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Once again, the marquee event of the Australian summer is upon us as tennis’ biggest stars head down under to stake their claim on the first major trophy of the year.
Legends will clash and generations will collide as the first grand slam curtain raiser of the year kicks off in what promises to be a fascinating tournament.
The stage is set for legends in Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic to etch their name into history once again in the grand slam title race fresh off splitting a major each in 2020. Their heir apparent Dominic Thiem returns this time with the US Open title to his name having broken into the illustrious group of grand slam winners.
Mercurial young talents in Carlos Alcaraz, Felix Auger Aliassime and Jannik Sinner will also be ones to watch out for as they seek to introduce themselves to the Australian public and the larger tennis world.
The draw for the men’s singles competition is one of the more balanced and intriguing fixtures in years, being even across both sides. Although some may argue that defending champion Novak Djokovic’s path may be a lot trickier on paper than that of long-time rival and second seed Rafael Nadal.
A look at the Serb’s draw sees his path largely untroubled until the fourth round where he could potentially face one of Stan Wawrinka or Milos Raonic. The Swiss veteran is a very tricky task given he has given Djokovic plenty of trouble over the years, which includes two victories in a major final over Djokovic.
If Djokovic can navigate this match then his next opponent would be German star Alexander Zverev, who has been a staple in the top eight in the previous three years and does have the talent and firepower to take it to the world number one.
However there are big question marks over his second serve, something he would need to hope is working for him in order to stand any chance against the elite return game of Djokovic.
Djokovic’s semi-final opponent is seeded to be the dynamic Dominic Thiem – the man he beat in last year’s final in an enthralling five-set contest.
Thiem would be expected to be there in the third round where he may then face a tricky encounter with either Australian firebrand Nick Kyrgios or Grigor Dimitrov. If it is the Australian who faces Thiem, the contest should promise a hard-hitting encounter with both men possessing major power in their ground strokes to deliver quite the shot-making spectacle.
If the Austrian does make it to the fourth round, his seeded opponent would be Pablo Carreno Busta, a man who has put together some very consistent results in 2020, or possibly even long-time veterans Marin Cilic or Kei Nishikori.
Thiem’s potential semi-final opponent, should he survive, would be his 2020 French Open conqueror Diego Schwartzman. But that is easier said than done for the diminutive Argentine star with his section being perhaps one of the most interesting of the draw with strong opponents in the same quarter.
In the bottom half, fresh off his strong 2020 season, which saw him win the year end ATP Tour finals, Daniil Medvedev will seek to make it past the fourth round for the first time in his career. That stat may be surprising to some. The Russian faces a dangerous first-round encounter with Vasek Pospisil but should he survive that he would be expected to be there in the second week at Melbourne Park, where he would be seeded to match David Goffin.
However, Goffin’s form has been lacking in recent times and it wouldn’t be too far a stretch to see Borna Coric there instead or even young gun Alexei Popyrin, who is due for a deeper run in his home major.
Medvedev’s quarter-final opponent is then seeded to be compatriot Andrey Rublev, who is also bouncing off a strong 2020 and does possess the firepower to trouble Medvedev. However Medvedev was able to comfortably knock off Rublev in straight sets in their last encounter at the US Open.
Another potential fourth-round opponent for Medvedev could be the consistent 12th seed Roberto Bautista Agut, who has a possibly fascinating third-round match-up against the ever improving Casper Ruud in the third round in a match that promises hard running and long rallies.
Provided that Nadal can shake off his back niggle and be ready for the Australian Open, the Spanish legend is seeded and expected to be there in the second week with perhaps his most eye-catching match before that coming against Dan Evans.
Should he be there once again in the fourth round of the Australian Open, expect him to face either Alex de Minaur or Fabio Fognini with de Minaur pushing Nadal in an epic ATP Cup match last year while Fognini has had Nadal’s measure at times in the past. Both those men are seeded to meet in the third round for the right to face Nadal in what would be a tantalising encounter in itself.
The difficulty in Nadal’s path to claim his second Aussie Open title increases substantially with a possible quarter-final match-up against Stefanos Tsitsipas, a man who is no stranger to knocking off legends at Melbourne Park, such as Roger Federer.
Tsitsipas would need to first clear journeyman Gilles Simon before pitting his wits against two power-hitting seeds in his path in Matteo Berrettini and Karen Khachanov in what could potentially be a tricky third and fourth encounter for the Greek. Be sure to keep an eye on the first-round encounter between Carlos Alcaraz and Mikael Ymer – two next generation young guns with high raps especially being given to Alcaraz.
Many fascinating story lines will surely develop during a tournament that delivered many surprises in its history, from Thomas Johansson’s 2002 run to the title to Marcos Baghdatis’ 2006 campaign to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga breaking out in 2008.
It surely won’t be outside the realm of possibility for a shock or two at the major with only one thing being for certain: there will be many great battles and players to keep an eye on for the 2021 Australian Open.