An enthralling and quick two weeks, and the first Grand Slam of the year is already over. There were a lot of questions and a lot of speculation as we wondered if 2019 would start with “more of the same”, or a “changing of the guard” on the men’ s circuit.
Interestingly, the 2019 Australian Open had a mix of both. Let us take a look at what some of the key takeaways are from the Open, and what that leaves us with, in store for the rest of the season.
The first name on everyone’s lips when we think “Australian Open 2019”, is undoubtedly Novak Djokovic, and rightfully so. An unprecedented seventh Australian Open title, fifteenth Grand Slam ( third in a row), and a near flawless performance against arch-rival Rafael Nadal in the final, are all reasons for him to be the talk of the Australian Open.
The Serb has cemented himself as the favorite for the rest of the season, on all surfaces, and now a serious contender to overtake the 20 Grand Slam titles record of Swiss maestro Roger Federer.
Roger Federer’s second consecutive fourth round exit at a major, as he ages, and the field and the going gets tougher, definitely makes the questions louder on whether this is his last full year on the tour.
While Rafael Nadal exceeded expectations, making it to the finals after a long injury lay-off, it is unlikely that he can challenge Djokovic at this level of play outside of clay.
While the likes of Milos Raonic, Kei Nishikori, and Grigor Dimitrov made decent comebacks of sorts; given the current field, it is difficult to envision them breaking through and challenge the likes of the Big 3 when it matters.
This brings us to the group of individuals that has been talked about at length of late, ‘The Next Gen’. There were clear winners and losers among the Next Gen at the Australian Open.
The biggest disappointments were the likes of Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev.
An early dismissal at the Open makes one question the consistency of Thiem outside of clay again. Zverev, who has impressed with ATP Masters 1000 victories and more so the Tour finals in London at the end of last year, had another disappointing fourth round loss at a major.
It was hoped that having Ivan Lendl in his corner would assist on the big stage, and while it may still well be beneficial, there remain serious questions around Zverev’s ability and maturity to perform at Grand Slams.
Russian stars Karen Khachanov, and Daniil Medvedev, had a few good early rounds, and we hope they are more of a force in week two of majors to come in the future.
After his best year on the tour, it was underwhelming that Croat Borna Coric did not make it past the round of 16. Although he has been around for a while and may not be ‘Next Gen’, Frenchman Lucas Pouille definitely outdid all expectations with a semi-final appearance.
The most successful Next Gen at the Open were Frances Tiafoe and Stefanos Tsitsipas.
Tiafoe had his best Grand Slam performance beating South African Kevin Anderson, and Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov, before losing to Nadal in the quarterfinals.
Greek sensation Tsitsipas continued to win hearts and move up the rankings and popularity, with a stellar performance to beat Swiss defending champion Federer in the fourth round. A semi-final appearance, where he lost to Nadal, was probably the best performance of the younger crop.
With the Australian Open now behind us, and the rest of the season ahead, what should tennis fans be looking out for?
One wonders if this is going to be a year of Djokovic versus the rest of the tour. At the level at which Djokovic has performed since Wimbledon 2018, that definitely cannot be ruled out.
Djokovic starts as a clear favorite at the Sunshine Masters in Indian Wells and Miami Masters in March. A healthy Rafael Nadal will always begin as the favorite on clay; but Djokovic and the likes of Thiem and Zverev will be very much in contention as well. With Roger Federer expected to return to clay this year, it sets up the season on the red dirt interestingly.
While it is too early to think of grass and the US hard court season, followed by the indoor swing, Djokovic if healthy, would have to be the favorite almost everywhere.
2019 will likely see winners outside the Big 3 at the Masters 1000s again. Thiem and Zverev lead that pack, with the likes of Coric, Medvedev, Khachanov, Tsitsipas and Tiafoe not far behind. Juan Martin DelPotro returns to the tour in February, and will be a force at all tournaments. One hopes Stan Wawrinka continues his resurgence further.
With Djokovic looking invincible, and Nadal always expected to lead the pack on clay, 2019 could be the turnaround year for the tour with a new slam winner.
Grand Slam Predictions for the rest of year as follows:
French Open: Nadal
US Open: First Time Slam Winner