5 Questions about the 2017 Australian OpenJanuary 18, 2017

It was a very hot Christmas in Victoria, prompting observers to wonder why Tennis Australia didn't move the Australian Open to a later date. After all, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal believed players could extend their holiday until New Year. It was rather a simple reason: The middle of January coincided with the school holidays. If there won't be any tennis match during this time of summer, then the young ones would likely watch rugby. One of Australia's national sport, but variety would be better. Another reason could be the spreading out of the Grand Slam tournaments. The ATP Masters 1000 tournaments in Indian Wells and Miami mean March can't be the right time (to stage the Australian Open). Besides, players couldn't refuse a higher prize money.

Lucas Pouille, the ATP Most Improved Player of 2016, was the first seeded player to bow out in the opening round at Melbourne Park. Seventeen-year-old Alex De Minaur, nicknamed The Minotaur, gave local fans something to cheer about during the first day. De Minaur, who was born in Sydney, defeated Gerald Melzer of Austria in five sets. The teenager is on the same draw with Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic, who both advanced to the second round. Australia's top two players might meet in the quarterfinals if they will be around during the second week.

Tennis pundits are expecting Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic to meet in the finals next Sunday. The top two players (of the ATP Tour) played against each other in Doha last week, where the Serbian prevailed in three sets. This may bode well for Djokovic, who is gunning for a record seventh title. Both players weren't beneficiaries of the luck of the draw. Let's take a look at the other players looming ahead of the two:

Will Roger Federer survive the first week? Possibly. If the results of the Hopman Cup would be an indication, then the Swiss would be fit and ready for action. As a matter of fact, it took Alexander Zverev three tiebreakers to prevail over the former number one player. Federer, the four-time Australian Open champ, didn't get an easy draw as well. Tomáš Berdych, the 10th seed, might play him in the third round. Kei Nishikori, seeded fifth, may be his fourth-round opponent. And then a possible quarterfinal clash with Murray. The results during the previous year would make Federer an underdog in this tournament, but he would need these tough matches. It will give him (and fans) an idea of how he might perform this season. It took Fed four sets to dispose of Jurgen Melzer, which might not be an ideal start for his Aussie Open campaign. A win is still a win, though.

Who is the dark horse in the men's draw? Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain. The native of Castellón de la Plana opened 2017 with a bang by winning his fifth singles title in Chennai. He had great results on the hard courts, handing Djokovic one of his nine losses last season (in Shanghai). He's the 13th seed in Melbourne, where he's could meet fellow Spaniard David Ferrer in the third round, and then Milos Raonic in the fourth (round). If there won't be other upsets during the first week, then Agut might play Djokovic in the quarters. Lightning could strike twice, as Agut had shown that he was ready for the big matches.

Will there be a homegrown player around during the second week? Jordan Thompson, who won the doubles title with Thanasi Kokkinakis in Brisbane, will square off against Dominic Thiem in the second round if he passes through João Sousa in his opener. There may be an upset here. If Kyrgios's leg injury won't flare up, then he might play Stan Wawrinka this Sunday. Marin Čilić may be Tomic's third round opponent, which will be a mouth-watering match. Tomic can win this one if he manages to stay till the deciding set. The chances are good for Aussie players to make a deep run.

What are the most-anticipated matches later this week? Gaël Monfils might play Nadal in the fourth round. The Frenchman, seeded sixth in Melbourne, had his best moment last year. If both players live up to their seeding, then this match will tell if Monfils can make a breakthrough this year. (Better late than never.) Another intriguing fourth-round match will be between Djokovic and a resurgent Grigor Dimitrov. The latter won the Brisbane International. The Bulgarian is older and wiser, and it might be months before he reaches his first Grand Slam finals. It can happen in Oz. Dmitrov may play Richard Gasquet in the third round, another interesting match. Experience will be on Gasquet's side, but Dmitrov would gain some during the last few seasons.

Who will win the men's doubles title? Marcelo Melo and Ivan Dodig called it quits after winning one major trophy and four Masters 1000 titles. Rohan Bopanna and Florin Mergea won't be a team anymore while Vasek Pospisil will test his new partnership with veteran Radek Štěpánek. This will make John Peers and Henri Kontinen the slight favourites, as they attempt to continue their winning streak since the Paris Masters. Defending champion Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares might be their opponent in the finals, which will be an entertaining match. The crowd will cheer for their home player, and it's high time for Peers to win his first major crown.

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