Who to back for the men’s 2018 Australian Open

Roger Federer Australian Open

Now that the Christmas period is over, we can look forward to the start of another tennis season! And what better way than beginning with the Australian Open.

If this year’s tournament is anywhere near as good as last time out, then tennis fans are in for a treat. For the first time in 15 years, Roger Federer remarkably started the Melbourne event outside the world’s top 10 with question marks raised over the veteran’s future. However, the ‘Fed Express’ superbly rolled back the years to stun the world and win the Norman Brooks Challenge Cup.

There was certainly a slightly nostalgic feel to the tournament, with Federer defeating none other than his long-time nemesis Rafael Nadal in the final, which of course, was a five-set thriller.

Nadal Federer Australian Open

Federer became the oldest winner, since Ken Rosewall at 35, to pick up a Grand Slam title and his form continued for the remainder of the calendar year, adding a record-breaking eighth Wimbledon crown to his mantelpiece.

The Swiss star tore up all the record books as well, overtaking golfing legend Tiger Woods to become the highest-earning sports athlete in history, pocketing a staggering $110,235,682 in prize money since turning pro according to Forbes.

You can’t mention Federer without talking about the reinvention of Nadal. Only a few years ago, it seemed like we would say adios to the Spaniard after a series of unfortunate injuries forced the 31-year-old to contemplate retirement.

However, the devoted Real Madrid fan put all of his past woes behind him and was another success story from last season. He ended the year as world number one, with Federer lingering just behind in second. With all four Grand Slam titles currently held between them, it’s safe to say 2017 felt more like 2007 with the two tennis icons conquering tennis once again at the top.

If that wasn’t enough evidence of how 12 months can change everything, then look no further than Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic. The duo were the top dogs going into the Australian Open last year and were overwhelming favourites to battle it out for the top bonanza.

Murray was hoping to finally end his Aussie drought, with the Scot winless in each of his five times of reaching the final. It was a disappointing display for Murray, though, and he exited in the fourth round to little-known German Mischa Zverev.

Injuries to the hip forced Murray to withdraw from the US Open just days before it began – and Britain’s number one decided the take the rest of the year off in a bid to return to match fitness.

Shortly after the end of last season, it was confirmed Murray had split from long-term coach Ivan Lendl, a man who had led the Brit to Olympic Gold and three Grand Slams. It’s safe to say it wasn’t the best year for the 30-year-old.

Andy Murray Ivan Lendl

Talking of splits, Djokovic took the decision to give long-time coach Marián Vajda, fitness specialist Gebhard Phil-Gritsch and physiotherapist Miljan Amanovic the boot as he spoke of the need to find a winning formula once again.

It was a miserable 2017 for the Serb and he would later announce in July that he would have a hiatus from the sport. Clearly affected by an elbow injury which had played havoc in recent years, the 12-time Grand Slam winner felt it was only right to take some time off and freshen up for the following year ahead.

Djokovic is currently ranked at number 16, with Murray sitting in at 12. Both will feel this year can only get better after both endured a torrid season plagued with injuries and a loss of form.

Despite their rankings being down the pecking order, don’t let that fool you when it comes to placing your Australian Open bets. Djokovic has won the tournament five times, while Murray has reached the final five times. The pair will be returning to the court with motivation of climbing back to the top.

Interestingly, the only man since 2006 to win an Australian title aside from Federer, Nadal and Djokovic is Stan ‘The Man’ Wawrinka. The hugely talented star often lived under the shadow of Federer before winning the title in 2014. He currently holds three Grand Slams to his name and tends to be a consistent performer in the Slams.

Other contenders for this year include former US champion Martin Del Potro. The Argentine has had a resurgence of form since overcoming career-threatening injuries. Grigor Dimitrov is expected to disrupt the big names and produced scintillating form last year to rise to world number three in the men’s seedings.

Grigor Dimitrov

And because it’s in Australia, it wouldn’t be right to end without naming a home favourite.

Nick Kyrgios is their highest-ranked player seeded at 20, although spats with umpires, boos from fans and verbal insults towards tennis players have hit the headlines instead of his skills on the court. It’s obvious that at the age of 22, he has the potential to succeed at the highest level – and with the right mind-set, he could shock the critics.

The Australian crowd will be praying for a first Australian champion since 1976, when the great Mark Edmondson beat fellow Aussie John Newcombe in four sets.

By Joe Hewlett, @hewlett95 on Twitter.