Here we go again. It’s like that song lyric, “Nothing changes on New Year’s Day”, because that’s tennis. Nothing does seem to change year-to-year or in the case of men’s tennis, decade-to-decade because the guys at the top seem to be cemented there. Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer continue to own men’s tennis and it’s not ending. Not yet.
So the Big 3 are it in Australia but there’s at least hope that they’ll get some competition. Stefanos Tsitsipas showed a lot of progress last year making the semifinals at Melbourne. Daniil Medvedev had his run over the summer. There’s the young Italians Matteo Berrettini, who made the last four in New York, and countryman Jannik Sinner has been held in high regard, and rightfully so, the kid has a huge game. Russians Andrey Rublev and Karen Khachanov are now playing catch-up to Medvedev, the former is off to a perfect start in 2020.
And then there’s the Canadian duo of Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime. Shapovalov looks like he’s come to play this year while Felix may be bumping his head on a ceiling for now.
Alexander Zverev is still only 22, but he seems to have been around forever. And he has and I think it’s starting to take a toll. Racking up those losses behind those double faults, maybe he needs to sit out a few months, get his head right. Watching the ATP Cup, it looked like he just isn’t having any fun playing the game.
We also have some of the older guys like Dominic Thiem, Grigor Dimitrov and Milos Raonic.
But bottom line, can any of these guys take this title away from the Big 3? Not this month. Not with the Grand Slam title leaderboard in a serious state of flux.
And really, in Australia it’s just a Big One and that’s Djokovic. Federer’s not going to win and I don’t think Nadal can beat Djokovic in a final. So let’s break this draw down starting with Rafa.
RAFAEL NADAL QUARTER
After fizzling out at the end of the ATP Cup, Rafa will be thrilled to get a comfy first week in Melbourne. But things could get interesting quickly in the fourth round where either Nick Kyrgios or Karen Khachanov could be lurking. Both guys should get out to that match and even though Nick’s a big match player, I like Khachanov there but not enough to follow up and beat Rafa. Nadal’s quarterfinal opponent is a tough pick. Thiem hasn’t been great Down Under, Monfils is an unknown, Taylor Fritz isn’t it, and I don’t think Kevin Anderson is back to his peak level. There’s also Auger-Aliassime and he’s intriguing but he just doesn’t have a quality win since the summer. So I just can’t pick him (though I want to!). Instead, I’ll go Monfils to beat Thiem in the fourth and meet Rafa, and you know what happens there.
The Pick: Nadal
DANIIL MEDVEDEV QUARTER
With Medvedev, Zverev and Rublev, we’ll have a good look into the future of tennis in this quarter. Former champion Wawrinka is in there as well, but I don’t think he’s where he once was. Same for John Isner, David Goffin and JW Tsonga. Their best days are in the past. So sorry, out with the old, in with the new, and that means Medvedev and Rublev who I think will collide in the quarters. Medvedev opens with a tough test against 2019 quarterfinalist Frances Tiafoe, then should cruise to the fourth round, beat Wawrinka (who takes out Isner) and set up that Rublev showdown. I think Andrey, who just won back-to-back titles to start the year, beats Goffin in a good one and gets past Nikolaz Basilashvili who ends Zverev’s hopes. In the end, Medvedev is too consistent for the hyper-aggressive Rublev.
The Pick: Medvedev
ROGER FEDERER QUARTER
Federer is the man in this section but I have a sneaky suspicion this one goes upside-down. There’s Berrettini, Borna Coric, Shapovalov, Dimitrov and Hubert Hurkacz. Plus Sinner and his elder Italian Fognini who meets Opelka. So there are a heap of dangerous guys who can’t necessarily win a Slam right now, but can cause an upset here and there. And that’s how Federer gets clipped. The guy who’ll do it is Hurkacz in the third round. But that’s not all. This one will probably bite me, but I’ll take Coric to beat Berrettini, then Guido Pella followed by Shapovalov in the quarters. Denis has looked good this year, so I think he beats Sinner and Dimitrov and takes out Hurkacz in the fourth. And my semifinalist?
The Pick: Coric
NOVAK DJOKOVIC QUARTER
It’s too bad for Tsitsipas (and really anyone) to have landed with Novak because he is by far the favorite and his section is by far the easiest. There’s really just Novak, Tsitsipas and maybe Roberto Bautista Agut capable of making the semis. Marin Cilic is in there, Dan Evans is decent, Milos Raonic is meh, Diego Schwartzman struggles against the big guys so it’s going to be one of those three. I think Tsitsipas and RBA meet again in Melbourne and Greek gets through to face Djokovic. And I’ll go with the Serb in that one.
The Pick: Djokovic
Medvedev d Nadal: Gets revenge for the US Open.
Djokovic d Coric: Easy win into the finals.
Djokovic d Medvedev: Novak’s got just too much variety for the youngster.
So, there we have it. A 13th straight Slam title for the Big 3. Does it end this year? Well, ya got Nadal winning in Paris and tying Roger, then the question is can a young kid do well at Wimbledon? Grass is tricky, so no. That leaves New York where maybe Medvedev or Tsitsipas comes through. Maybe. But I’m jumping way ahead.
One thing to look for this week is injuries. Guys left a lot out there during the ATP Cup and that makes then a little vulnerable this early in the season. If Novak or Nadal go down with something (sadly, the fires/smoke might play a role also), then a Tsitsipas or Medvedev could be holding the trophy two weeks from today.
And who knows, Roger said he was going in with low expectations, but he’s won the Australian Open two of the last three years and did have match points in that Wimbledon final. Perhaps he has one more run left in him.
That said, we are getting closer to the day when a Big 3 will no longer be favored to win a Slam. It’s coming…
Until then, enjoy the history.
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