A year after coming off a career-threatening knee injury, Roger Federer is remarkably now the healthiest guy among the big names on the circuit. Did anyone see that happening? I sure didn’t.
Truly incredible that at age 36, he’s still the man and still the favorite to win Grand Slams, including the 2018 Australian Open.
And while he’s healthy, Rafael Nadal is again a question mark with his knees. Novak Djokovic hasn’t played a match since Wimbledon due to his elbow. Stan Wawrinka is also coming off a long injury layoff, Kei Nishikori has a wonky wrist and who really knows when Andy Murray will be back after his hip surgery – I’m not so sure he makes it for Wimbledon.
So before the draw comes out in 36 hours or so, here’s a quick rundown of the top competitors:
1. Roger Federer
Granted it was an exo, but he didn’t disappoint at the Hopman Cup. And mano-a-mano, who’s really going to be favored to beat him besides possibly Rafa?
Maybe Juan Martin Del Potro, maybe if Djokovic finds his form. Could Grigor Dimitrov do it? Milos Raonic? Nick Kyrgios? So other than Rafa, about the only thing that I think could trip up Federer would be some sort of injury.
2. Rafael Nadal
If the knee is OK then he’ll be OK. But that’s a really, really big “if”. And we won’t know much more until he finally takes the court next week. And he’ll do so without Uncle Toni.
3. Grigor Dimitrov
With so many of the top players injured, Grigor took advantage last season, and I think he’ll continue to shine. Sadly, I still don’t think he’ll have enough to topple a Federer or Nadal in a big occasion, and with the spotlight hotter than ever, he’s that much more susceptible to an early letdown.
4. Novak Djokovic
I have to put him up here just in case he miraculously gets healthy – I just don’t think his elbow (and serve) will hold up to best-of-5. But even still, no matches and no best-of-5 matches since Wimbledon won’t do him any good. And I’m not so sure he even plays, and if he does will he even finish his match?
5. Alexander Zverev
When will he finally break through at a Slam? It’s a broken record but one we keep playing. I have to think this year he’ll finally make a QF, and she should go deeper. He just needs that big Slam match win to get over the hump. And when that happens, what out. Though like with Dimitrov, the pressure is ramped up for 2018 so expectations are high.
6. Juan Martin Del Potro
We haven’t heard much from the big guy, and after missing last year’s edition he comes into 2018 apparently healthy. So good news for Delpo fans and if the weather is mild – which is the forecast – that should bode well. He’s someone no one wants to play.
7. Stan Wawrinka
Like Djokovic, we don’t really know what to expect from Stan. But if his knee is feeling good he could easily do some damage at the place where he first came to prominence.
8. Nick Kyrgios
Could this be the year for Kyrgios? I don’t think Australia is his best Slam but given his recent form he should do well. He’ll have the home support and if he just get a decent draw he’ll be set.
Best of the rest:
Dominic Thiem – If the courts are playing slow Australia should be a good surface for the Austrian workhorse.
Marin Cilic – Former semifinalist, could certainly take advantage of all the injuries.
Milos Raonic – Another former semifinalist, though coming off injury and a shock loss in Brisbane doesn’t instill confidence.
Jack Sock – How will he follow up his best career year?
JW Tsonga – Another guy with a question mark in terms of health. Too bad. And not just that, does he have it anymore?
Gael Monfils – After a bad knee at the end of 2017, impresses with Doha title.
David Goffin – A dark horse threat perhaps? Surface should be good for him, I just don’t know about the heat.
Youngsters – Rublev, Shapovalov, De Minaur, Khachanov, Coric, Chung, Donaldson…Look for a few upsets from this group and maybe at least one in week 2.
So, unfortunately, the start of this season is already marred by injury, which is not a good sign for the rest of the year.
But all these injuries to many of the top guys means we’ll see some really interesting draws early in week one. At least we should – Federer-Djokovic first week!!!
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