With the first round of the 2022 Australian Open in the books, it's time to highlight which players are on the rise and which ones look most vulnerable heading into the next round. Players who have been eliminated are of little interest to fantasy players as the tournament unfolds, so this column is meant to take a look ahead based on what's happened so far rather than reflect on the past.
The biggest story so far at this tournament is about who's not here, as nine-time champion Novak Djokovic was a late scratch from the draw after having his vaccination exemption overturned by the Australian government at the last minute. The men's and women's draws each had a top-10 seed withdraw late in more conventional fashion, as No. 8 Casper Ruud withdrew due to an ankle injury on the men's side and No. 9 seed Ons Jabeur pulled out of the women's draw due to a back injury. While those three exits created gaping holes in their respective sections of the draw, other notable names that won't be participating down under include Roger Federer (knee) and Dominic Thiem (wrist) on the men's side, as well as Serena Williams (hamstring), Bianca Andreescu (personal), Karolina Pliskova (hand) and Jennifer Brady (foot) on the women's side.
Now that we've covered who isn't here, it's time to shift our focus to those who are. All 17 remaining top-10 seeds who played their first-round matches won, but there were upsets in both the men's and women's draws just past that cutoff point. Djokovic's absence has created plenty of opportunities for others to step up, both in the short-term sense of advancing through his section in the early rounds and in terms of freeing up the field to compete for the title at a tournament Djokovic had won each of the previous three years. While one of the top remaining contenders for the men's singles title quieted some doubters in the first round, another will have to navigate a difficult draw in the coming rounds. Among the women, a teen sensation is showing no signs of slowing her meteoric rise, even as other promising young players flame out around her. Meanwhile, one of the top seeds is on upset alert as she tries to fix her serve. Things are also looking promising for a few unseeded Americans, as one just notched a major upset in the first round and another could be in position to score a prominent second-round upset win.
Rafael Nadal - For the first time in his career, Nadal's the only member of the Big 3 in action at a Grand Slam, and it looks like he's planning to stay a while. His first best-of-five set match since losing to Djokovic at last year's French Open was a 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 rout of Marcos Giron, and another comfortable matchup should be forthcoming for Nadal in the second round against 126th-ranked qualifier Yannick Hanfmann. The sixth-seeded Spaniard is flying under the radar, and while his body has let him down in the latter stages of this tournament multiple times, it's easy to forget that Nadal has reached the championship match down under five times, and he'd have a lot more than one title if it wasn't for the absent Djokovic and Federer.
Tommy Paul - Paul could wind up being one of the biggest beneficiaries of Djokovic's absence. Instead of facing nearly impossible second-round odds against the top-seeded Serb, Paul will instead face Djokovic's 77th-ranked countryman Miomir Kecmanovic. The 24-year-old American cruised through Mikhail Kukushkin 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 in the first round, and Paul's set to build on his strong finish to 2021, which included his first career title in Stockholm in November. With a powerful game that fits well on hard courts, the world No. 41 could find himself climbing into the top 30 by the time this tournament's through.
Sebastian Korda - American men's tennis appears to be on the upswing after a forgettable last few years, and Korda might have the most potential of them all. While Paul got a lucky break courtesy of the Australian government, Korda's making his own luck at this tournament. The talented 21-year-old dismantled No. 12 seed Cameron Norrie 6-3, 6-0, 6-4 in the first round, and he'll look to follow up that statement win with another strong performance in Round 2 against 100th-ranked Frenchman Corentin Moutet.
Daniil Medvedev - Make no mistake, Medvedev's still the man to beat at this tournament, but his early draw is doing him no favors in his pursuit of a second consecutive Grand Slam title. Medvedev took care of business 6-1, 6-4, 7-6 (3) in a comfortable first-round matchup against Henri Laaksonen, but now things could start to get tricky. You never know what you're going to get from Medvedev's second-round opponent Nick Kyrgios, but if Kyrgios is engaged, he'll be bombing big serves and firing up his home country's crowd. Kyrgios leads their head-to-head 2-0, with both previous meetings coming in 2019. If Medvedev can get through that one, his next opponent would likely be 2021 US Open quarterfinalist Botic Van de Zandschulp, who was the only player to take a set off Medvedev during the Russian's title run in New York.
Pedro Martinez - Martinez isn't on the forefront of young players coming into their own, but the 24-year-old Spaniard is a solid performer in his own right and has played some of his best tennis in best-of-five formats. Last year, Martinez made a pair of Grand Slam third rounds while suffering a pair of second-round losses to top-five seeds. After knocking off Federico Delbonis in four sets thanks to a thrilling 17-15 opening-set tiebreak, Martinez will set his sights on upsetting No. 16 seed Cristian Garin, who needed five sets to get through Facundo Bagnis in the opening round. Garin got the best of Martinez at Wimbledon in 2020 and leads their head-to-head 2-0, but this will be their first meeting on hard court, and Garin's just 4-5 on the surface at Grand Slams in his career.
Ashleigh Barty - Barty's the woman to beat as the top seed, and she got off to a terrific start at her home slam with a 6-0, 6-1 demolition of Lesia Tsurenko. A huge test could loom in the Round of 16 against Naomi Osaka, but Barty is unlikely to run into much trouble before then. World no. 142 Lucia Bronzetti may not fare much better against Barty in the second round than Tsurenko did in the first.
Madison Keys - Keys had been a consistent mainstay in the second week of majors until backsliding over the past three years, but the 26-year-old American appears to have finally found her game again. She won the title in Adelaide leading up to this tournament, beating Elina Svitolina and Coco Gauff along the way, then backed that result up with a 7-6 (2), 7-5 first-round win over 11th-seeded Sofia Kenin. With Gauff tumbling out in the first round, no seeded opponents stand between Keys and her fifth fourth-round appearance at the Australian Open. Keys will face 69th-ranked Jaqueline Cristian in the second round.
Emma Raducanu - While fellow notable teenagers Gauff and Leylah Fernandez crashed out in the opening round, Raducanu battled through a tough first-round draw en route to a back-and-forth 6-0, 2-6, 6-1 win over Sloane Stephens. Raducanu's only career Grand Slam loss came at Wimbledon, where she was overwhelmed by nerves in the Round of 16. Having since won the US Open, the 19-year-old Brit is on the shortlist of favorites for this title. Expect the 17th-seeded Raducanu to make short work of 98th-ranked Danka Kovinic in Round 2 before a potential third-round thriller against Simona Halep.
Aryna Sabalenka - Sabalenka's serve is usually one of her biggest strengths, but she's struggling mightily with her service motion at the moment, leaving the No. 2 seed vulnerable. She served a combined 39 double faults in her first two matches of 2022, losing both in the lead-up to this tournament. Sabalenka was able to control her serve a bit better in her 5-7, 6-3, 6-2 first-round win over 128th-ranked Storm Sanders, though it was still far from a clean performance, with 12 double faults. She probably won't need her A-game to get through 20-year-old Xinyu Wang of China in the second round, though no match can be taken for granted with Sabalenka right now, and Marketa Vondrousova — runner-up at the 2019 French Open and 2020 Olympics — has to feel good about her chances in a possible third-round encounter with Sabalenka.
Amanda Anisimova - Anisimova seemed ready to climb to the top of women's tennis when she reached the French Open semifinals in 2019, but the tragic death of her father and coach stunted her development on the tennis court. Still only 20 years old, the 60th-ranked American is slowly finding her game again, and she found it just in the nick of time in the first round, escaping with a 2-6, 6-4, 6-3 win over Arianne Hartono. Perhaps the close call in the first round will help settle Anisimova down, as she certainly has the timing and ball-striking prowess to upset No. 22 seed Belinda Bencic. For all her accomplishments, Bencic has never made it to the quarterfinals at any Grand Slam besides the US Open.