The Seven Players Who Could Win Their First Grand Slam
Five players have ruled the Grand Slams with a diamond fist for more than a decade. Roger Federer (19), Rafael Nadal (16), Novak Djokovic (12), Andy Murray (3) and Stan Wawrinka (3) have combined to win 51 of the past 54 major titles — that is a stunning 94 per cent victory rate for five players against the entire field.
But it is never possible to count out the rest of the competitors. With Murray out of the Australian Open due to recent hip surgery, sixth seed Marin Cilic and No. 12 seed Juan Martin del Potro make six players in Melbourne who have previously won a Grand Slam. That means 122 of the world's best have a shot at earning their first major championship.
Some players stand a better chance of breaking the 'Big Five''s 12-Slam winning streak than others. Here are seven contenders who can become first-time Grand Slam champions Down Under:
1) Grigor Dimitrov — No. 3 seed
Fresh off the biggest title of his career at the season-ending Nitto ATP Finals, the Bulgarian will be full of confidence heading into the first Grand Slam of the 2018 campaign. And in a way, his run of form started at Melbourne Park one year ago.
In a semi-final for the ages, Dimitrov pushed eventual finalist Rafael Nadal to the brink in a four-hour, 56-minute marathon five-setter. If the right-hander seized one of two break points in the opening game of the fifth set that day, who knows what the outcome would have been. He was that close on the big stage once, and proved that he can win against the very best when he captured the trophy in London, as well as at the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event in Cincinnati. What is to say the World No. 3 won’t channel that momentum into his first Grand Slam title?
2) Alexander Zverev — No. 4 seed
The accolades are piling up for the 20-year-old German. At the 2017 Internazionali BNL D’Italia, Zverev became the youngest player since Novak Djokovic in 2007 to win an ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event. Then, he triumphed at the same level again at the Coupe Rogers, becoming the first player outside of Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray to raise multiple Masters 1000 trophies in a season, also becoming just the second active player (Jo-Wilfried Tsonga) to win more than one.
Zverev is not simply winning, though. The rapid riser is winning against top-notch competition. He earned seven Top 10 victories in 2017, storming to as high as No. 3 in the ATP Rankings.
Sure, Zverev has only made it as far as the Round of 16 at the Grand Slams. But it is a matter of when, not if, he will break through at the majors. Why not now?
3) Dominic Thiem — No. 5 seed
It is tough to argue that a player inside the Top 5 of the ATP Rankings can’t win a Grand Slam. That argument becomes even harder when discussing one of the biggest pure ball-strikers in the sport. Few players hit as heavy and hard of a ball off of both the forehand and backhand wing as the 24-year-old Austrian.
That has helped him earn wins during his career against each of the players seeded ahead of him — Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Grigor Dimitrov and Alexander Zverev. In fact, he owns a combined 10-9 lead against those four players, and the only opponent out of the quartet who has a favourable FedEx ATP Head2Head record against Thiem is Nadal, who is in the top half of the draw.
The right-hander does find himself in arguably the toughest quarter, however, with 2014 champion Stan Wawrinka possibly lurking in the Round of 16 while he could meet either Zverev or six-time champion Novak Djokovic in the quarter-finals. But if they can’t stop Thiem, will anyone prevent him from claiming his first Grand Slam victory?
4) David Goffin — No. 7 seed
If it takes a massive win to gain confidence, then Goffin is full of it after his finish to the 2017 season.
Win the Shenzhen Open and the Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships 2017 — check. Qualify for the Nitto ATP Finals for the first time — check. Beat Roger Federer for the first time — check. Come within a set of claiming the season finale — check. The 27-year-old Belgian is playing the best tennis of his life, and will be no small task for anyone to deal with in Melbourne.
Considering much of the talk is about No. 12 seed Juan Martin del Potro and his run of form — and rightfully so — in Goffin’s sixteenth of the draw, the Belgian may just continue along with his excellent form under the radar until it’s the second week.
5) Jack Sock — No. 8 seed
Who can forget Sock’s magical run at the Rolex Paris Masters in the final ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event of the season? The American went from No. 24 in the ATP Race To London with plans to play golf the next week to competing in the semi-finals at the Nitto ATP Finals following the biggest victory of his career in Paris.
And much of that late-season success was thanks to one of the greatest forehands in the sport, which allows Sock to hang tough with the top players on the ATP World Tour.
The 25-year-old secured four Top 5 wins in 2017. And he seemed to play his best tennis when freely swinging away, not even knowing that he had a chance at qualifying for the season finale. Sock may not be a top favourite in Melbourne Park, but if he’s firing on all cylinders, look out for the rising American.
6) Nick Kyrgios — No. 17 seed
Look up the word ‘talent’ in a dictionary and you may very well find a picture of Nick Kyrgios. When the Australian is focused and in form, he is as dynamic a player as anyone on the ATP World Tour. So while the right-hander is the No. 17 seed, that does not matter as much as how he plays on match day.
And judging by his performance at the Brisbane International, Kyrgios is heading into his home Grand Slam in fine form, beating World No. 3 and Nitto ATP Finals champion Grigor Dimitrov en route to his first ATP World Tour title in Australia.
Fans may get to see that tantalising matchup once again at Melbourne Park in the Round of 16. And if the wunderkind Kyrgios, who has proven his propensity for performing his best against the best by becoming the second player (Lleyton Hewitt) to defeat Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic in his first meeting against each, can get through that battle against the Bulgarian, the momentum and the crowd may very well send him deep into the second week, when anything can happen.
7) Milos Raonic — No. 22 seed
The Canadian may be the 22nd seed in Melbourne, but he is certainly not the 22nd biggest threat in the draw. Not when the right-hander has made at least the quarter-finals at the Australian Open in each of the past three years, including a semi-finals appearance in 2016.
And not only that, but Raonic was up two sets to one against Andy Murray in the semi-finals two years ago, right on the fringe of his first Grand Slam final, an accomplishment he would etch into his resumé two majors later at Wimbledon.
The eight-time ATP World Tour titlist has arguably one of the Top 3 serves in the world. And when he has that firing, all it could take is an opponent having an off day to seal their fate, because anyone who is not in form against Raonic will be in deep trouble. That includes second seed Roger Federer, who he could meet in the Round of 16 — the Canadian did beat Federer to advance to his first Grand Slam final after all.