Australian Open: 7 Men To Watch In Melbourne
Being the first major tournament of the tennis calendar, the Australian Open is the vital first bout of the season. Look no further than the men’s singles last year to see that failure in this tournament can denounce a player to a disappointing season - an example being Andy Murray whose shock exit foreshadowed an injury-literred season. While success, in the case of the two finalists - Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal - was the precursor to a dominant 2017 in which the two champions split the grand slam trophies down the middle.
The run-up to this year’s tournament has been overshadowed with withdrawals (Murray’s hip and Nishikori’s wrist) and looming injury and fitness doubts (Nadal’s knee, Djokovic’s elbow, and Wawrinka’s shoulder). While it is never wise to completely rule out some of these great champions, even in states of reduced fitness, it leaves the draw wide open for players hungry to cover themselves in glory on the largest of stages. Excluding the inimitable and in-form Federer, here is a list of key players looking to make headlines in Melbourne.
The 30-year-old enjoyed a successful 2017 which included a run to the quarterfinals here this time last year during which he defeated the top seed Andy Murray who gracefully praised the German’s aggressive play after suffering the loss. Towards the end of 2017, Zverev reached a career-high ranking of 25.
This serve-and-volley specialist has everything to gain from his AO campaign this year. Expect fast-paced points and one of the most unique forehand swings in the game.
Oft-criticized as lacking the mental fortitude to be a real contender, ‘Baby Fed’, as he is affectionately called, seems to be going through something of a Renaissance. He battled through three long and close matches against Nadal last year (one of which was at the quarterfinals here). Despite losing them all, Dimitrov showed real grit as well as superior athletic ability and has seemingly learned a lot about what makes a champion in the last year. He will be looking to silence his critics once and for all in Melbourne.
A strong 2017 season culminating in his defeat of the favored Federer at the World Tour Finals saw Goffin rise to a career-best world no.7.
He, also, played valiantly to lead the Belgium Davis Cup team to the final of the tournament. Goffin will, no doubt, start 2018 looking to consolidate his high-profile wins.
After an incredible run at the Paris Masters late last year in which he defeated Shapovalov, Tsonga, Goffin, and Cilic, the French veteran will be heartened by his ability to compete with the best players in the world. Although usually more comfortable on clay courts, Benneteau’s success last year came on hard courts. On Monday, the 36-year-old will be proudly flying the flag for a generation of tennis player all but forgotten.
Recently crowned as the US No.1, Sock is tasked with bringing glory back to American tennis.
The hard court will suit his flamboyant style of play as he will be able to unleash his powerful forehand which, when on song, can humiliate even the best defenders in the sport.
Following an exciting run at US open recently, the diminutive Argentine should be able to achieve further success on the reportedly slightly slower surface at the AO. A first-round clash with Lajovic should provide no major problems and give Schwartzman the confidence he needs to make a run this year.
Zverev has proven himself as the wunderkind of the next generation of tennis stars after a stellar 2017 season which saw him soar to world No.3. The lofty expectations placed on his young shoulders may, however, have had adverse effects on his game as he had a disappointing end to his season with early exits at the US Open and the World Tour Finals. He has struggled to impose himself at grand slams and is yet to advance past the fourth round at any major. After ample rest in the offseason, the rangy German will be eager to make good on his potential and mark himself in the history books.
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