The Australian Open begins next week, and the men’s draw might well be the weakest we have seen at a Grand Slam in a decade. Andy Murray misses out through injury, world No. 5 Kei Nishikori is also missing, six-time champion Novak Djokovic is a serious doubt and Stan Wawrinka has barely played in six months. This will all be music to Roger Federer’s ears. The Swiss claimed his first Grand Slam in five years when he seized the Australian Open last year, and the absence of Djokovic (likely), Murray and Co. makes it a lot easier for him to defend his crown. But he will not have an easy ride, and several emerging talents are in with a shot of glory Down Under this month. Here are the leading contenders:
Federer is now 36, but careful management of his ageing body has seen him enjoy a late renaissance in an already glittering career. The Swiss may have lost a bit of pace, but he is a more complete player now and a newfound aggression makes him extremely difficult to face. He knows he cannot win long baseline rallies all afternoon, so he frequently comes in and destroys his opponents with rapid assaults. He has the big match experience to get over the line and will be the one to beat at Melbourne Park, so odds of 2/1 with Sports Winner and 7/4 with the likes of Bet Victor, Ladbrokes and 888 Sport look very attractive.
Federer may have won the Australian Open and Wimbledon last year, but Nadal won the French Open and the U.S. Open and finished 2017 as world No. 1. He will be the top seed at this tournament and the Spaniard is the second favourite, best priced at 11/2 with 888Sport and Unibet, but as low as 4/1 with others. He is a clay-court specialist but showed he can be a force to be reckoned with on hard court when he won at Flushing Meadows last year. He ran Federer extremely close in the final of the Australian Open last season, and could go one better this year, but Federer has a strong record against Nadal on hard courts and would expect to beat him again if they met in the final.
The big-serving Bulgarian is fourth in the betting, but looks a better option than Djokovic, who is banged up and seriously lacking match fitness if he even plays in Melbourne. Dimitrov, meanwhile, ended 2017 in spectacular fashion, claiming the ATP Finals title in London to move up to third in the world rankings. His pace, athleticism, movement and classy style give him a great chance of winning this tournament. Federer and Nadal are way past their best, Djokovic and Murray are injured and the men’s division is ripe for a new king. Dimitrov is now 26, approaching his prime and well positioned to fill that role.
But not if this 20-year-old German dynamo has anything to say about it. Zverev reached world No. 3 last year, a remarkable feat for one so young, after winning two Masters 1000 titles. He is fearless, aggressive and athletic, blessed with a never-say-die attitude, a strong second serve and a magnificent two-handed backhand. He is the future of men’s tennis and has already accomplished a great deal, despite his tender age. However, like Dimitrov, he has never been past the fourth round of a Grand Slam, and that could count against him, particularly against an experienced winner like Federer or Nadal.
La Goff looks a great long shot at 20/1 with Boyle Sports, 10Bet and 188Bet after soaring up the world rankings in 2017. He beat Nadal and Federer at the ATP Finals, only to lose to Dimitrov in the decider. But he has been on an upward curve for a while and was sensational for Belgium in the Davis Cup. He is just one year older than Dimitrov and Goffin is another that could fill a void at the top of men’s tennis in the next few years due to his power, accuracy, persistence, movement and flair.