Novak Djokovic will start the Australian Open in January as the bookmakers’ favourite to lift the cup for the seventh time but can someone stop him?
The world number one won both the last two majors of 2018 at Wimbledon and Flushing Meadows, and after fighting his way back to the very top of tennis after elbow surgery, will be confident of making it three Grand Slam titles in a row.
So is he unbeatable? The answer is of course not!
The Fedal Threat
First of all he is under threat from familiar foe in the shape of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
Federer may be 37 but he is the defending champion in Melbourne, and whilst there are those ready to write him off, he has proved time and again that he has the ability to go far in major tournaments. Some have said he will never win another major – he would love to prove them wrong.
Similarly Nadal will be eager to reclaim the number one spot from Djokovic. It will be ten years since his only Australian Open title but, having recovered from the abdominal injury that ruled him out of the end-of-season events, he will be hopeful of mounting a strong challenge to his Serbian rival.
The Younger Generation
And then there are concerns from the younger generation-players like Alexander Zverev, Borna Cilic, and Karen Khachanov.
Previously these players had seemed too green and inexperienced to challenge the Djokovic/Federer/Nadal hegemony when it came to Grand Slams, but the concluding events of the 2018 men’s tour give pause for thought. First, at the Paris Masters, Khachanov, unseeded, beat Djokovic in the final in straight sets.
A few weeks later it was Zverev’s turn to emerge victorious at the ATP Finals, again beating Djokovic in the final. This may be the year that a younger name is etched onto the trophy.
And Then There’s the Weather
The other opponent Djokovic needs to be wary of is the weather.
Melbourne in January can be hot, sometimes brutally so, with court temperatures in excess of 40 degrees Centigrade.
The Serb really suffered in the heat and humidity of New York in September, so exhaustion could hamper his efforts. He is now 31, not old in tennis terms, but, giving 10 years to a younger opponent on a scorching day, could be his downfall.
Djokovic will rightly start as the favourite in Melbourne Park, but his ultimate victory is by no means a foregone conclusion.
Get the latest Australian Open tips and predictions here.