The holiday season has passed and we have entered a new year. With the new year, it’s time for the ATP World Tour to start the new season, so the 2017 Australian Open is finally upon us. Here are five players to look out for down under.
1) Novak Djokovic. Djokovic ended last season on a downswing (by his standards), eventually losing the No. 1 ranking to Andy Murray. That being said, Djokovic looked great last weekend in Doha where he beat Murray in the finals. On top of that, the Australian Open is by far Djokovic’s best tournament. The heat makes the game more physical, and hardcourt is his best surface as well. There’s a reason he’s a six-time champion down under and he’s my pick to win another.
2) Stan Wawrinka. Coming off a solid 2016 season that was highlighted by a U.S. Open title, Wawrinka is looking for his second Australian Open title. Hard court is undoubtedly Wawrinka’s favorite surface since it benefits his power play. The thing that sets him apart and makes him a big contender for this tournament is his mental toughness that gives him confidence that he can play with and beat guys like Djokovic and Murray.
3) Roger Federer. Finally, the swiss maestro has returned to the ATP World Tour and he seems ready and excited to be back. He’s been talking a lot about winning his 18th major, and if he comes back playing as well as he was in 2016 it isn’t so unrealistic. Let’s not forget the last major match we saw Federer play was a thrilling five-setter in the semifinals of Wimbledon where he fell to Milos Raonic. Federer wasn’t even fully healthy in that tournament and he was still a contender to win it. A potentially big problem for Federer is he may have a tough draw since he’s ranked No. 17, but it’s great for tennis that he’s back and watching him will be very exciting.
4) Juan Martin del Potro. Del Potro and Andy Murray finished the 2016 season the strongest in my opinion, and as long as del Potro doesn’t get hurt I think he’ll ride that momentum back into the top ten. The comeback player of the year and former U.S. open champion played incredible in the back half of the 2016 season, snagging a silver medal at the Olympics, making a great run to the U.S. Open quarterfinals, and capping it off with a Davis Cup title where he absolutely carried Argentina. Like Wawrinka, del Potro will benefit from the hard courts and he has that same mental toughness that allows him to compete with the top guys. Del Potro is my dark horse pick, so look for him to make a deep run into the tournament.
5) Andy Murray. The current world No. 1 is looking to continue the momentum that he finished 2016 with. Murray was a finalist last year in Melbourne and will probably need to have a similar level of success in order to keep Djokovic from the top ranking. It’s obvious that Murray and Djokovic are the top contenders for the title, so it’ll be fun to keep an eye on those two and see if Murray can maintain that same confidence he displayed at the end of 2016.