The first tennis grand slam of the year is underway. The usual suspects are ploughing their way through the draws at the Australian Open 2020. There has already been an upset though. Canada’s rising star Denis Shapovalov crashed out in the first round.
In 2019, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal divided the four slams equally between them. World no. 2 Djokovic is the defending champion at the Australian Open and the favourite this time around too, but it won’t be a straightforward path for him. The next generation has him in their sights. Here’s a look at five contenders who are expected to challenge Djokovic in the Australian Open 2020.
Currently sitting at the top of the rankings, Rafael Nadal finished strong last season. However, the Australian Open hasn’t quite been a happy hunting ground for him, having failed to win one since 2009. Some of his most painful final defeats have come in Melbourne – in 2012 to Djokovic and 2017 to Roger Federer. But the Spaniard has been defying his body and age for the last few years better than most others. He won the US Open against all odds, and is now on 19 Slams, just 1 short of Federer’s 20. Can he make another final? He isn’t on Djokovic’s side of the draw, but still has a tough run to the final with players like Daniil Medvedev posing a challenge. He could also possibly face Nick Kyrgios in the fourth round and Dominic Thiem in the quarterfinal before that. It won’t be easy, but Nadal has never done easy. One thing will certainly be on his mind, Djokovic dismantling him in the recent inaugural ATP Cup singles tie.
Daniil Medvedev was one of two young stars who broke out in 2019, with an insane winning streak in the North American hard-court season. He made five finals in a row and won two of them, going down to Nadal in a stunning 5-setter in the US Open 2019 final. The Russian will hope to live up to the expectations he created last season, but it will be challenging to maintain the same level of performance and consistently challenge the big boys in the best-of-5-set Slams. If all goes well, Medvedev is slated to face Nadal in the semifinal and either Djokovic or Federer in the final.
It was in Melbourne last year where Stefanos Tsitsipas (pictured above) made the world take notice barely a month after winning the Next Gen ATP Finals. The 20-year-old Greek star dismantled Roger Federer in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open and made his maiden grand slam semifinal. He also managed to get wins against Nadal and Djokovic under his belt during the long season, and went on to defeat Federer once again in the semifinals of the World Tour Finals. He wrapped up the season with a World Tour Finals title just a year after he won the Next Gen final. He has all the weapons and an all-court game, but needs to match the mental strength Djokovic or Nadal. Tsitsipas is slated to face Nadal in this year’s quarterfinal.
Roger Federer is still on the circuit and still very strong in the first grand slam of the season. The 38-year-old Swiss star won the title in both 2017 and 2018, but has now gone two years without a slam title. The world number 3 is desperate to hit back after coming within a point of winning Wimbledon in 2019, in what was eventually a heartbreaking defeat to Djokovic. He will also be aware of Nadal breathing down his neck in the slam-title list – but his draw is fairly simple till the semifinals (Djokovic). He could face Grigor Dimitrov in the fourth round, who he lost to in the US Open last year. Federer will fancy himself against Djokovic too, who he defeated in London in the World Tour Finals.
Austrian Dominic Thiem is the oldest after Federer and Nadal on this list, and has the most experience beating them in best-of-3 matches. The two-time French Open finalist will look to start the season strongly and challenge the others on the hard courts of Melbourne. He will face Nadal in the quarterfinal in Melbourne if he gets through the first week, in a match he will definitely want to win to lay the ground for his maiden Roland Garros title in May. He is the closest to Nadal on clay, and will want to prove his all-court credentials in 2020. It’s now or never for Theim.
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