The Australian Open crystal ball

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Men’s tennis has a new Grand Slam champion after over a year. Young Italian Jannik Sinner stormed back from two sets down to triumph over Daniil Medvedev in the Australian Open final, positioning himself foremost in the queue for victories ahead of the majority of the 2024 season.

Medvedev himself would have fancied his chances in the final and was probably thankful that Sinner had managed to eliminate Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals, as the Serb holds a 10-5 lead over the Russian in their head-to-head record. Even after Sinner’s victory, Medvedev leads their rivalry 6-4.

Much has been said of the triumvirate of new pretenders to the tennis throne. Carlos Alcaraz has been the most successful of these so far in his career, but perhaps for the very first time in his career, he dropped below expectations at a Grand Slam. Losing to Alexander Zverev is no ignominy, but Carlitos will be upset he allowed his standards to drop, especially since he will have headed into this season with boundless optimism, following on from a frankly unreal 2023.

Zverev will be a very interesting proposition on tour this year. His high-profile injury in the French Open semi-final in 2022 set him back, and it is only now he appears back to full strength. Despite finally being the proud owner of a healthy right ankle, he may well suffer a break elsewhere this year. His loss to Medvedev in the semi-finals proved his temperament and mental fragility remain from his younger days, as the Russian levered and cranked his way back from two sets down.

Despite finally being the proud owner of a healthy right ankle, Zverev may well suffer a break elsewhere this year

To add to this, Zverev positioned himself front and centre of season two of ‘Break Point’, Netflix’s new fly-on-the-wall documentary of the ATP tour. Seemingly eager to be on camera, it was remarkable how conveniently Netflix ignored his two domestic abuse scandals.

The latest of these resulted in a court order fine of half a million Euros to Zverev. Upon his objection, there will be a public trial in May this year. Tennis is psychologically treacherous as it is. A domestic abuse trial will do his season no good whatsoever, and I wonder whether we will see symptoms of his distress on the court.

Every season is a defining one for Novak Djokovic. Once again the world number one, he struggled at times in Australia, looking vulnerable against Dino Prizmic and Alexei Popyrin, though each was playing at their ceiling throughout the encounter. It was Sinner’s dominance in the semi-finals which caused the tennis world to lean back and check their eyeballs were screwed in properly, however.

It was the Djoker’s first loss in the tournament since 2018, and he was comprehensively dismantled in the first two sets. Djokovic’s success against Sinner in the ATP championships final last year suggests this performance was a blip, a sentiment he echoed in the press conference following his defeat, but at 37 years old, every under-par performance will be examined under the microscope of looming retirement.

From a British perspective, the tournament was largely disappointing. The noise around Andy Murray’s potential retirement has only got louder, especially following his gloomy comments on his exit in the first round. Cameron Norrie reminded us why he belongs in the world’s elite though. Beating Casper Ruud and falling in a fifth set tiebreak to Zverev provides an excellent foundation for the season ahead. If he continues to play to that season, I could see him buzzing about the top ten come the end of the year. Jack Draper might have expected the get further than the second round, but his loss to Tommy Paul is not one to overanalyse.

At 37 years old, every under-par performance from Djokovic will be examined under the microscope of looming retirement

14th in the world and four years Draper’s senior, the American could well have a storming season of his own. The incentive of American number one evidently spurs him on, as shown in Break Point. The rankings show him sandwiched between Francis Tiafoe and Ben Shelton, all chasing Taylor Fritz five places higher. Paul said he has finally treated himself like a professional, with proper nutrition and recovery. This could prove to be his breakout year, and I think we will see the American crown switch heads multiple times this year.

A few other interesting names are knocking about the upper echelons of the rankings. Adrian Mannarino is playing the best tennis of his career at 35, whilst Alex de Minaur had quietly snuck up into the top ten coming into 2024. Surely this is the year he reaches the quarter-finals of a slam. I still believe he truly has the potential to win one, though a fourth round exit at his home slam was especially disappointing considering his victories over Fritz and Zverev for Australia earlier in the month.

Argentinian duo Thomas Etcheverry and Sebastien Baez will be looking to overtake compatriot Francisco Cerundolo, as both have experienced an upward trajectory in 2023. Young Frenchman Arthur Cazaux will be looking to capitalise on an unbelievable run to the quarter-finals as a wildcard entry in Australia as he is into the top 100 for the first time. Top ten players Holger Rune and Andrey Rublev need another grand slam final this year to avoid stagnation.

The final name I would look out for is Miomir Kecmanovic. Still only 24, the Serb played an extraordinary amount of tournaments last year and overcame Paul last week, only to lose to overwhelming favourite, Alcaraz. Kecmanovic is doing everything to improve and should pass his peak ranking of 27 in no time.

Image: Keith Allison via Wikimedia Commons

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