Tennis365’s top contenders for Australian Open men’s title
Can the likes of Grigor Dimitrov and Alexander Zverev stop Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal from adding another Grand Slam title to their collection at the Australian Open?
Tennis365 looks at the top five contenders for this year’s crown, but be warned the list doesn’t feature Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka as they have barely played in the last six months.
With his main rivals struggling with injury, defending champion Roger Federer will start the 2018 Australian Open as the clear favourite. He just looks in sublime form whenever he steps onto the court and everything he touches turns into gold these days.
Despite being on the wrong side of 30, he still looks as fit as ever and just seem to have that aura of invincibility once again, which was on display during the Hopman Cup in Perth.
Many expect him to win Grand Slam No 20 at the Australian Open, but the likes of David Goffin and Alexander Zverev proved in 2017 that the Swiss Maestro can be beaten if you put him under pressure. Not to forget that Rafael Nadal or a Juan Martin del Potro will not be easily disposed.
The world No 1 arrived in Australia under an injury cloud after he was forced to withdraw from the Brisbane International as his knee was still not 100%.
He also lost in first match at the Kooyong Classic and now only has the Tie-Break Tens exhibition event to use as a warm-up for the Australian Open.
Should he come through unscathed, then he could well make it all the way to the final at Melbourne Park again and who wouldn’t want to see another Fedal final?
Let’s not forget that Nadal only played three matches in the build-up to last year’s Australian Open and he didn’t have the easiest run in the tournament itself as he needed five sets to beat Zverev in the third round, four to see off Gael Monfils in round four, three to claim victory over Milos Raonic in the quarter-finals and then five sets in both the semi-finals against Dimitrov and five against Federer.
A fully fit Nadal is always a good bet to reach the final.
The Bulgarian is certainly the man of the moment as he won four titles in 2017, including the season-ending ATP World Finals in London, and climbed to a career-high third in the rankings.
And he carried that excellent form into 2018 as he was in good nick at the Brisbane International before being edged by Nick Kyrgios in the semi-finals. He reached the Aussie Open last four in 2017 and it took Nadal five hours to beat the Bulgarian in five sets.
It appears to be a case of when, not if, Dimitrov will win a Grand Slam.
The German is no doubt the future of men’s tennis and what better way to announce yourself at the highest level than with a Grand Slam trophy at the age of 20?
He won five ATP singles titles last year and he always looks unflustered when up against players who have several years on him. Last year was his breakthrough year and he claimed the scalps of Federer, Djokovic, Wawrinka and Dimitrov without much effort.
“I’ve won two Masters series, so I’ve won a few big tournaments,” the German said recently. “But obviously the Grand Slams are still another step forward.”
He is short on experience at Melbourne Park though as this year is only the third time that he has made it into the main draw for the Australian Open.
Like Zverev, the Austrian is expected to be one of the main challengers on the ATP Tour once the likes of Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray call it a day.
And he has made remarkable progress in the last couple of years, winning eight singles titles since May 2015 and reaching a career-high of four in the world. Last year he claimed wins over Nadal, Murray and Djokovic while he beat Federer twice in 2016.
His aggressive baseline approach is perfect for the harder courts at Melbourne Park.
Thiem himself admits that “at the majors, Roger and Rafa were just too strong. But at one point we have to make the breakthrough and I think 2018 is time for it”.
* Juan Martin del Potro is fit again and has climbed back into the world top 20. This year will mark his first appearance at Melbourne Park since 2014, but everyone knows he is brilliant on his day on the hardcourts.
* Nick Kyrgios has given Australian fans hope that their wait for a home winner could be over. Lleyton Hewitt was the last Australian to reach a final in 2005, but Kyrgios’ form has given locals real belief that this could be their year.
* Marin Cilic has tasted Grand Slam success before and proved last year that his 2014 US Open title was no fluke as he made it to the Wimbledon final where he lost against Federer. If all the cards fall into place, then Cilic will be challenging.
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