After almost beating Jerzy Janowicz in the Australian Open this year – with a win in last year’s wildcard playoff – Jordan Thompson will be looking for another opportunity to compete in the first grand slam of the year with a win in this week’s playoff at Melbourne Park.
In a tradition of the Australian summer, in December, a wildcard is on offer for the winner of the AO playoff.
Looking to stop Thompson this year will be 15 other players intent on playing in their home Grand Slam.
Leading the charge is South Australia’s Luke Saville, who is the number 1 seed for the event.
The world number 164 is the highest ranked player for the event with others missing the tournament because of injury, rest, or a good ranking.
This includes James Duckworth (127), Jason Kubler (136), Thanasi Kokkinakis (150) and John Millman (157).
All four players have opted out of the event to focus on the 2015 summer.
They also look likely to take the remaining four wildcards that Tennis Australia will hand out before the Open.
Others, including Lleyton Hewitt, Nick Kyrgios, Bernard Tomic, Marinko Matosevic and Sam Groth, are already assured of a place in the main draw after finishing the year inside the top 100.
As a result, of the quality at the top, this year’s playoff consists of up and coming youngsters looking to make their first strides in the professional game.
6 players – Mitchell Robins, Marc Polmans, Harry Bourchier, Akira Santillan, Blake Mott and Jacob Grills – are all under the age of 19.
Polmans and Bourchier played off in last weeks under 18 championships with Bourchier winning the title for the first time.
While these youngsters haven’t played much 5 set tennis – which is a requirement for those playing this week – some will be hard to beat this week.
Mott, Bourchier and Polmans can all cause upsets if their opponents don’t play well.
At the other end of the spectrum, some players will want to play at the Australian Open again after missing the main draw in the last few years.
Ben Mitchell, John-Patrick Smith and Luke Saville are those looking to return to the main draw.
Mitchell is the most experienced player in both the playoff and the Australian Open.
The Queenslander has made the final of the AO Playoff in the last two years.
Last year, he lost to Thompson in 5 sets, but was the winner of the tournament in 2013.
That win in 2013 created his second appearance in the event.
He is the only player in the field to compete in more than one Australian Open.
Only Thompson, Saville and Smith are the others to compete in the Australian Open.
Saville and Smith – who competed in 2013 after gaining wildcards – will look to compete again in the Australian Open main draw after a year’s break.
So who will win the AO playoff for 2015?
Here is a look at the draw and who to look out for in the tournament.
QUARTER ONE –
(1) Luke Saville, Christopher O’Connell, (8) Gavin Van Peperzeel, Mitchell Robins
Saville’s experience in 2014 should comfortably put him through to the semi-finals of the event.
He does face a tough test in both rounds, against O’Connell and potentially Van Peperzeel, but he should get through both challenges.
O’Connell will be an interesting match.
They faced off earlier this year in Toowoomba with Saville winning in 3 sets in a close contest.
The five set match though will test the fitness of O’Connell and that will help Saville to win the match.
In the other match Van Peperzeel should be too strong for Robins who is playing in his first wildcard playoff.
He’ll learn valuable experience in the match but will fall short of his first win in the draw.
Saville will then face Van Peperzeel for a spot in the semis.
He leads the head to head 2-0 and shouldn’t be troubled by Van Peperzeel.
His form will be too strong for the Queenslander.
QUARTER TWO –
(3) Alex Bolt, Marc Polmans, (5) Jordan Thompson, Harry Bourchier
If Bolt and Thompson make the quarter finals, lock this in as a game to watch.
Both should beat Polmans and Bourchier but will be challenged by the duo at some stage in the match.
The 5 set challenge, after playing a week of three setters, will hurt both players’ chances.
Picking a winner out of this potential quarter finals will be tough.
Bolt and Thompson have played three matches against each other with Bolt winning two of them.
Bolt has had the better year, and better form, after winning a Challenger title and a future event.
Backing against Thompson though would be dangerous after what he did last year.
This could be a match that goes to anyone. It should be a beauty.
QUARTER THREE –
(6) Dane Propoggia, Andrew Whittington, (4) Ben Mitchell, Akira Santillan
This is a great draw for Ben Mitchell with the Queenslander to face Akira Santillan in the opening round.
Despite Santillan defeating Matt Reid last year – in the shock of the 2013 event – Mitchell is in better form than Reid last year and should win the match.
He should win in straight sets.
He would then face Propoggia or Whittington who have met each other once in Turkey last year.
Propoggia won that match in straight sets.
This is a match that could go either way as well.
On his day, Whittington can test Propoggia, and beat him.
Unfortunately for him he has struggled to do that this year.
Propoggia on the other hand has won two future events this year and is at a career high ranking.
He would be my tip to win this match.
He would then struggle against Mitchell who looks good to take out this quarter.
That would hand the 22 year old another semi-final appearance and a big crack at the wildcard.
QUARTER FOUR –
(2) John-Patrick Smith, Jacob Grills, Blake Mott, (7) Maverick Banes
This quarter will see the first seed knocked out of the tournament.
Blake Mott and Maverick Banes is an even match up with Mott a big chance of causing the upset of the first round.
He’s the highest ranked youngster in the draw and has already defeated him twice this year.
Mott – like Kyrgios in 2013 and Kokkinakis this year – could be the kid on the move in 2015.
He may start the campaign early with a seed in the opening round.
Unfortunately for him, and the others, this quarter is looking good for John-Patrick Smith.
Smith, who has made the semi-finals the last two years, looks to have a good run to make it three years in a row in the final four.
He faces Jacob Grills first up who shouldn’t pose too many problems for the left hander.
He would then face Mott or Banes in the quarter final and he hasn’t faced either of them in a competitive match.
Mott would provide the most trouble to Smith but the one time challenger winner in singles should progress to the quarter finals.
The semi-finals look to be between Luke Saville, Alex Bolt, John-Patrick Smith and Ben Mitchell.
If that happens it will be a South Australian and Queensland showdown for the final.
It would be Saville v Bolt and Smith v Mitchell for a spot in the final.
Ironically it would be the second time in over a week that Bolt and Saville would face each other if they met in the semi-final.
In practice for the event Saville and Bolt played a 5 set match to prepare for this week.
Both players tweeted about it after they completed the practice match.
While they didn’t reveal who won the match, it would have given both players valuable feedback into the other player.
What also helps – in particular for Saville – is the fact they have faced each other five times already in their career.
Saville leads the ledger 4-1 and I expect that to continue in the semi.
The former junior grand slam champion has had the wood over Bolt and it would be tough for Bolt to beat his good mate and reverse the record.
In the other semi-final it looks to be Ben Mitchell who will progress to the final.
He leads 3-1 head to head over Smith with Mitchell winning the playoff final in 2013 against him.
The only time Smith has beaten Mitchell was at the Australian Open this year.
Smith took advantage of a rattled Mitchell to win the match and crush his confidence.
Things have changed dramatically since then and Mitchell looks to be in a better frame of mind.
I expect that to change in the score line as well and Mitchell to continue his dominance before the lost this year.
This would set up a final between Mitchell and Saville who have played each other a few times in their career so far.
In juniors, and seniors, they have faced each other 8 times with Mitchell winning six of those matches.
One of them – at Kooyong this year – was a dead rubber as both played the match for the crowd and to prepare themselves for tournaments overseas.
Mitchell has a good record over Saville and I favour him to win the tournament overall.
He hit form at the right time in Traralgon a few weeks ago and he always performs well here in the AO Playoff.
Combine that with a fantastic draw and Mitchell looks good to win his second title in three years.
Ben Mitchell but Luke Saville, Alex Bolt, John-Patrick Smith and Jordan Thompson are right in the hunt.
(1) Luke Saville v Christopher O’Connell
(8) Gavin Van Peperzeel v Mitchell Robins
(3) Alex Bolt v Marc Polmans
(5) Jordan Thompson v Harry Bourchier
(6) Dane Propoggia v Andrew Whittington
(4) Ben Mitchell v Akira Santillan
(7) Maverick Banes v Blake Mott
(2) John-Patrick Smith v Jacob Grills