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Tennis Questions Abound Heading Into 2018 Australian Open • But Not For Roger Federer

By Ricky Dimon

 

No one could have anticipated Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer to finish No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in the ATP World Tour rankings at the end of 2017–and with a lot of room to spare, too. After all, the two all-time greats entered the season ninth (Nadal) and 16th (Federer), seemingly going in the wrong direction instead of on the way up given that they were already into their 30s.

 

Expecting them to combine to win one of the four major titles would have seemed fair, if not altogether generous. But all four? Certainly not.

 

At the other end of the spectrum, nobody could have foreseen the rough injury luck that befell other top men–most notably Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, Kei Nishikori, Stan Wawrinka, and Milos Raonic. All five of those players easily qualified for the 2016 World Tour Finals; not a single one of them suited up in London this time around.

 

It’s safe to say this past year on the ATP Tour was full of surprises. If it is a sign of things to come, the unexpected should be expected in 2018. As we learned from last season, nothing–is certain. Federer is 36 and Nadal is 31; at what point will injuries finally turn their nibble into a bite, as they did for younger players in 2017? How will Djokovic, Murray, and the rest of the walking wounded return in 2018? Will Grigor Dimitrov, Dominic Thiem, Alexander Zverev and David Goffin continue their climbs? Is Juan Martin Del Potro ready for a return trip to near the top of tennis? Can Nick Kyrgios live up to his untapped potential?

 

Those questions will start being answered at next month’s Australian Open, where Federer is arguably the favorite. Not only is the Swiss the defending champion, but he is also coming off a season in which he recorded a 52-5 mark with seven titles (two Grand Slams). Federer also finished it in fine health despite getting upset by Goffin at the O2 Arena.

 

“Roger has won five titles from the last nine tournaments he’s played and he can’t wait to come back, step out on Rod Laver Arena again,and begin his title defense,” Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley said. “He loves playing here, loves the Aussie fans, and has said his Australian Open win this year was one of the most meaningful of his career.

 

“With the return of Novak, Andy and Stan, who will all have lower rankings, there’s also a real chance we’ll finally see a breakthrough from one of the rising stars like Alexander Zverev, Dominic Thiem or David Goffin.”

 

Djokovic and Nadal are considered the next two favorites behind Federer, followed not too far behind by Murray and then–perhaps farther back–Wawrinka, Zverev, Dimitrov, and Kyrgios.

 

The Spaniard, who was runner-up to Federer in Melbourne in 2017, has won three of the four majors at least twice. The one exception is the Aussie Open, where he prevailed in 2009. Nadal played only one match last month at the Nitto ATP Finals before withdrawing due to a knee problem. Djokovic (a six-time champion) and Murray (who has never triumphed Down Under but has reached the final five times) are obviously question marks. Kyrgios has already played a few late-night Melbourne epics, but never in the late stages.

 

And with so many contenders seeded lower than usual, we may be in for an especially wild ride in Melbourne. Make sure your seatbelts are securely fastened!

 

Ricky contributes to 10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.

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