Who will survive the ‘graveyard’ of the men’s singles draw?

In Australian rules football, the third term is known as the “premiership quarter”. In golf, the third round is referred to as “moving day”. In World Cup soccer, there’s always a “group of death”.

Well, in this Australian Open, the third quarter of the men’s singles draw – positions 65 to 96 in the 128-strong draw – is the “graveyard”. Survive it and you can go the whole way.

Can Novak Djokovic survive the graveyard that is his quarter of the draw?Credit:AP

The word “graveyard” has tennis history. It was the nickname of Wimbledon’s infamous court two, which was, pardon the pun, dead centre of the All-England Club grounds. It ended the hopes of many great players. One example was Pete Sampras, who lost a five-setter there to “one-match wonder” George Bastl. We didn’t know it at the time, but that would be the last match Sampras ever played at Wimbledon. Not the farewell you want.

Other Wimbledon champions to lose on that court included Arthur Ashe, John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors and Lleyton Hewitt. Just being scheduled there made top players tremble at the knees. Wimbledon, I think realising they needed to cut their losses, actually dug up the court and moved it! It’s now at the very end of the venue, and its powers to wreak havoc in the draw have been greatly reduced.

The graveyard in the men’s singles draw at Melbourne Park, though, has already captured one massive scalp before a single ball was hit – Nick Kyrgios. We now know why he didn’t commit to any competitive matches in the last two weeks – he has been battling a knee ailment. It’s a real pity, and the Australian ringmaster will be sorely missed, in both singles and doubles.

The singles draw is a brutal model. It cuts in half every two days using best-of-five-set matches. One cut has now been made, and there are six more to go, until there is only one man standing. One winner, 127 losers.

Australia’s Nick Kyrgios has already withdrawn from the tournament.Credit:AP

Now, a closer look at the third quarter graveyard. At position 65 in the draw is 5th seed Andrey Rublev, from the country that shall not be named. His first-round opponent in position 66 was a US Open champion, Austrian Dominic Thiem, who is also a former finalist here and at Roland-Garros. Thiem would be thanking Tennis Australia for his wildcard, but probably not for his draw. Rublev survived the early test.

At the very bottom of the graveyard, in position 96, is the nine-time champion and tournament favourite, Novak Djokovic. His first-round draw was against Spaniard Roberto Carballes Baena. Displaying a heavily taped leg to protect a hamstring strain, Djokovic put on an impressive display of ball striking. We’ve seen all the players now, and already we can say no one is hitting the ball better than Djokovic.

I wonder if it was actually a little too impressive, as he threw caution to the wind and was not really willing to engage in long rallies, something a little out of character for the nine-time champion of this tournament. Post match, Djokovic admitted the injury watch is “not ideal”. He is likely to face his first real test in the third round against position 89, seeded Grigor Dimitrov, a three-time grand slam semi-finalist who is in good form.

Elsewhere in the Djokovic octavo, and no surprise to find in a graveyard, is a “Demon”, Australia’s Alex de Minaur. De Minaur has had a terrific start to the year, with recent wins over Rafael Nadal and Thiem, and only a few days ago said “I’m not satisfied where I am right now. Top 10 is ultimately the goal.”

Alex de Minaur could come up against Djokovic in the fourth round.Credit:Eddie Jim

Demon, in the absence of Kyrgios, is given the primary burden of carrying Australian hopes. I expect he’ll get through to his third-round date with the other seed in his section, Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta in slot 81.

Salivating as that is, it’s only the entrée, as the potential blockbuster fourth round with Djokovic, come Monday looms as the main event, and would be one of the matches of the tournament. He would be roared on by home support, but coming through that star-laden section is some ask.

Let’s look further up the graveyard. Sitting innocently in position 80 is Dane Holger Rune, one of only two teenagers ranked in the top 10 (the other being absent world No.1 Carlos Alcaraz). Rune had a phenomenal 2022, winning three titles, including the prestigious Paris 1000, defeating Djokovic in the final. Under the tutelage of the highly credentialed Patrick Mouratoglou, Rune is an exciting prospect, albeit sometimes volatile, and, if the seedings hold up, has a prospective fourth-round match against Rublev. That would be some match.

At the end of the day, you know the survivor of the graveyard will be playing exceptionally well. It could be Rublev, or Rune, or de Minaur, or even someone else. Especially given, and it’s not overstating it, that there is a nagging question mark on Djokovic to be the last man standing.

So many possibilities, so many pitfalls. In only one quarter of the draw. What a fascinating tournament we are witnessing. See you at the Open.

Paul McNamee is a former Australian Davis Cup player and doubles champion who was tournament director of the Australian Open from 1995 until 2006.

Watch the Australian Open live and free on the Nine Network – Channel 9, 9Gem, and 9NOW.

For daily updates of all the tennis action during the Australian Open, sign up for our Sport newsletter here.

Most Viewed in Sport

From our partners

Source: Read Full Article