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Preview: 4 things to know ahead of the Australian Open

Jan 11, 2018
written by: Kristina Borojevic
written by: Kristina Borojevic
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Ready? Play! Grand Slam tennis is back and there is so much to follow ahead of the Australian Open.

1. Defending champion eyes 6th title

Novak Djokovic and Roy Emerson currently tie for the most Australian Open titles (six). Chasing the record is current world no. 2 and defending champion Roger Federer.

Federer has a seemingly straightforward draw into the quarter-finals. By seeding, it is: (1R) Aljaz Bedene, (2R) Jan-Lennard Struff, (3R) Richard Gasquet, (4R) Sam Querrey, (QF) Juan Martin del Potro, (SF) Alexander Zverev, and a meeting with world no. 1 Rafael Nadal in a repeat of the 2017 final.

Zverev took down Federer in the 2017 Coupe Rogers final and Del Potro stopped the Swiss maestro in the quarter-finals at the US Open. The road to no. 6 and Major no. 20 will not be a simple one for Federer.

Also in Federer’s half of the draw that could make his quest for title no. 6 a bit more complicated is David Goffin, who stunned Federer last November at the ATP World Tour Finals. The resurgence of Novak Djokovic, Stan Wawrinka and Milos Raonic could also offer a twist in Federer’s path to victory.

Federer isn’t only chasing a record-tying sixth title at Melbourne Park – the world no. 1 ranking is also within reach. If Federer hopes to be no. 1 after the Australian Open he needs to defend his title and Nadal cannot reach the quarter-finals.

2. The Djoker & Stanimal are back!

Novak Djokovic (elbow) and Stan Wawrinka (knee) make their comeback to tennis in Melbourne. The two have not played since injuries forced them to cut their seasons short following Wimbledon last season.

Djokovic has already played a few exhibition matches and is showing fine form ahead of the Australian Open – his most successful of the four Majors. Wawrinka, on the other hand, has not played since Wimbledon.

Both men enjoyed their maiden Slam titles at the Australian Open (2008 and 2014, respectively). Even with questionable form, it could inspire for a great comeback run at Melbourne Park.

Both Djokovic and Wawrinka were placed in the bottom half – Federer’s half – and they could potentially meet in the quarter-finals. They have met three times at the Australian Open (Djokovic leads their record 2-1, 19-5 overall) and all three matches went to a fifth set.

If they’re both fit, it could be epic!

3. Clash of the Next Gen

18-year-old Denis Shapovalov had a breakout summer in 2017 with a semi-final run at Coupe Rogers followed by a fourth round finish at the US Open, where he came through qualifying and upset Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the second round.

19-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas recently cracked the ATP Top 100 for the first time in October 2017 with a semi-final run in Antwerp, Belgium. Ranked 122 at the time, he upset world no. 33 Pablo Cuevas, no. 51 Ivo Karlovic and no. 10 David Goffin to make his first ATP semi-final. Already in 2018 Tsitsipas qualified and made the quarter-finals in Doha. He had a notable upset over world no. 31 Richard Gasquet there.

Shapovalov (50) and Tsitspias (80) will now clash in the first round in Melbourne. Both equipped with stunning one-handed backhands and wicked groundstrokes, this Next Gen battle could prove to be one of the most intriguing matches of the tournament. It’s definitely one of the notable first round matches to watch!

The reward for the winner? A potential second round clash with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

4. A first-time Slam champion?

128 men will enter the Australian Open and only six of them are previous Major winners – Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Wawrinka, Cilic and Del Potro. These players combined have won 52 Slams!

When thinking of who could potentially walk away from Australia as a new Major champion, Grigor Dimitrov is front and centre in that conversation.

The 26-year-old Bulgarian had a career-best season in 2017 that saw him win his first ATP Masters 1000 title in Cincinnati, win the ATP World Tour Finals in London and finish the year as the world no. 3. Dimitrov also reached his second Major semi-final – his first in Melbourne – and lost a tight five-setter against Nadal.

A Major breakthrough may not be too far out of sight for Dimitrov, especially in 2018 as he hopes to ride his confidence and momentum from last year into the Australian Open. His path to the final, by seed: (1R) Qualifier, (2R) Qualifier, (3R) Andrey Rublev, (4R) Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, (QF) Jack Sock, (SF) Rafael Nadal, (F) Roger Federer.

Also in the conversation – David Goffin, who played Dimitrov in the World Tour Finals last November and led Belgium to their second Davis Cup final in the last three years. Nick Kyrgios also arrives in Melbourne red hot with a title at the Brisbane International – could this be the year Kyrgios breaks through?


The Australian Open begins Sunday, January 14 on TSN.