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5 men to watch out for at the Australian Open

Last updated on: January 15, 2018 00:07 IST

While Federer and Nadal will look to reignite the flair and fight they showed to reach last year's final, 2018 could have a different script at play.

We are days away from the opening Grand Slam of the year, the Australian Open.

The players have already gotten into the groove, playing warm-up tournaments, before the first ball is tossed up and ready to be served at Melbourne Park.

While Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal will look to reignite the flair and fight they showed to reach last year's final, 2018 could have a different script at play.

With a number of youngsters making themselves count among the top stars, a handful of players could disturb the applecart.

Rediff.com's Norma Godinho predicts the players you need to watch out for at the Australian Open.

 

NOVAK DJOKOVIC

Novak Djokovic
IMAGE: Djoko returns to the action! Photograph: David Gray/Reuters

The 12-time Grand Slam champion is back!

Nole had a lean 2017 after a second round exit at Melbourne Park amidst rumours of turbulence in his personal life and injury concerns.

He also had it tough at the French Open and Wimbledon last season.

After being sidelined for more than six months following an elbow injury, the former World No 1 has returned to the hard courts and is currently playing the Kooyong Classic.

He swated aside World No 5 Dominic Thiem 6-1, 6-4 on Wednesday, January 10, to advance in the competition.

The six-time Australian Open champion said he is 'ready' for the first Grand Slam of the year.

Going by the way he fashioned his win over Thiem, when the draw is out on Thursday, he will be the one to avoid.

 

GRIGOR DIMITROV

Grigor Dimitrov
IMAGE: The World No 3 can do wondrous things on court. Photograph: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

'Baby Fed' made it to the Australian Open semi-final last year where he lost a tight five-setter to Rafa.

The Bulgarian had a consistent season, winning four titles -- he beat Kei Nishikori to win the Brisbane International and then beat David Goffin to win a hard court tournament at home in Sofia.

The 30 year old also won the Cincinnati Masters in August and finished the year on a huge high, winning the ATP Tour Finals and becoming the World No 3.

'One of my main goals is to win a tournament,' Grigor said after his ATP Finals triumph, 'you know, a Grand Slam tournament.'

 

ALEXANDER SACHA ZVEREV

Alexander 'Sacha' Zverev
IMAGE: Rafa, Fed, Djoko... they are all wary of Sacha. Photograph: Thomas Peter/Reuters

The youngest ever to be ranked in the top 5 in the ATP rankings, the 20 year old won five titles last year.

The youngest to win a Masters 1000 title in Rome last May -- he defeated Djokovic -- he beat Federer to lift the Rogers Cup in August.

The 6'6" German's two-handed backhand returns are among the biggest weapons in his arsenal and can pose a stern challenge to Federer, Nadal, the lot.

Although Sacha lost the Hopman Cup final to Federer last week, the 2014 Australian Open junior champ could have his hands on the real deal this year.

 

DOMINIC THIEM

Austria's Dominic Thiem
IMAGE: The Austrian is one powerhouse of talent. Photograph: Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters

The World No 5 has a one-handed lethal backhand among many aces up his sleeves.

His fondness for clay is well known, having defeated Nadal in the Rome Masters quarters before losing to Djokovic in the semis.

He got his revenge ousting defending champion Djoko in the French Open quarters before falling to eventual champion Nadal.

The 23 year old has had a mixed start to the 2018 season -- as top seed he reached the Qatar Open semis but had to pull out due to illness.

Dom spent four days in bed with a virus before landing in Melbourne on Monday night.

'I'm free of fever and healthy again. I'm still jet-lagged and was slow at the beginning of the match. I'll sleep, eat and train and not do too much. I'll be fine for the Open,' Dom said after the loss to Djoko at the Kooyong Classic on Wednesday.

That's the attitude he will need to pose a serious challenge at Melbourne Park.

 

ANDREY RUBLEV

Andrey Rublev
IMAGE: Don't underestimate this Russian. Photograph: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports/Reuters

The 32nd ranked Russian is forcing critics to take notice.

First, he reached the US Open quarters, beating Dimitrov and David Goffin in the process.

Then, in November, he made it to the final of the Next Gen ATP Finals, losing to South Korean Chung Hyeon.

He couldn't have had a better start to the 2018 season, making it to the Qatar Open final, losing to Gail Monfils.

Armed with a forehand that can challenge the best in the business, the 20 year old is one to look for this season.

Norma Godinho