WILL EVANS serves up tennis tips as he casts his eye over the men’s section of the 2022 Australian Open draw. Novak Djokovic’s pursuit of a 10th title in Melbourne is still in the hands of lawyers, with several contenders – young and old – are ready to pounce.
THE TOP CONTENDERS
The three-time defending champ and winner of a record nine Australian Open, Djokovic’s availability for the tournament hinges on ongoing legal battles amid visa chaos. It’s hardly an ideal build-up for the world No.1, who could get punted mid-tournament even if he is able to line up in the first round. Tennis-wise, the veteran’s credentials are unmatched as he attempts to win an unprecedented 21st Grand Slam. Djokovic has recached 10 of the last 13 major finals, winning eight. The recent trials and tribulations will spur him on to pull off one of his more remarkable triumphs – but he could arrive at Melbourne Park a bit underdone.
After wrecking Djokovic’s Calendar Slam dream, breaking the ‘Big Three’ Grand Slam stranglehold and clinching his maiden major with a stunning straight sets win in the US Open final, Medvedev will look to atone for his defeat to Djokovic in last year’s Australian Open final over the next fortnight. The 25-year-old Russian reached the final in his defence of the ATP Finals title to close out a momentous 2021. The towering Medvedev has warmed up for the Australian Open with some impressive ATP performances against high-quality opposition and is arguably THE player to beat in Melbourne.
Seeing Medvedev accomplish his Grand Slam dream at the US Open will have only made Zverev more determined to put his name in the same exalted company. Zverev, who lost the marathon 2020 US Open final to Dominic Thiem, went down to Djokovic in a five-set semi-final at Flushing Meadows last year. The 24-year-old German, No.3 in the world, finished last season by taking out his second ATP Finals title with a win over Medvedev in the final. He made the Australian Open semis in 2020 and the quarters last year (losing to Thiem and Djokovic, respectively) but must rate as a huge chance of collecting the elusive Slam silverware.
The 35-year-old remains a potent Grand Slam force, making it to at least the quarter-finals of 15 of the last 16 majors – including four French Open and two US Open titles. He is also looking to sneak under Djokovic’s guard and become the first male player to win 21 Grand Slam trophies. After missing Wimbledon and the US Open last year, Nadal sounded a warning by winning the Melbourne Summer Set title last week…albeit against modest opposition. Rafa’s sole Australian Open success came in 2009, but his has made four finals since (most recently in 2019) and has been eliminated before the quarters just once in his last 14 visits to Melbourne. Big smoky.
The 23-year-old Greek announced himself to the tennis world by reaching the Australian Open semis in 2019 and repeated that run last year. He also chalked up a maiden Grand Slam final appearance at last year’s French Open. Tstisipas’ 2021 season petered out in uninspiring fashion, while he made a scratchy start to this year at the ATP Cup after having elbow surgery in November. But the gifted world No.4 is certainly capable of going deep again in Melbourne if he can regain some rhythm against weaker opposition during the first week of the tournament – despite already easing out from $17 earlier this week.
BEST AUSSIE CHANCE
Alex de Minaur
The shortest-priced Australian in the field, Kyrgios has provided the full gamut of his always-entertaining kitbag in recent weeks: publicly blasting superstar rivals, racquet-smashing meltdowns and some quality tennis. But a knee injury that plagued him in a straight-sets loss to Borna Coric on Friday is a concern. Kyrgios reached the Australian Open fourth round last year as he dialled down the histrionics and won back much of the fanbase he has alienated over the years. The 25-year-old had not played competitively since February until this week. Unseeded, Kyrgios faces a favourable first-round assignment against Federico Ferreira Silva but could have trouble with likely second-round opponent Ugo Humbert, while Dominic Thiem looms as a potential foe in the third round. A first Grand Slam quarter-final since 2015 appears highly unlikely.
The highest-ranked Polish men’s player in history, Hurkacz stormed to prominence with his semi-final run at Wimbledon, upsetting Roger Federer along the way. It’s the only time he’s been past the third round in 16 Grand Slam appearances, but the 24-year-old is undoubtedly a player on the rise. The world No.10 won three hard-court titles in 2021 – Delray Beach Open, Miami Open and Moselle Open – and should relish this Australian Open opportunity. Hurkacz bounced back from an ATP Cup loss to the world No.571 by thrashing Diego Schwartzman in straight sets two days later..