draw.
If he passes those tests, Djokovic could have a tough road to the championship match with U.S. Open champion Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev in his half of the bracket.
Thiem lost a five-set thriller to Djokovic in the 2020 Australian Open final, and he became the first player of his generation to break through and win a Grand Slam in New York last year.
Since Thiem took the next step in 2020, he should be viewed as the bigger threat to Djokovic, and the two could be involved in a potentially epic semifinal showdown.
Nadal has an easier path to the final since Thiem does not reside in his half of the bracket. Daniil Medvedev, Andrey Rublev and Stefanos Tsitsipas are the Spaniard's top challengers.
Rublev is the lowest seed out of that trio, but he could pose the most danger to the No. 2 seed. The Russian advanced to the quarterfinals at the French Open and U.S. Open and qualified for the fourth round last January in Australia.
Even if Nadal makes a run to the final, his championship quest could be thwarted by Djokovic, who is one of two men to win the Australian Open since 2015. The Serb has four titles in that span, and Roger Federer owns two.
Until Djokovic is beaten in Melbourne, it is hard to see anyone else coming away with the title. Nadal and Thiem should be the top threats to the No. 1 seed, but one of the other single-digit seeds could pull off a few big wins to become a new Grand Slam challenger, like Thiem did in 2020.
Prediction: Novak Djokovic over Rafael Nadal
We will not have to wait too long to see marquee matchups on the women's singles side.
The third and fourth rounds have the potential to deliver a few blockbuster showdowns between previous major winners.
Naomi Osaka could face either Garbine Muguruza or Angelique Kerber in the fourth round, while Simona Halep and Iga Swiatek and Bianca Andreescu and Petra Kvitova are also on collision courses for the round of 16.
The battles that may occur in the bottom half of the bracket play in favor of Serena Williams, who would not have to take on a Grand Slam champion until the quarterfinals. Aryna Sabalenka is the other top-seeded player in her part of the bracket.
The top half of the draw looks much less treacherous, and that could benefit the freshness of top seed Ashleigh Barty, reigning champion Sofia Kenin and others.
Barty and Kenin are two of six women to win a Grand Slam in the last two seasons. Osaka is the only one to capture multiple titles.
If Kenin keeps the form that landed her two Grand Slam final appearances in 2020, she could make another deep run and knock out Bardy in her home major, like she did in the semifinals last January.
An all-American final between Kenin and Williams is possible given their Grand Slam form and draws, and if it does happen, it would pit two generations of American women's tennis against each other.
Williams is the greatest women's singles player of all time, but she has not won a major since the 2017 Australian Open. Kenin owns experience of knocking out the sport's best players from her title run 12 months ago. She beat Muguruza and Barty to finish off last year's title.
Prediction: Sofia Kenin over Serena Williams.
Statistics obtained from AusOpen.com.