With so many fitness concerns surrounding a host of top players at the start of the new tennis season, opportunity might strike for others who have been waiting in the wings for a chance at claiming a maiden Grand Slam title.
Novak Djokovic postponed his start to 2018 citing elbow pain and hasn’t played since Wimbledon. Andy Murray is making his first appearance since Wimbledon in Brisbane this week but admits he may have to settle for top-30 level of play following a six-month absence due to hip injury.
There is no news from the Stan Wawrinka camp since he pulled out of the Mubadala World Tennis Championship. The Swiss also hasn’t played a match since Wimbledon and had double knee surgery in August. He’s back practicing but will no doubt need some time before he performs at his best once again.
Milos Raonic also had injury trouble in 2017 and returns to action in Brisbane, with a new coaching team in tow.
Kei Nishikori delayed his start to 2018 by pulling out of Sydney injured.
World No. 1 Rafael Nadal pulled out of Abu Dhabi and Brisbane to fully recover from a knee injury but will fly to Melbourne soon in preparation for the Australian Open.
With defending champion Roger Federer being an obvious choice as favourite for the title in Melbourne, who are the men we should be looking at as potential first-time Grand Slam winners Down Under this month?
The Bulgarian finished 2017 in the best way possible, going undefeated at the ATP Finals to claim his biggest title to date in London. He showed confidence and swagger under the lights of the O2 Arena and says the pressure he used to feel on his shoulders in the past has now been lifted as he focuses on his love for the game and enjoys his time on court.
Dimitrov is the defending champion in Brisbane and had a great run Down Under last year where he made the semi-finals at the Australian Open, before losing a five-set heartbreaker to Nadal. Will he be able to do better than his 10-1 win-loss start to the season last year in Australia? The opportunity is there for the world No. 3 to go and grab it!
Everything is always way more fun Down Under…
— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) December 31, 2017
Another player carrying momentum from the end of 2017 is Belgium’s David Goffin. The world No. 7 defeated Nadal and Federer at the ATP Finals in London on his way to the title match before falling to Dimitrov. He made the quarter-finals at the Australian Open last year and is already showing great form Down Under as he put in a strong performance to defeat Alexander Zverev in the Hopman Cup in Perth on Monday. With a top-eight seeding and a favorable draw, Goffin could be a threat in Melbourne this month.
The 20-year-old hasn’t made it past the fourth round at a Grand Slam yet but his achievements so far in his young career cannot be ignored. The German won two Masters 1000 titles last year, defeating Djokovic in the final in Rome, and Federer in the final in Canada. He won three more trophies in 2016 and is the current world No. 4. He is coached by his father Alexander Sr. and ex-world No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero. A Grand Slam breakthrough certainly beckons.
Many argue that Nick Kyrgios is not ready to win a major due to lack of discipline, lack of direction as continues to travel without a coach, and the struggle he constantly has within himself about his career as a tennis player. Yet the young Aussie’s talent is undeniable and he did reach two Grand Slam quarter-finals as a teenager.
It’s been three years since he’s made that stage at a major but we’ve seen glimpses of the kind of hot streak he can produce when he beat Djokovic in back-to-back tournaments last year in Acapulco and Indian Wells, and his three-set semi-final against Federer in Miami was arguably the best match on tour in 2017. Can he keep it together for seven matches over two weeks? It’s about time he showed us that he can.
Roger Federer described his Swiss team-mate Belinda Bencic as “so young, I could be her dad”, while the 20-year-old introduced him as the “quokka selfie king” as players celebrated New Year’s Eve in a night of glitz and glamour at the Hopman Cup gala dinner.
Thanasi Kokkinakis joked that his Aussie team-mate Daria Gavrilova “wears the pants on the mixed doubles court” while others like Angelique Kerber, Alexander Zverev, Eugenie Bouchard all made an appearance at the mixed teams event party.
Watch the video above for highlights from a memorable night in Perth.
Former world number one Angelique Kerber put a testing 2017 behind her on Monday, kicking off the new year with a fighting singles win as Germany beat Belgium 2-1 at the mixed teams Hopman Cup in Perth.
The 29-year-old gave her country an early lead in their Group A tie with Belgium, beating the emerging Elise Mertens in a tough two-set match.
World number seven David Goffin levelled the tie with a straight-sets win over fourth-ranked Alexander Zverev, but Zverev and Kerber then claimed the deciding mixed doubles.
Kerber was delighted to start 2018 with a victory, having battled a dramatic slump in form last year.
She started 2017 ranked world number one but by the end of the season the dual Grand Slam winner had slipped to 21.
Kerber was fully tested by Mertens, whose ranking went the other way in 2017 as she climbed from 120 to 36.
The pair traded service breaks and winners, but it was Kerber who produced when it mattered to win 7-6 (6), 7-6 (1) in one hour and 56 minutes.
Kerber, who won her maiden Grand Slam title at the Australian Open in 2016, said it was a promising start to her preparation for Melbourne.
— Hopman Cup (@hopmancup) January 1, 2018
“I think it was a really good match from both of us,” she said.
“We played on a really high level. It was the first match of the year so I am really happy with my performance.”
Kerber added that she had emerged from last year a wiser player, having struggled with the pressure of expectations.
“Last year was a completely different year, I learnt a lot,” she said.
“I am trying not to look back, we are in 2018 and I’m really happy about that. It’s a fresh start.”
Goffin, coming off a superb finish to last year, capitalised on a misfiring Zverev to secure an impressive 6-3, 6-3 win.
Zverev racked up the unforced errors and the 27-year-old Belgian claimed another big scalp, having beaten Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in London in November.
“I cannot start the year better,” Goffin said of his triumph over the 20-year-old.
However, Zverev’s power was a major factor in the mixed doubles, played under the Fast4 format, with the Germans winning 4-2, 4-3 (2) to claim the tie.