It may still be 2017 for a couple more days, but the 2018 tennis season is ready to go. Before the new year even begins, the new season will be underway at the Brisbane International as first-round action gets underway on Sunday in Australia. A star-studded field is descending on the Aussie east coast, led by reigning champion Grigor Dimitrov.
While world number one Rafael Nadal and 2017 runner-up Kei Nishikori were both last-minute withdrawals, the field remains strong with former champions Andy Murray and Milos Raonic making their returns after injury-shortened 2017 seasons. The veterans dominate the seedings, but Nick Kyrgios leads a large youth contingent who will look to knock off the old guard early in the season. Here’s what to expect at the 2018 Brisbane International.
Top Quarter: Dimitrov Faces the NextGen
2017 was by far the best season of Grigor Dimitrov’s career. The uber-talented Bulgarian finally broke through to win a pair of big titles, including the ATP Finals at season’s end and finished the season at number three in the world. Last year, it all started with a title run in Brisbane. The top seed this year will be hoping to get off to a similar start to 2018. He has a first-round bye and will open his title defense against either wildcard John Millman or a qualifier.
There’s a 75 percent chance Dimitrov will have to duel with a youngster in the quarterfinals. Veteran Gilles Muller, the other seed in the quarter, finds himself in a section with three players aged 22 or younger. The fifth seed opens again Next Gen Finals champion Hyeon Chung. The other match in the quarter will see world number 50 Kyle Edmund renew hostilities with 2017’s Star of Tomorrow and Most Improved Player, 19-year-old world number 51 Denis Shapovalov. Shapovalov and Edmund met three times in 2017, with the Canadian winning the last two meetings. The winner of that match will meet either Chung or Muller, with a date with Dimitrov looming in the quarterfinals.
Prediction: Dimitrov d. Shapovalov
Second Quarter: Kyrgios’ Clear Path
Home-favourite Nick Kyrgios, the third seed, should be happy with the draw he’s been handed to open the season. Already having the advantage of the home crowd, Kyrgios will open the tournament with a bye and shouldn’t have too much trouble in the second round, opening his 2018 campaign against either countryman Matthew Ebden or American young gun Frances Tiafoe. Much like Dimitrov did for years, Kyrgios is living with incredibly high expectations. He has a great chance to hit the ground running in 2018 after a solid 2017 campaign.
Sixth seed Diego Schwartzman has a fairly tricky start to his season, opening up his campaign against the ever-tricky Alexandr Dolgopolov. His fellow Argentine Horacio Zeballos could be his second-round opponent, assuming the lower-ranked Argentine overcomes a qualifier in the opening round. Whoever comes out of that section will likely have to deal with Kyrgios and the home fans in the quarterfinals. Kyrgios could not have asked for a much better draw in his first event of the year. He has never lost to any player in his quarter of the draw before.
Prediction: Kyrgios d. Schwartzman
Third Quarter: Raonic Returns
Entering 2017, Milos Raonic was in the position that Dimitrov is in this year, coming into Brisbane as the reigning champion ranked third in the world after a career-best season. Raonic fell to Dimitrov in his title defense and his season never got off the ground thanks to injury. The former world number three has only played three matches since July due to a wrist injury. The 2016 Brisbane champion enters this year’s event seeded fourth, ranked 24th in the world. After a first-round bye, he will contest his first match since retiring after one game in the second round of Tokyo against either Aussie wildcard Alex de Minaur or hard-hitting American Steve Johnson, over whom Raonic owns a 3-0 head-to-head advantage.
Eighth seed Mischa Zverev joins Raonic in the third quarter. The German veteran had the best season of his career in 2017 and will hope to get off to another fast start down under in 2018. Zverev could face only qualifiers on his way to the quarterfinals. He opens his year against a qualifier in the first round and could face another in the second, although Frederico Delbonis is another potential second-round opponent. That would set up a potential clash with Raonic The Canadian has reached the quarterfinals or better the last three years in a row in Brisbane.
Prediction: Raonic d. Zverev
Bottom Quarter: Murray is Back
This time last year, Andy Murray was ranked number one in the world. Now, thanks to a disappointing and injury-depleted 2017 season, he comes into Brisbane ranked 16th and needing a good result to ensure a preferable seeding at the Australian Open. But Murray is the only person in the Brisbane draw who has won the tournament multiple times, having claimed back-to-back titles in 2012-2013. The Scot will play his first match since Wimbledon in the second round, following a first-round bye, where he will meet either American Ryan Harrison or Argentine Leonardo Mayer.
Joining Murray in the bottom quarter is seventh seed Damir Dzumhur. Dzumhur will open his tournament against Denis Istomin, who will be enjoying a return to Australian following his stunning run at the Australian Open last year. The winner of that match will face off with either Aussie wildcard card Jordan Thompson or American young gun Jared Donaldson. It’s a good draw for Murray, who is a combined 6-1 against all opponents in his quarter, the lone loss coming to Thompson last year on grass at the Queen’s Club.
Prediction: Murray d. Donaldson