This year's Australian Open women's singles tournament is probably the least predictable in recent history, with so many contenders that can walk away with the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup.
Top-seeded Simona Halep will have to tame multiple power-hitters if she plans on claiming a maiden Grand Slam trophy while Maria Sharapova faces a string of tough foes standing between her and a second Australian Open title, which would come a decade on from her first.
Angelique Kerber looks to have recaptured her magic, but seeded 21 and with Sharapova in her sights, will have to do it the hard way if she hopes to add a second crown in Melbourne to go with the one she won in 2016.
US Open runner-up Madison Keys is perhaps a bit under the radar but can cause damage in that stacked second quarter of the draw.
Last year's finalist Venus Williams has a daunting opener against in-form Swiss Belinda Bencic while second-seeded Caroline Wozniacki has a manageable draw that could see her finally lift a Grand Slam trophy.
The Australian Open is fast approaching and there's lots to deliberate ahead of Monday's kick-off.
Novak Djokovic having a No. 14 seeding was always going to cause some drama while many players looking for a maiden Grand Slam title feel they have a greater chance in Melbourne with several top stars either missing the tournament or coming back from long injury breaks.
Is it going to be another Federer-Nadal show? Or will we see someone new break through?
Here are the main talking points surrounding the Australian Open men's draw...
A host of 20-year-olds like Jelena Ostapenko, Alexander Zverev and Belinda Bencic have already made waves on tour: Ostapenko won the French Open last year, Zverev ended 2017 ranked No. 4 in the world and Bencic was world No. 7 two years ago before injuries slowed her down but the Swiss is currently on a 15-match winning streak and climbing back up the rankings.
The Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan introduced to the world some of the brightest young prospects in the men’s game, but there are many more to keep an eye on over the next 12 months.
Here are some 21-and-under players to watch at next week’s Australian Open…
The young Russian ended 2017 by making the final of the Next Gen ATP Finals, and started 2018 by reaching the final in Doha, where he lost to Gael Monfils. Rublev, ranked a career-high No. 32 in the world, is already a Grand Slam quarter-finalist (US Open 2017). He hits a big ball and has a quirky personality.
The 20-year-old was handed a tough opener in Melbourne though. He faces ex-world No. 3 David Ferrer in the first round and could take on third-seeded Grigor Dimitrov in the last-32. The good news for Rublev is that he actually beat Dimitrov, in straight sets, at the US Open last year en route to the quarter-finals. If he gets past Ferrer, he could get the confidence he needs to cause some major upsets Down Under.
The 20-year-old Japanese has made the third round in five of the seven Grand Slam main draws she’s participated in so far in her young career. A power-hitter with impressive composure on the court, Osaka‘s highlights from last season include wins over Angelique Kerber and Venus Williams.
Agnieszka Radwanska, a player with high tennis IQ, told Sport360 in an interview last year that she thinks Osaka plays “adult tennis”. “That surprises me. I think she thinks I’m like a brainless ball-basher,” said a self-deprecating Osaka in response.
Osaka peaked at 40 in the world in 2016 (was named WTA Newcomer of the Year), and is currently at No. 70. Come for the fiery groundstrokes, stay for the hilarious press conferences!
Totally know what I’m doing 🙃👌 pic.twitter.com/HquBLh1SEO
— NaomiOsaka大坂なおみ (@Naomi_Osaka_) December 20, 2017
Osaka was drawn in Simona Halep’s quarter of the Australian Open draw and could face home favourite and No. 18 seed Ashleigh Barty in what would be a must-see third round.
ALEX DE MINAUR
To put it simply, Alex de Minaur is just pure fun. The 18-year-old, ranked 167 in the world, is already proving to be a smash hit this Australian summer, making the semis in Brisbane last week — taking out Milos Raonic along the way — and backing that up by reaching the final in Sydney this week (faces Daniil Medvedev).
He drew Tomas Berdych in the first round of the Australian Open and the way things are going so far this month, it’s actually looking like a tough draw for the veteran Czech rather than De Minaur.
This kid is fun to watch. pic.twitter.com/SupspZ6j9b
— Courtney Nguyen (@FortyDeuceTwits) January 9, 2018
The Next Gen ATP Finals champion hit a career-high No. 44 in the rankings last year and started 2018 with an impressive win over world No. 25 Gilles Muller in Brisbane. The South Korean upset John Isner in Auckland this week en route to the quarter-finals. He has a difficult Australian Open draw, facing last year’s quarter-finalist Mischa Zverev in the first round, before possible showdowns with Thanasi Kokkinakis or Alexander Zverev.
A lesson in how to return the John Isner serve, from Hyeon Chung.
— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) January 10, 2018
One of the most enjoyable players to watch on the WTA tour, we’re all thankful Barty did not stay too long away from tennis, having spent a stint pursuing a cricket career. Seeded 18 in Melbourne, Barty heads to the Australian Open with lots of confidence, courtesy of her final showing in Sydney this week (plays Kerber in the final on Saturday). She’s in a difficult section of the draw, alongside top-seeded Simona Halep, Petra Kvitova and Osaka.
First final at home! 😍🇦🇺💚💛 pic.twitter.com/23nvnmWsJa
— Ash Barty (@ashbar96) January 12, 2018
The Canadian teen is probably the most exciting of the young crew. From his attacking one-handed backhand to his fearlessness on the court, the left-handed Shapovalov has already claimed big scalps in his young career, defeating both Juan Martin del Potro and Rafael Nadal en route to the semis at the Masters 1000 in Canada in 2017, before reaching the fourth round at the US Open, as a qualifier.
He takes on fellow Next Gen player Stefanos Tsitsipas in the Australian Open first round and is in a loaded section of the draw with Nick Kyrgios, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Grigor Dimitrov and Rublev.
— Sport360° (@Sport360) November 19, 2017
Perhaps less-touted than the players listed above, this 18-year-old wildcard could be France’s next big hope. Ranked 155 in the world, Moutet went on a tear on the Challenger and Futures circuit towards the end of last year, winning 28 of 31 matches in the span of two months, that included claiming a first Challenger title in Brest, France. He will make his Grand Slam main draw debut against Italian Andreas Seppi in the first round in Melbourne.
The latest talented lefty to come out of the Czech Republic, the 18-year-old Vondrousova is the youngest player in the WTA top-100. She won 17 tour matches in a row last year, claiming a maiden WTA title, as a qualifier, in Biel, before winning a $100k in Trnava then reaching the French Open second round as a qualifier.
The world No. 66 faces Japan’s Kurumi Nara in the Australian Open first round before a possible clash with eight-seeded Caroline Garcia.