Australian Open Men's Preview—Can someone crash the usual Big 3 party?

Australian Open Men's Preview—Can someone crash the usual Big 3 party?

Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer could be facing their toughest tests—from other contenders—in a while.

“Can anyone crash the Big 3 party?” This has been the theme of most Grand Slam events over the last 10 years, and it is again as a new decade begins at the 2020 Australian Open. Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Roger Federer have won the last 12 major events, dating back to 2016; they occupy the top three positions in the rankings; and they’re healthy. Any preview of this event has to begin with them.

Here’s a look ahead at who, if anyone, might end their latest run of major-tournament dominance.

First Quarter

Nadal is the top seed, and last year’s runner-up. In 2019, he said he felt like he might not have played quite enough coming into the Australian Open; this year, after his full workload over the 10 days of the ATP Cup, that shouldn’t be a problem.

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As for his draw, it could have been worse, and it could have been better. He starts against 72nd-ranked Hugo Dellien of Bolivia, and the first seed he could face is Pablo Carreño Busta. So far, so good. Then things could get a little more tense: Nick Kyrgios or Karen Khachanov may await in the fourth round, and No. 5 seed Dominic Thiem in the quarterfinals.

Also here: Gael Monfils, Felix Auger-Aliassime, Taylor Fritz

Question mark: Khachanov. Is he ready to pick up where he left off in 2018? Or will his bumpy 2019 become the norm for him? A third-round showdown with Kyrgios could await.

Semifinalist: Nadal

Second Quarter

If there’s a Big 3 party-crasher in the house, Daniil Medvedev will be the most likely suspect. He’s the No. 4 seed; he reached the final of the last major, the US Open; and he showed flashes of his 2019 brilliance in his close loss to Djokovic at the ATP Cup.

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Has Medvedev’s high seeding come with perks? Yes and no. He’ll start against Frances Tiafoe, who had his best-ever Slam result in Melbourne last year, when he reached the quarterfinals. And Stan Wawrinka, John Isner, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga are all in Medvedev’s half of this section. On the plus side for the Russian, he’s scheduled to face Alexander Zverev in the quarterfinals. Provided the German makes it there—he’s 0-3 so far in 2020.

Also here: David Goffin, who is coming off a win over Nadal in ATP Cup.

Dark horse: Andrey Rublev. He started the year with a title in Doha, and he’s on Zverev’s side of this quarter.

First-round matches to watch: Medvedev vs. Tiafoe; Tsonga vs. Australia’s Alexei Popyrin

Semifinalist: Rublev

Third Quarter

Usually by this point in January, we’ve watched Federer hit and giggle his way through a week at the Hopman Cup. This year, after skipping the Hopman Cup’s replacement, the ATP Cup, he’ll come in cold. Will it make any difference? The six-time Australian Open champ will start against Steve Johnson, but things could get tricky quickly if he goes up against 22-year-old, 34th-ranked up-and-comer Hubert Hurkacz in the third round. After that, it looks like smooth sailing again, at least on paper. Federer's prospective quarterfinal opponent is Matteo Berrettini, who had to miss the ATP Cup with an abdominal injury.

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Also here: 18-year-old Jannik Sinner, who starts against a qualifier.

Dark horse: Denis Shapovalov. He opens with Marton Fucsovics, a solid opponent; otherwise, the Canadian’s draw seems to give him a path to a fourth-rounder against Federer.

First-round matches to watch: Borna Coric vs. Sam Querrey; Fabio Fognini vs. Reilly Opelka

Semifinalist: Federer

Fourth Quarter

Djokovic doesn’t have Melbourne locked up in quite the way that Nadal does Paris, but with a 68-8 record there, he’s doing OK. Right now, all signs point to an eighth Aussie title, and a 17th major championship. Djokovic seems to be determined to put his disappointing second half of 2019 behind him, and he knows that, in the GOAT race, this is where he’s supposed to hold serve.

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That said, his draw could have been easier. Djokovic will start against a hard-hitting veteran opponent in Jan-Lennard Struff (the Serb has handled the German without much trouble in both of their prior meetings). More interesting would be a quarterfinal showdown with Stefanos Tsitsipas. The Greek beat Djokovic in Shanghai last year, and is coming off a career-best win at the ATP Finals last November.

Dark horse: Roberto Bautista Agut. The ninth seed is in the midst of a late-career surge. He’ll start against countryman Feliciano Lopez, and could get Tsitsipas in the fourth round.

First-round middleweight bout to watch: Dan Evans vs. Mackenzie McDonald

Semifinalist: Djokovic

Semifinals: Nadal d. Rublev; Djokovic d. Federer

Final: Djokovic d. Nadal

Champion: Djokovic