Palmerbet Sports Team serves up tennis tips as we cast our eye over the men’s section of the 2019 Australian Open. Novak Djokovic is chasing a third straight grand slam title, Roger Federer is hunting history and boom youngster Alexander Zverev is looking to produce a breakout run. But can any homegrown stars make an impression in Melbourne?
THE TOP CONTENDERS
After a 2017 season hampered by injury and form issues, some began to question whether Djokovic was a spent force. A fourth-round exit at last year’s Australian Open did little to dispel that contention. But the Serbian legend soared back to peak form in the back half of 2018, taking out the Wimbledon and US Open titles. His form since has been exemplary: Djokovic won the Shanghai Masters, reached the final of Paris Masters and ATP World Tour Finals, and kicked off 2019 with a semi-final run at the Doha Open. A six-time Australian Open champion (among 14 grand slam titles), the world No.1 will take a power of stopping in Melbourne.
Roger’s remarkable renaissance began at the 2017 Australian Open, ending a five-year grand slam title drought. The G.O.A.T. backed it up last year with his sixth triumph in Melbourne. But Federer was upset by Kevin Anderson in the quarter-finals as the defending Wimbledon champion, before being bundled out in the fourth round of the US Open by John Millman. He has looked good since, though, reaching the semis of the Paris Masters and ATP Finals, and winning all three of his Hopman Cup games. Still Djokovic’s biggest threat, while breaking Ken Rosewall’s record as the oldest-ever major winner will provide extra motivation for the 37-year-old marvel.
The 21-year-old German lived up to his ‘next big thing’ billing by downing Djokovic in the final of the ATP World Tour Finals late last year. But he needs to produce a deep run at a major to prove he is truly among the men’s tennis elite. Zverev’s best performance at a grand slam was his quarter-final run at the 2018 French Open, while he was bounced in the third round of the last two Australian Opens. Talent- and form-wise, Zverev is a red-hot chance of going all the way – but does the world No.4 have the fortitude yet to go with Djokovic, Federer and co. when the whips are cracking in the latter stages of a grand slam?
Rafa has not played since his semi-final loss to Juan Martin Del Potro at the US Open in September. The world No.3 withdrew from the Brisbane International last week and will be relying on building his match fitness in the early rounds in Melbourne. Nadal has made it to at least the semis of six of the last eight majors (including the last three), winning the last two French Opens and the 2017 US Open. His only Australian Open triumph came back in 2009, but he has made three finals since – including the unforgettable showdown with Federer two years ago. Marin Cilic halted his Melbourne charge in the quarters in 2018.
Nishikori joined the trend of experienced superstars making extraordinary comebacks in one of the ATP’s most heart-warming storylines of 2018. A wrist injury kept him out of the 2017 US Open and last year’s Australian Open. But he finished the season back inside the top-10 after a quarter-final appearance at Wimbledon and a semi-final run at the US Open. The 29-year-old subsequently reached the final of the Japan Open and Vienna Open in October, and won the Brisbane International last week. A definite smoky.
BEST AUSSIE CHANCE
The inscrutable Kyrgios remains Australia’s most likely, but he is seemingly on the fifth line of betting due to potential and ability rather than form and precedent. Since his third-round exit to Federer at the US Open, the 23-year-old has made a succession of early tournament exits – and also went down to compatriot Bernard Tomic in an exhibition match this week. Kyrgios, who has slipped to No.51 in the world, has not progressed past the fourth round of a major since his quarter-final charge at the 2015 Australian Open. But he was impressive last year in reaching the fourth round, downing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga before going down to Grigor Dimitrov in consecutive marathon four-setters. Capable of a deep run…but we’ve said that too many times before.
Alex de Minaur
The 19-year-old has usurped Kyrgios as the top-ranked Aussie man and appears to have the temperament his high-profile countryman lacks. Currently 29th in the world, de Minaur announced himself as one of tennis’ best up-and-comers in a bumper 2018 season. His efforts stateside were especially eye-catching, making the final of the Washington Open and losing a five-setter to seventh seed Marin Cilic in the third round of the US Open. Since then he has made the semis of the Shenzhen Open, the final of the Next Gen ATP Finals, and the quarters in Brisbane and Sydney. Too early in his career to predict he will be the first homegrown product to win the Australian Open since Mark Edmondson in 1976 – or make the final since Lleyton Hewitt in 2005 – but don’t be surprised to see the Sydney lad upset a couple of big names and reach the final eight.