The men’s singles draw at this year’s Australian Open is shaping up to be one of the most fascinating battles in a long, long time.
Take one determined old guard, throw in a mix of exciting youngsters and add in a couple of returning heroes, and you have a recipe for a thrilling contest.
World Ranking: 2
Current form: WWWWW
2017 titles: 7
Best AO result: Wins in 2004, 2006, 2007, 2010 and 2017
No known injury problems and seemingly still as deadly as ever, defending champion Roger Federer must be considered the favourite to defend his title.
He may not be the top seed (that honour goes to Rafael Nadal) but he has beaten the top seed in their last five meetings dating back all the way to 2015.
The evergreen Federer has turned last year’s incredible comeback in Melbourne into a full-blown career renaissance, with seven titles won in 2017 – two of them Grand Slams – and he’s not done yet.
World Ranking: 1
Current form: LLLWW
2017 titles: 6
Best AO result: Win in 2009
Rafael Nadal may have well have started as the favourite were it not for his recent injury troubles.
The Spaniard has dominated the last 12 months along with Federer and added two more Grand Slam crowns to his own tally – even finishing the year as the world number one.
But in recent contests he’s come off second best to Federer, and question marks remain over his form and fitness.
He was forced to withdraw from last year’s season-ending ATP World Tour Finals with another injury to his troublesome knee, and has yet to set the world on fire since making his return.
Still, Nadal remains a potent force, even when he’s not performing at 100 per cent, and there’s no telling what he’s kept up his sleeve for Melbourne.
World Ranking: 14
Current form: WLWWW
2017 titles: 2
Best AO result: Wins in 2008, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2016
If Nadal is a bit of an unknown factor, what then to make of Novak Djokovic?
The Serb’s comeback from an injury lay-off dating back to July 2017 has been more than a little bumpy. He planned to return in an exhibition event in Abu Dhabi, followed by an official comeback in the Qatar Open, but was forced to withdraw from both events after his troublesome elbow played up once again.
However, Djokovic insists he’s fit and ready now, and he certainly looked the part as he dispatched top 10 player Dominic Thiem 6-1, 6-4 at the Kooyong Classic earlier this week.
Consider the six-time champion the Joker in this year’s deck – unpredictable, and more than capable of having the last laugh.
World Ranking: 4
Current form: LLWLW
2017 titles: 5
Best AO result: Third round in 2017
Alexander Zverev is considered to be the most exciting young talent in the sport and the player most likely to end the dominance of the old guard.
Zverev can be brilliant, but the 20-year-old is by no means the finished article, and still lacks the consistency of some of his more experienced rivals.
It’s only a matter of time before that first Grand Slam title arrives though and that time could be sooner than you think.
World Ranking: 3
Current form: LLWWW
2017 titles: 4
Best AO result: Semi-finals in 2017
Grigor Dimitrov has been knocking on the door for quite some time, but so far a Grand Slam title has eluded him.
He made it all the way to the semi-finals in Melbourne last year, and then ended the season just as strongly by winning the ATP World Tour Finals and rising to a career-high third in the world.
If he’s going to kick on and become a Grand Slam champion, the time for 26-year-old Dimitrov is probably right now.
Australian Nick Kyrgios is blessed with huge talent, and if he can control his temperament he is more than capable of pulling off a big win in front of his home fans.
Like Dimitrov and Zverev, David Goffin and Dominic Thiem form part of a highly talented new guard threatening to break into the big time.
In Juan Martin Del Potro and Marin Cilic you have proven Grand Slam champions who know what it takes to win a big one.
Stan Wawrinka is in the field for Melbourne, but is doubtful to play after suffering a fresh injury setback. He had only just returned after a lengthy lay-off, so he must be considered an outside bet at best considering his current condition.