2017 Australian Open men's preview: Both Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic face early tests before potential finals showdown
Djokovic and Murray are the two favorites for this year's Australian Open (Graphic by Noel Alberto/VAVEL USA)

The first major of the year is right around the corner, and there are already some tasty matchups to start off the season in Melbourne Park for the Australian Open. Defending champion Novak Djokovic has one of the most dangerous first round opponents a seeded player could not want in Fernando Verdasco. The Serb already met the Spaniard and saved five match points against him in Doha.

Meanwhile, Andy Murray has it easy for the first few rounds but his draw toughens up from the third round on with potential meetings with Sam Querrey, Lucas Pouille, and Roger Federer/Kei Nishikori potentially looming. We take a look at the draw and preview each quarter to see who makes it out as well as the most intriguing first round matches down in Melbourne.

Murray’s Quarter

World number one and newly-knighted Sir Andy Murray could not have asked for a better start to his tournament. He starts with Illya Marchenko and then gets a qualifier or Yen-Hsun Lu in his second round match. Marchenko does have the ability to cause a little trouble but the world number one should have no problem with him.

The qualifiers are not finished yet, but the five-time runner-up should have it easy against them as well while Lu can be a hassle at times, being the consummate professional he is, but lacks the weapons to really threaten the world number one. Murray’s potential round of 32 opponent is Sam Querrey, who famously knocked off Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon last year. He could meet Gerald Melzer in the second round, and the Austrian is capable of making noise since he took Murray to two tight sets in Doha a couple of weeks ago.

19th-seeded John Isner’s road to a potential round of 16 meeting isn’t too bad, but his toughest matchup could possibly be against 16th-seeded Lucas Pouille. The Frenchman had a breakout season last year and looks to capitalize on his ranking to get into yet another second week of a Slam after making the last eight of Wimbledon and the US Open last year.

This half of the draw is filled with qualifiers, and the section with Tomas Berdych and Federer have four of them. The 10th-seeded Czech opens with a qualifier then meets either Ryan Harrison or Nicolas Mahut. Federer on the other hand, will meet a qualifier in his first two rounds and could possibly meet Berdych in the third round. This is a great chance for the Swiss number two to make a deep run, but he does have semifinal points to defend at Melbourne Park so he’s going to need to get through some tough opponents to make it back.

In the final portion of this quarter, 26th-seeded Albert Ramos-Vinolas meets yet another qualifier. Dudi Sela made it to the third round Down Under last year but will need to get through Marcel Granollers first. A tasty first round matchup from former top 25 players meet in Nicolas Almagro and Jeremy Chardy. The winner of that match should be thrilled to get through that grueling matchup but will have another possible tough matchup on their hands should Kei Nishikori get through Andrey Kuznetsov.

First Round Matches To Watch For: Ryan Harrison - Nicolas Mahut, Nicolas Almagro - Jeremy Chardy

Quarterfinal: Andy Murray - Roger Federer

Semifinalist: Andy Murray

Murray is looking for his first Aussie Open title, which would put him a French Open away from a career Grand Slam (Michael Dodge/Getty Images)
Murray is looking for his first Aussie Open title, which would put him a French Open away from a career Grand Slam (Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

Wawrinka’s Quarter

The 2014 champion kicks off his tournament with a tricky draw. He opens his tournament against Martin Klizan, a player who has beaten some of the big names in the Slams before and could meet Steve Johnson in the second round. Johnson was unlucky to be unseeded, missing out on the seeds by only five points with Philipp Kohlschreiber getting that ever-important 32nd seed. The American will meet Federico Delbonis in the first round, and the Argentine is no easy out, definitely being more of a threat on hard courts now compared to earlier in his career. 29th-seeded Viktor Troicki should get to the third round with no problems, with no major threats to upset the Serb. Paolo Lorenzi/James Duckworth and Damir Dzumhur are the opponents for Troicki, and it should be a chance for him to keep fresh for a potential showdown with Wawrinka in the third round.

22nd-seeded Pablo Cuevas meets Diego Schwartzman in the opening round, but a win could see him run into second round trouble with Steve Darcis or hard-serving, home favorite Sam Groth. Like Delbonis, Cuevas’ game has evolved since his breakthrough year a few years ago and is capable of beating those two in straights but is also capable of succumbing to the big-server. Home favorite and 10th-seeded Nick Kyrgios might be ready to make his big splash Down Under. His raw is quite reasonable, with one potential tough challenge until Cuevas possibly in the third round; that challenge is a possible second round showdown with Andreas Seppi.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga shouldn’t be tested until the third round but his potential third round opponents could give him a hard time. Jack Sock, the other seed in Tsonga’s mini-section is one of the opponents, but even he could go down early. Pierre-Hugues Herbert could cause problems for Sock, especially if he extends a match in the heat since Sock has a history of having problems with the heat. Karen Khachanov or Adrian Mannarino could also make the third round with the Russian NextGen Star primed to make some noise.

Controversial Australian Bernard Tomic is seeded 27th and meets a dangerous first round opponent in Thomaz Bellucci. Bellucci is a former top-30 player and can beat the Aussie if he’s not on his A-game. The potential wild card in this little section is Dan Evans. The Brit is coming off of a career-year and just defeated Dominic Thiem in Sydney. Evans held match point - Stan Wawrinka at the US Open last year so he is very capable of testing the world’s elite meaning, Marin Cilic has to be at his best if he wants to survive, should he get past Jerzy Janowicz.

First Round Matches To Watch For: Stan Wawrinka - Martin Klizan, Federico Delbonis - Steve Johnson, Karen Khachanov - Adrian Mannarino, Pierre-Hugues Herbert - Jack Sock, Bernard Tomic - Thomaz Bellucci, Jerzy Janowicz - Marin Cilic

Quarterfinals: Nick Kyrgios - Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

Semifinalist: Nick Kyrgios

A semifinal run for Nick Kyrgios would be his best run in a Grand Slam (Michael Dodge/Getty Images)
A semifinal run for Nick Kyrgios would be his best run in a Grand Slam (Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

Raonic’s Quarter

It’s been quite awhile since we’ve seen Gael Monfils step on a tennis court, about a couple of months. The Frenchman withdrew after a couple of matches from the ATP World Tour Finals and did not play a single warm-up tournament heading into Melbourne. Jiri Vesely and his big serve can really threaten the French six seed since he’s out of match practice. The go-to first round match from this part of the draw is Alexandr Dolgopolov - Borna Coric. Both men have been inside the top-35 before and can get hot at any moment. Should Monfils get to the second round, he’ll be put on upset alert when facing either of these two.

The dras eases up a bit for American Donald Young who faces a qualifier, depending on who the qualifier is though. A win for young means he’ll likely meet Philipp Kohlschreiber in round two. The German was the last seeded man in the draw and could potentially sneak his way into the second week, especially if Monfils goes down early.

This section of the draw is definitely one of the most intriguing with a lot of firepower being drawn here. Teenage sensation Alexander Zverev opens up his campaign against Robin Haase. Haase’s big serve could test the German, but Zverev should be able to get through that one. The winner of that match will meet either Mikhail Kukushkin or a qualifier. A match full of emotions will go down between Mikhail Youzhny and Marcos Baghdatis. The winner of that match should pose a huge test for Rafael Nadal who faces tricky Florian Mayer to open his Australian Open campaign.

Mr. Consistent, Roberto Bautista Agut is favored to get into the fourth round from his section, kicking off his campaign against Guido Pella. The key factor though is the fact that a struggling David Ferrer is his potential third round opponent. Ferrer has lot a bit of his touch due to injuries and age catching up to him. The Spaniard usually has no problem defeating players ranked below him, but he already has losses to Jordan Thompson and Robin Haase this season so when up against the ranked players, he may fall short of expectations.

Gilles Simon meets American wild card Michael Mmoh to start his campaign. The Frenchman has a decent draw to get to the third round, especially if Rogerio Dutra Silva knocks out Jared Donaldson. To close out this quarter, there are two popcorn matches on the card. Gilles Muller, who is in the final of Sydney, will meet American teenager Taylor Fritz. Fritz enjoyed a career-year last year which saw him make his first tour-level final in Memphis and hopes to build on that this year. The final first round match is between Dustin Brown and Milos Raonic. This match will have two booming serves and some brilliant shotmaking.

First Round Matches To Watch For: Gael Monfils - Jiri Vesely, Alexandr Dolgopolov - Borna Coric, Alexander Zverev - Robin Haase, Mikhail Youzhny - Marcos Baghdatis, Florian Mayer - Rafael Nadal, Gilles Muller - Taylor Fritz, Dustin Brown - Milos Raonic

Quarterfinals: Rafael Nadal - Milos Raonic

Semifinalist: Milos Raonic

Milos Raonic looks for another semifinal run in the Australian Open, making it there last year (Michael Dodge/Getty Images)
Milos Raonic looks for another semifinal run in the Australian Open, making it there last year (Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

Djokovic’s Quarter

Dominic Thiem kicks off the final quarter of the men’s draw against German Jan-Lennard Struff. Struff has a big game but is very streaky so the Austrian should have no problem handling him. Jordan Thompson meets Joao Sousa with the winner facing the number eight seed. Sousa could be a tough out for Thiem should the two meet. Veteran Tommy Haas makes another appearance at a Grand Slam and meets the enigmatic Benoit Paire. This match could go either way, depending on which “Paire” decides to show up. Speaking of enigmatic, another character in Fabio Fognini is in this section and meets Feliciano Lopez. Like Paire, if Fognini is on his game, he is capable of knocking off Lopez or could just fall flat on his face.

Ivo Karlovic should find himself in the third round against David Goffin. The only big threat standing in either player’s way is Adam Pavlasek, and he could be the second round match for the big-serving Croat. The Belgian is quite consistent and with a shot to potentially meet two qualifiers, he should find himself into the third round.

Grigor Dimitrov is in fine form right now, winning Brisbane by knocking off three top-ten players en route to the title and should have no problems until he meets Richard Gasquet in the third round. Depending on the qualifier that gets drawn, Gasquet might be put on upset alert. He should still be favored though and that one-handed backhand showdown with Dimitrov could loom large.

To close out the draw, Pablo Carreno Busta opens with a qualifier but potentially meets either Kyle Edmund or Santiago Giraldo in round two. Edmund can provide a lot of firepower so the Spaniard will definitely be wary of that. Meanwhile for Djokovic, he starts his campaign for a third successive Australian Open title against Fernando Verdasco. The Spaniard can defeat anyone on any given day, given the weapons he has; he knocked out compatriot Rafael Nadal in the first round last year in Melbourne. That match has a potential to be a thriller if Verdasco is firing on all cylinders, but he’ll have to get over the mental block of squandering five match points to the world number two in Doha. A win for Verdasco could see him go deep into the tournament while Djokovic should cruise for until the quarters if he wins.

First Round Matches To For: Jordan Thompson - Joao Sousa, Tommy Haas - Benoit Paire, Fabio Fognini - Feliciano Lopez, Novak Djokovic - Fernando Verdasco

Quarterfinals: David Goffin - Novak Djokovic

Semifinalist: Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic is looking for a third straight and seventh overall Australian Open title (Michael Dodge/Getty Images)
Novak Djokovic is looking for a third straight and seventh overall Australian Open title (Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

Semifinals and Finals Prediction

Andy Murray d. Nick Kyrgios

Novak Djokovic d. Milos Raonic

Final: Andy Murray d. Novak Djokovic