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Australian Open 2020: Key storylines for men’s singles as Novak defends

Ahead of the first Grand Slam of the year at the Australian Open in Melbourne, we run through the biggest men’s players, seeds and major talking points.

The opening Grand Slam of the 2020 season on the ATP Tour has arrived with the Australian Open about to get under way in Melbourne.

Qualifying has already started and the tournament proper will begin on Monday January 20.

Novak Djokovic goes into the event as defending champion in the men’s singles after defeating Rafael Nadal in last year’s final.

Roger Federer won the previous two editions of the competition before going out in the fourth round last year against Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Aus Open: Federer and Djokovic discuss favorites

Here are the key facts and storylines ahead of the 2020 Australian Open men’s singles:

Australian Open top seeds

Rafael Nadal goes into the tournament as the top seed, with Novak Djokovic at number two. That ensures they will be in separate halves of the draw.

Roger Federer comes in at three and both Djokovic and Nadal will be watching closely to see who the 20-time Grand Slam winner is paired with for what would be a potential semifinal if they were all to make that stage.

Aus Open: Tournament's best Open Era players

Daniil Medvedev has usurped Dominic Thiem in the ATP world rankings so the Russian will be seeded 4.

Thiem (5),  Tsitsipas (6), Alexander Zverev (7) and Matteo Berrettini (8) make up the other positions in the top 8 seeds for the event in Melbourne.

Can Novak Djokovic extend his record run?

Djokovic has a magnificent record at the Australian Open, having won it seven times and never being beaten in a Melbourne final.

After his impressive exploits in helping Serbia to win the ATP Cup and given his dominance over Nadal on hard courts in recent years, he will go in as favorite and the man to beat.

That is no guarantee of success, as the US Open towards the end of last year proved, but Djokovic will be the player everyone wants to avoid as the Serbian looks to make more history in Australia.

Rafael Nadal in best Grand Slam form

It is world number one and top seed Nadal who had the best year in terms of Grand Slam results in 2019.

Like Djokovic did, Nadal won two majors while the events he did not win saw him reach the final of the Australian Open and the last four at Wimbledon, where it took an inspired Federer to knock him out.

ATP Cup: Djokovic wins Nadal showdown

He showed signs of vulnerability at the ATP Cup for the first time in six months, but still carries magnificent momentum into a new Grand Slam season.

Melbourne the scene of Roger’s last major

Federer has suffered frustration at majors ever since winning the Australian Open two years ago.

A brutal defeat in the Wimbledon final to Djokovic, where he squandered two championship points, was the closest he came to number 21.

At 38, he knows chances are starting to run out and the Big Three’s undisturbed time at the top also appears to be on borrowed time.

The Swiss star has not played competitively since the ATP Finals, but insists he comes in fresh, fit and motivated.

Federer, as ever, is a key contender.

The Grand Slam record picture

As with every Grand Slam at this relatively late stage in the careers of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic, the tournament outcome will be placed in the context of their bid for the Grand Slam record.

Federer holds the current record on 20, with Nadal close behind on 19 and Djokovic, the youngest of the three, on 16 with surpassing his rivals a goal that is firmly in his sights.

Nadal and Djokovic both made impressive ground in 2019 with two major wins each, the Spaniard having the chance to go level with Federer at the top in the Australian Open.

The French Open, Nadal’s speciality, is the next Grand Slam after this one, so Federer and Djokovic have an element of added pressure.

It is a battle that will rage on until all three have retired and this is the latest chapter of an enthralling story.

Can the Next Gen finally break through?

The pressure is growing from the next generation of players, with Tsitsipas aiming high after his win at the ATP Finals and Medvedev running Nadal so close in the US Open final after a stunning second half to last season.

Indeed, many analysts believe it is Medvedev, who also pushed Djokovic hard at the ATP Cup, who should be considered the third favorite rather than Federer.

Thiem is already a two-time Grand Slam finalist and Zverev is under increasing pressure to make the next step in majors.

Now a new generation including the highly rated Denis Shapovalov, who has recently been backed by Nadal as well as Federer, are also vying to break through.

However, Djokovic, Nadal and Federer have still won all 12 Slams since the start of the 2017 season, with Stan Wawrinka the last non-Big Three winner at the 2016 US Open.

Until that record ends, there will not be many fans rushing to back against them.

No Murray or Del Potro at Australian Open

Andy Murray and Juan Martin del Potro have had to withdraw from the Australian Open.

Comeback Player of the Year in 2019, Murray was gutted when he suffered an injury setback that would rule him out of the ATP Cup and this tournament.

The Briton played what could have been the last match of his career in Melbourne last year as he received tributes from the tennis world prior to undergoing career-saving hip resurfacing surgery.

That would have made this year’s return for Murray, a five-time finalist, a special occasion, but instead it will have to wait until 2021.

Last week, Del Potro joined him in withdrawing, meaning the Argentine will have played only one Australian Open in the last six years.

Australian Open: First Slam of new decade

This Grand Slam will also be the first of a new decade, starting a fresh chapter of 40 events where players will bid to become the most successful player of the 2020s.

In the 2010s, it was Novak Djokovic who had the best record, edging Rafael Nadal with the Serbian taking 15 majors to the Spaniard’s 13. Roger Federer added 5, with Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka getting 3 apiece and Marin Cilic winning the other.

Federer had come out on top in the 2000s by winning 15 of his current total of 20 in that decade.

Now, a new battle begins with a different name poised to emerge at the top.

De Minaur and Kyrgios are top home hopes

It was 1978 when Australia last had a homegrown singles champion at their Grand Slam tournament and two years longer since they had a male winner, the last coming in 1976.

They have two players who are outside chances to end that 43-year run in the men’s singles.

Alex de Minaur impressed at the ATP Cup to build on a strong 2019, though there are concerns over his participation due to his withdrawal from the Adelaide International after an abdominal injury.

Nick Kyrgios is one of the few players who, on his day, can beat anyone. His talent was on full display in parts of the ATP Cup and he is the player the top 8 seeds do not want in their section of the draw.

Concerns over air quality

The heat and humidity is always an expected challenge in Australia but this year there is the added complication of the bushfires in the country, which are impacting air quality, as well as causing devastation to homes and wildlife.

Tennis players have rallied in support of the cause with a host of impressive fundraising initiatives, which will include a charity exhibition event this week.

Based on some concerning incidents in the early stages of the qualifying competition, the air quality situation may impact some matches at the tournament and it is an issue that is already being monitored closely and coming under scrutiny.

The potential for changes to the normal structure of the Australian Open fortnight are a possibility.

Next: Djokovic continues amazing Nadal run

Fans will hope the situation improves for everyone in the country, with an entertaining Australian Open lifting spirits as Novak Djokovic looks to enhance his Melbourne legacy.

 

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