Source: ATP Tour www.atptour.com

For the first time since 1999, the Australian Open is without crowd favourites, Rodger Federer and Andy Murray. Without either player to contest for the title, it appears as though either Djokovic or Nadal will once again make history, or could someone new take out the Grand Slam?

The Inner Sanctum has broken down its 10 contenders to take home the Australian Open title.

Novak Djokovic

Source: Tennis World USA www.tennisworldusa.org

Djokovic is chasing his ninth Australian Open title this year. Following a dominant Grand Slam victory at Melbourne Park in 2020. Throughout the rest of the season, Djokovic claimed several titles, however, he failed to capture an additional Grand Slam championship. 

As the number one seed, The world number 1 has a favourable draw. Starting with Frenchman Jeremy Chardy who has struggled to get past the second round since his quarter-final appearance in 2013. His toughest match up likely won’t be until the fourth round in a battle against either Swiss star Stanislas Wawrinka or Canadian Milos Raonic. 

Rafael Nadal

Source: Tennis World USA www.tennisworldusa.org

Should Nadal win the Australian Open this year history will be made, the number two seed will not only overtake Rodger Federer as the leading men’s Grand Slam winner but be the first men’s single player to claim a double grand slam in the Open Era. Nadal has just fallen short of his second Australian Open title four times since he claimed his first in 2009, being defeated in the final by Djokovic in 2012 and 2019, Wawrinka in 2014 and Federer in 2017.

Nadal’s lack of preparation heading into the tournament will be his biggest issue. Having not played in any of the lead-up tournaments and dealing with back soreness, Nadal will need to use the first week to his advantage and dismiss his early-round challenges without dropping too many sets. In the first round, the Spaniard will face Laslo Dere, who has yet to make it past the first round at the Australian Open. In the first week, Nadal’s biggest challenge will be the possible fourth-round matchup against Australian Alex de Minaur.

Dominic Thiem

Source: ATP Tour www.atptour.com

Thiem enters the 2021 Australian Open off the back of his most successful year to date. Following an appearance in the Australian Open final, Theim claimed his first Grand Slam title at the US Open and faired the worst at the final grand slam of the year, going down in the quarter-final at the French Open in October. 

Thiem will come across several challenges in the first week sitting in one of the most competitive sections of the draw, he’ll likely have to encounter Aussie firebrand Nick Kyrgios in the third round and then be confronted with a battle against one of several experienced players in the fourth.

Daniil Medvedev

Source: Tennis World USA www.tennisworldusa.org

Still chasing his first Grand Slam title, The rising Russian is more comfortable at the hard court Grand Slams, making it through to the fourth round at the Australian Open in 2020 and the US Open semi-final. At the ATP Finals in 2020, became the first player to beat the first, second and third-ranked players proving he is one of the strongest competitors in the men’s field currently.

Despite being on the same side of the draw as seeded superstars Stefanos Tsitsipas, Andrey Rublev, and Rafael Nadal, Medvedev’s first week at the AO are on the tamer side compared to his fellow contenders. With only David Goffin making it into the quarter-final previously, he himself will be looking to bounce back from a shock defeat to 17-year-old Carlos Alcaraz at the Adelaide international.

Stefanos Tsitsipas

Source: US Open www.usopen.org

Should Tsitsipas claim his first Grand Slam title at the Australian Open this year, he’ll be the youngest men’s singles player since Novak Djokovic in 2008 to win the Australian Open. Growing more consistent over 2020, Tsitsipas won his fifth ATP title as well as making it to the semi-final of a Grand Slam.

Tsitsipas will be challenged from the outset, having drawn French veteran Gilles Simon in the first round, whose experience at the tournament could be difficult for the fifth seed. Then by the fourth round, he’ll likely be up against number nine seed, Italian Matteo Berrettini who has a good record against top ten players.

Alexander Zverev

Source: ATP Tour www.atptour.com

Coming off the back of his best year at the Grand Slam tournaments Zverev is looking to improve on his semi-final appearance at last year’s Australian Open. Zverev has struggled against some of the top 10 players, losing to Domenic Theim and Daniil Medvedev at both the Australian Open and the US Open, and Medvedev at the Paris Masters last year.

Should Zverev make it to the quarter-finals he will more than likely come up against Novak Djokovic. However, first, he will possibly come up against Gaël Monfils in the fourth round and in the first round, he’ll need to beat Marcos Giron.

Andrey Rublev

Source: Roland Garros www.rolandgarros.com

Alongside his strong performances in the Grand Slams, Rublev won five ATP titles in 2020. Despite entering the 2021 season in career-best form Rublev still has issues with unforced errors and his service game, with his faults often resulting in double faults.

His attacking style of play will be a great asset in the first week of the tournament, should he remain composed enough to keep his errors low. He’ll be taking on debutant Yannick Hanfmann in the first round and come the fourth round he’ll likely be facing either Casper Rudd or Roberto Bautista Agut.

Diego Schwartzman

Source: Tennis Majors www.tennismajors.com

Following the French Open, Schwartzman entered the top 10 for the first time in his career. With victories against both Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem in 2020. However, he’s come unstuck against Novak Djokovic and Alexander Zverev multiple times last year struggling to claim a set against either opponent.

Unfortunately for Schwartzman, the argentine has found himself on the same side of the draw as both Djokovic and Zverev. But before he even gets to the finals he’ll still have to defeat his first-round opponent Elias Ymer, and should they both win their first three matches, a matchup with rising Canadian Denis Shapovalov awaits.

Stan Wawrinka

Source: US Open www.usopen.org

Tennis’ great latecomer didn’t have the best year in 2020, with a significant portion of his season disrupted by the pandemic, Wawrinka skipped the US Open and was eliminated in the third round at the French Open. Despite winning only one title Wawrinka took on several top 10 players and previous champions in 2020, beating Andrey Rublev at the Paris Masters and taking out Andy Murray in straight sets in the first round of the French Open.

Wawrinka will take on Pedro Sousa in the first round. Should he progress, come the third round Wawrinka will likely meet Milos Raonic before coming up against tournament favourite Novak Djokovic.

Grigor Dimitrov

Source: US Open www.usopen.org

The first half of Dimitrov’s 2020 was plagued with injury. The Bulgarian suffering a shoulder injury which led to his ranking dropping as low as 78. At the US Open, he entered the tournament unseeded and managed to earn a place in the semi-final before losing to Daniil Medvedev.

Dimitrov will face a difficult first-round matchup against Croatian Marin Čilić, who he beat as recently as the French Open in 2020. From there he’ll likely face Kei Nishikori or Pablo Carreño Busta in the third round, and should he win Dimitrov will likely find himself against Dominic Thiem.

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