The first Grand Slam of 2016 is around the corner as Abelson Info analyse the field and pick their winner…
Novak Djokovic enjoyed a dominant season on the ATP tour last year, and it all started in Melbourne with his fifth Australian Open title in six years.
The Serbian ace won an incredible 82 matches out of 88 in 2015, en route to winning 11 titles, setting a rankings points record and firmly establishing himself as the number one player in the world.
He picked up from where he left off in Doha last week and it led to Bernard Tomic conceding: “Novak, it’s just a joke now. There is a reason why he’s the best, no weaknesses that I can think of.”
All in all, the 28-year-old is the man to beat at Melbourne Park, as he has lost just once here since 2010. Combined with his unrelenting desire to remain at the top, his record on hard courts is spectacular as he holds an 85% winning rate on this surface since 2003, better than any other surface in that same timeframe.
Nevertheless, as with any major tournament, there will be other contenders capable of challenging him on their day. World number two Andy Murray will be amongst that group, and he will hope that his success in the Davis Cup last year will inspire him to greater heights in 2016.
After four runners-up finishes in the last six years in this tournament, the Brit is certainly primed for another extended run. However, Stan Wawrinka has ensured that there is additional competition for the big guns, and he will be hoping to repeat the magic of 2014.
While the heavy-hitting world number four has the game to trouble Djokovic, should the pair meet in the latter rounds, his 4-19 record against Nole is also a testament to how dominant the Serb is looking ahead of this tournament. Nevertheless, based on more recent meetings and how their styles clash, Wawrinka is our pick to be the most likely man to dethrone his rival.
Four-time champion Roger Federer remains a threat, as despite the Swiss icon being more prone to slip-ups as his career goes on, he arrives in Melbourne in good shape both physically and mentally.
While his Grand Slam drought now dates back to Wimbledon 2012, he’s done enough to suggest that he will be amongst the contenders over the next fortnight. Combined with a new coach in Ivan Ljubicic and with the world number two ranking within his grasp if he makes the final, expect the veteran to make a deep run.
Perhaps out of the usual suspects, Rafael Nadal remains the most unconvincing. The Spaniard suffered the worst season of his career last year, as injuries and lack of form continued to take their toll. Having failed to go beyond the quarter-finals in any Grand Slam in 2015, it remains to be seen if he can buck this developing trend. However, if he can prove he has overcome his fitness woes, he will be an interesting back-to-lay option as he has a good shot at advancing to the last 16.
Federer, Kei Nishikori, Tomas Berdych and Nick Kyrgios all landed in Djokovic’s half of the draw on Friday, thus setting up a tough path to the final for the champion. Meanwhile, Nadal and Wawrinka could be on an early collision course, although the latter will potentially have to deal with Milos Raonic in the fourth round.
So what about the home favourites? While Lleyton Hewitt’s farewell to the Australian Open will certainly bring out plenty of emotion in the first week, the likes of Tomic and Kyrgios will be outsiders as the next generation threatens to make a breakthrough.
However, back the man currently at the top of the game to prevail with Djokovic making it six Australian Open titles, with Wawrinka his best-placed rival to deny him more history.