Young Bucks are gunning for the ‘Big Three”
Last year it took just over two hours for Novak Djokovic to dismiss Rafael Nadal to win a record seventh Australian Open title.
While the Spaniard has climbed back to the top of the rankings and won the US Open in New York on hard court, the Serbian is still the favourite to take home the title in Melbourne.
The two have already faced this year, with Djokovic overcoming the world number one on hard court 6-2 7-6 (7-4) before helping Serbia to an historic victory over Spain in the inaugural ATP Cup.
That was Djokovic’s ninth consecutive hardcourt win over the lefty, whose last victory on the surface against the rival came at the 2013 US Open. Nadal later pulled out of the doubles, citing low energy levels after a total of eight singles and doubles matches in just over a week.
Asked about his health status following tennis’ newest major tournament, Nadal expressed hope he would recover by the start of the Australian Open.
“I am practicing I think more or less okay… Hopefully I will be ready for Tuesday,” Nadal said.
Both top seeds are chasing Roger Federer’s unmatched 20 grand slams, with Nadal one short and Djokovic four behind.
The Swiss master, who has won the Australian Open six times and is seeded third, has been cautious of raising expectations.
“I got to really make sure I get out of the gates quick,” Federer said in his pre-tournament interview. “I know it’s a super long road to victory. That’s why I’ve got to take it one match at a time. My expectations are quite low.”
The “big three,” who combined have collected a staggering 55 grand slams including the last 12, have dominated the tour for over a decade, but young guns including Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev are coming for them.
After clinching the biggest title in his career in November at the ATP Finals, sixth seed Tsitsipas said he believed he could be the player to break that dominance.
The Greek raising star has already collected wins over all three top stars in 2019 and reached the semi-finals last year in Melbourne.
“Someone needs to get (the) job done,” Tsitsipas said after the November win, “to defeat them (in the) early rounds, because once they get deep in a tournament, they tend, as we saw over the years, to get better and play better, feel better.”
World number four Daniil Medvedev, however, could be the favourite to displace the big three.
Last year he reached his first grand slam final in New York where he came back from two sets down before ultimately losing to Nadal.
“(A) good Australian Open is to win it,” the Russian said on Saturday. “But I would say I will be happy with quarters. As I always say, for me the first goal is to win it step by step.”
Australian hopes meanwhile will rest once again on the shoulders of Nick Kyrgios after the country’s top-ranked player, Alex de Minaur, withdrew from the tournament with an abdominal injury.
“I’m just heartbroken for him. I know how much work he puts in,” Kyrgios said of his compatriot, saying that it was “tough to see” him hurt.