Melbourne | Federer favourite for Aussie Open title
In view of the number of players returning from injury it isn’t surprising that Roger Federer, at 36 years of age, is favourite to retain his Australian Open title. His performances at the Hopman Cup show that he is in fine fettle while his main rivals still show signs of frailty. One really can’t bet against him winning his 20th grand slam title.
The world number one, Rafa Nadal could be in the running but he has failed to compete in a full blown match this season and one wonders whether his knees can survive the strain of seven matches played over five sets. But remembering their classic final last year, here is a chance it might be repeated. The Spaniard is in action on the opening day when he plays Victor Estrella Burgos.
That same question can be asked of Novak Djokovic. Can his elbow withstand the physical pressures of seven long matches? He has changed his service action, shortening it somewhat to minimise the strain and has declared himself fully fit to go for his seventh Melbourne title.
Grigor Dimitrov has been promising so much over the past few years always falling away the deeper he goes into a major. He certainly has the talent to win a major though he did make the semis-finals last year and showed by winning the ATP Masters Finals in London at the end of last season. Now 26, it is time for him to make the break through and with uncertainty around the form and fitness of several top players, this could well be his best chance. Austria’s Dennis Novak shouldn’t give him any problems on Day one.
It is also a chance for some of the Next Generation to make an impact. Alexander Zverev at 20 and ranked world number four, has all the makings of a grand slam champion but perhaps still lacks experience and the maturity to deal with a fortnights intensive play. To progress the German must do better than reaching third or fourth rounds of the majors and his big test in Melbourne will be getting past Djokovic in round four.
A lot is now expected of Kyle Edmund who, in the absence of Andy Murray, is Britain’s sole representative in the men’s singles. In the run up to Melbourne he has impressed, pushing Dimitrov to three sets in the quarter-finals at Brisbane.
His big serve and powerful groundstrokes could take him into the second week but he must first get past the big serving South African, Kevin Anderson, on Day one.
Similarly Frances Tiafoe, the 19-year-old who is considered the next big thing in American tennis. He faces Juan Martin del Potro in his opening round where he is definitely the underdog but he has the game to topple the Argentine and if he is successful, give him the confidence the perhaps lacks.
In contrast, Andrey Rublev, the 20-year-old Russian, has plenty of confidence. He has great potential and his powerful groundstrokes can cause opponents real problems but he needs to learn patience and gain more tactical experience. Like the other youngsters, he will be a player to watch.
Nick Kyrgios who faces Brazilian Rogerio Dutra Silva and Denis Shapovalov, who takes on Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, both feature on the opening day’s schedule and are players to keep a close watch on.