Our friends at Sky Sports profile five of the men looking to win the Australian Open.
There may be no Andy Murray, but the men’s tournament will have no shortage of returning stars who will all be aiming to start 2018 by claiming the Australian Open title.
Raz Mirza looks at five of the key title challengers.
The world No 1 came agonisingly close to winning a second title in Melbourne last year, losing in five thrilling sets to Roger Federer in the final. He stayed injury free until the final stages of his brilliant 2017 campaign, winning a 10th French Open title and then claiming the US Open, before familiar knee problems returned putting an end to his season at the ATP Finals in London.
The Spaniard will be determined to go one better in Australia this year, but there are more concerns over his fitness after he pulled out of his scheduled opening two tournaments of 2018 in Abu Dhabi and Brisbane, although he did take part in the Tie Break Tens event and then beat Dominic Thiem in a surprise exhibition match ahead of his first-round clash against 37-year-old Dominican Victor Estrella Burgos.
While his younger rivals battle their bodies, the 36-year-old is living the dream and looks a strong favourite to retain his title and become the first man to hit 20 Grand Slam singles titles. After last year’s throwback season and 12 months on from his remarkable feat in Melbourne, there is nothing to suggest Federer will be in anything less than top shape at a tournament he has won five times.
The Swiss world No 2 has landed in a stacked half of the draw, with Novak Djokovic, Stan Wawrinka, Alexander Zverev, Dominic Thiem, Tomas Berdych and Gael Monfils all potentially lying in wait. He will open the defence of his title against Slovenia’s Aljaz Bedene.
Djokovic lost only once at the Australian Open between 2011 and last year, when he suffered a shock second-round defeat to Denis Istomin. It was the latest stumble for the former world No 1 but his 2017 took a more serious downward turn in the summer when, after pulling out during his Wimbledon quarter-final against Tomas Berdych, he announced he would be taking the rest of the season off to rehabilitate an ongoing elbow problem.
The signs were less than positive when he suffered more pain in the elbow and withdrew from his scheduled opening tournament of 2018 in Abu Dhabi. But there has been more optimism since and how Djokovic, now ranked 14th, performs in Melbourne will be one of the most fascinating aspects of the tournament. No man has won more singles titles here than the Serbian so it would be a fitting venue for a return to the winners’ circle when he opens up against American Donald Young.
Last season gave renewed hope that Dimitrov might still blossom into the Grand Slam champion he seemed set to become as an extravagantly-talented junior.
The Bulgarian came agonisingly close to beating Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals in Melbourne when he went down in a five-set humdinger, but finished the season ranked third after winning the biggest title of his career at the ATP Finals in London. He could meet Nick Kyrgios in a fourth-round blockbuster, which would be a rematch of their Brisbane semi-final last week, won by the gifted but combustible Aussie.
Juan Martin del Potro
Del Potro has not played in Melbourne for four years because of his injury troubles but heads back with his status as a Grand Slam contender restored by his memorable run to the US Open semi-finals. Battling illness, the Argentinian came back from the dead against Dominic Thiem before shocking Roger Federer and went on to finish the season very strongly.
The 29-year-old has continued 2018 where he left off with a 21st career title looming at this week’s ASB Classic in Auckland and he will return to the Top 10 of the ATP Rankings for the first time since August 2014 when he gears himself up for a first-round test against the hugely-talented American Frances Tiafoe.