With tennis proving to be as unpredictable as ever heading into the Australian Open, overshadowed by court room battles and rising Covid cases, the first grand slam of the year is shaping to be memorable.
Men's world number 1 Novak Djokovic looks set to be deported and miss the Australian Open following his visa cancellation at the hands of Immigration Minister Alex Hawke but on court, fierce competition for the Australian Open title looms.
With Djokovic failing to make his 18th appearance at Melbourne Park, he may well lose the world number one title to Daniil Medvedev. The Russian, who won his maiden grand slam against Djokovic at the US Open last year, has been in stellar form heading into play at Melbourne, leading his country to a semi final appearance at the ATP Cup in Sydney. After making it to the final in Melbourne in 2021, where he lost to Djokovic, it is clear the 25-year-old is at home on the hard courts and will enter the tournament as the favourite with no Djokovic.
Our 2021 men's singles runner-up @DaniilMedwed has his eyes on one thing at #AO2022 🏆#AusOpen pic.twitter.com/Xt2p73ywW6
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 15, 2022
World number three Alexander Zverev looms as another threat to the title after a career best season in 2021 where the big serving German claimed an Olympic gold medal and the ATP Finals crown. However, the 24-year-old has come to be seen as reliably unreliable when it comes to grand slam performances. If his early slam exits were a consequence of youth and inexperience, turned around by a career defining win in Beijing, then Zverev should be on near equal footing with Medvedev heading into the opening round.
As he has for the best part of two decades, Rafael Nadal looms as a threat after his win in a lead up tournament in Melbourne. Having only won once before at the Australian Open it is clear the hard court isn't his preferred surface, but as a 20-time grand slam winner Nadal has enough tricks up his sleeve to make a run deep in the tournament, especially if his long-time rival Djokovic is absent.
Stefanos Tsitsipas loves playing in Melbourne and should always be considered a threat, but his limited game time at the ATP didn't exactly set the world on fire. Matteo Berrettini had an exceptional 2021 season, which included a run to the final at Wimbledon which he lost to Djokovic. Despite having never had it past the fourth round in Melbourne before, Berrettini should be expected to feature in the latter stages of the tournament.
After a rapid rise in 2021 Hubert Hurkacz is primed to make a deep run at a grand slam. The 24-year-old has never made it past the second round at Melbourne Park but enjoyed a run to the semi finals at Wimbledon last year. Climbing the rankings to edge his way inside the top 10, Hurkacz looms as a dark horse on the eve of the tournament.
First hit in #Melbourne with @janniksin 💪🎾 pic.twitter.com/r3HF7gEdlx
— Hubert Hurkacz (@HubertHurkacz) January 10, 2022
The women's draw, known for its unpredictability, may have found a stabilising force in Ash Barty. The world number 1 collected five trophies in the 2021 season, including her first Wimbledon title. 2020 was the Australian's best result in Melbourne, making it to the semi finals, but she has won her two grand slams on non-hard court surfaces. Despite this, Barty won the lead up tournament in Adelaide and dropped just one set in the process, proving she is a force to be reckoned with this summer. In front of home crowds at the Australian Open, Barty will be facing all the pressure of being the heavy favourite, but the 25-year-old has proven time and time again that she's not fazed by a challenge.
World number 2 Aryna Sabalenka rose up the rankings from the outskirts of the top 10 in 2021, making career best runs at three of the four grand slams. The 23-year-old, the youngest in the top five, naturally heads into the Australian Open as a favourite, but in Adelaide Sabalenka's serve, an essential part of her power driven game, seemed to fail her. With question marks surrounding her form heading into Melbourne Sabalenka may stumble at the first grand slam of the year, or may find the essential facets of her game fall into place at the right time.
Naomi Osaka's ranking has fallen to number 14 in the world but the four time grand slam winner is one of the biggest contenders in the women's draw. The reigning champion has played some of her best career tennis in Melbourne and should be expected to make a deep run, although her withdrawal from the lead up tournament in Melbourne does leave niggling concerns about injury.
Sad to withdraw due to injury from my match today, my body got a shock from playing back to back intense matches after the break I took. Thank you for all the love this past week ❤️ I’ll try to rest up and I’ll see you soon!
— NaomiOsaka大坂なおみ (@naomiosaka) January 8, 2022
Spainards Garbiñe Muguruza and Paula Badosa have the talent and form to make waves in the latter stages of the tournament. Muguruza comes into Melbourne as the 2021 WTA Champion, while Badosa will head to Melbourne Park fresh off a title win in Sydney.
Young gun Iga Swiatek raised eyebrows with her withdrawal in Sydney after a strong run in Adelaide but seems healthy heading into the slam. The 20-year-old is no stranger to grand slam success after claiming the French Open title in 2020 but hasn't progressed past the fourth round in Melbourne yet in her short career. With her game only improving going into her fourth year on the professional circuit, Swiatek is one of the quietest contenders for the title.
Madison Keys, who has consistently ranked inside the world top 20 for swathes of her career, stormed to a title win in Adelaide after embracing a new positive philosophy on tour. The American has struggled with injury throughout her time in the sport but was once considered the heir to American's women's tennis as a junior. Naturally talented and seemingly in the best headspace of her career, Keys should be considered one of the biggest underdogs on the women's side of the tournament ranked at just world number 51 heading into Melbourne Park.
MADI WINS IN ADDIE 💥
🇺🇸 @Madison_Keys clinches a 6th WTA title with victory over Riske at the Adelaide International 2!#AdelaideTennis pic.twitter.com/3cW2w8Ja6K
— wta (@WTA) January 15, 2022