Djokovic, Federer Lead Group of Australian Open Contenders
The shortlist contains just Roger and Novak.
Will Roger Federer win his third successive Australian Open title, or will Novak Djokovic win his third Grand Slam tournament in a row? These are the two players will set the pace on the hot hard courts Down Under this year, and until another player knocks them out, you can pencil them in as deep into the tournament as you want.
Federer’s formidable weapon is his serve, and he was second best on tour in 2018 in Service Games Won on hard courts, holding 90.2 per cent (497/551) of the time.
The new Infosys Serve & Return Tracker identified Federer’s favourite Deuce Court first-serve location on hard court in 2018 as out wide, where he directed 52.3 per cent of first serves, winning a formidable 78 per cent of those points. The Swiss also went wide in the Ad Court the majority of the time, hitting 50.5 per cent of first serves there, winning 79 per cent of the points.
Djokovic’s prowess is traditionally more on the return side of the equation, as he led the tour in 2018 with First-Serve Return Points won on hard courts, winning a commanding 33.2 per cent (629/1867) of first-serve returns from 37 matches. The World No. 1 has the best record on hard courts in the past 52 weeks, winning 83.3 per cent (31-6) of his matches.
What if they meet in the final? Djokovic certainly has the edge on paper, as he has won their last four battles (all on hard court), including the the semi-final of the 2016 Australian Open, which the Serbian won 6-1, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3.
So if Federer and Djokovic don’t take the title, who has shown good hard court form? Alexander Zverev certainly put his hand up as a contender at the end of 2018, defeating both Federer and Djokovic back-to-back on indoor hard court at the Nitto ATP Finals in London.
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Rafael Nadal is definitely the wild card Down Under this year. The World No. 2 won the Australian Open in 2009, and has been runner-up on three other occasions, including 2017, when he lost a thrilling five-set final to Federer. But this is the Spaniard's first tournament of the season. If he can regain fitness, he will be tough beat yet again.
There is a small group of players next in line who have impressive hard court resumes and a legitimate shot of going all the way in Melbourne the next two weeks.
Kei Nishikori won the Brisbane International on hard court to start the year, Marin Cilic was last year's Australian Open runner-up.
Who is most likely of the younger brigade (22 years old or younger) to have a breakthrough tournament? Keep an eye on Daniil Medvedev (22), Borna Coric (22), Karen Khachanov (22) and Alex de Minaur (19). Their time is coming, and there is no time like the present.