Australian Open 2017 preview: Who’s the best man?

With over a 120 elite players taking part, who is in best shape to take home the first Slam of the year?

Australian Open 2017 preview: Who’s the best man?

Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray (L-R)

As the mercury rises in the Southern Hemisphere, the world’s top players descend Down Under to play the year’s first Grand Slam, the Australian Open.

Hosted in the vibrant city of Melbourne, it is often seen as a early indication of who is in best form for the grueling season ahead. 

While the top seeds are favourites, a new generation of tennis stars is on the rise. And the year 2017 may see a relatively unknown lift the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup. 


The Main Men

Move over Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal fans, for the likes of Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic are continuing their epic rivalry, which doesn't show any signs of letting up.

Just when Djokovic seemed unconquerable in 2016, winning the elusive French Open, a resurgent Murray came to the fore, winning Wimbledon and then snatching the World No 1 ranking from the Serb, who seemed a little jaded after his momentous triumph.

Despite an underwhelming end to the year, Djokovic has come back in 2017 in a typically ruthless fashion to win the Qatar Open, outclassing Murray in the final to remind the rest that he is hungrier than ever and is looking at an unprecedented seventh Australian Open title. Such is his dominance at the Melbourne Park, that it is simply a question of Djokovic versus the rest.

With Murray the strongest contender and most likely opponent in a potential final, the top-ranked Scot will have to produce something special to beat a man who has bested him in four finals at the Rod Laver Arena.

Enough about Murray and Djokovic, just how are the rest shaping up?

The Challengers

A man who is just one Wimbledon triumph away from completing a Career Grand Slam does not deserve to be under appreciated, but that is the tale of the mercurial Stanislas Wawrinka. 

After winning the last slam of the year in 2016, the US Open (beating Djokovic once again in a Major final), Wawrinka’s tame performance at the ATP World Tour Finals reinforces the fact that inconsistencies still dog his game. The current World No 4, his inability to beat Kei Nishikori in the Brisbane International semi-final in 2017 will rankle him going into the Slam he won in superb manner three years ago.

If Wawrinka has beaten the best in the past, Austria’s Dominic Thiem is a player who can beat them in the foreseeable future. The youngest player in the Top 10, with a distinctive one-handed backhand, Thiem is one to look out for. Barring a semi-final appearance at Rolland Garros last year, his record at the Slams, a statistic he look to amend in the coming week, is not particularly impressive.

Milos Raonic is the other upstart, a big-serving Canadian who impressed in 2016. A semi-final appearance at Melbourne was followed up with a first-ever Slam final appearance at Wimbledon which suggests he isn't far-off from lifting a Major himself. In the prime of his career, the six-foot-five Raonic is a player to watch out for.

No Grand Slam is complete without mention of the legendary Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, but are they truly contenders or just making up the numbers?

Federer has been on the sidelines for the longest time ever in his glittering career, a six-month layoff to be precise and questions will persist over his fitness at a slam that is notorious for its scalding temperatures. Seeded a lowly 17th, he has a tough task ahead of him. ‘Fedex’ played just 28 matches in 2016 and with just a few Hopman Cup games under his belt in 2017, the 35-year-old might be a tad rusty, especially in the opening rounds. Still, one isn't called the ‘GOAT’ without having a few tricks up their sleeve, so watch this space!

Federer’s great nemesis, Nadal, is undergoing a recovery of sorts himself, having been dogged by injuries since winning his last Slam, the French Open, in 2014. His knees aren't what they once were and a recent wrist complaint has been giving cause for worry, even admitting publicly that he will hit serious form in March. But then again, the indefatigable Spaniard has never been one to toot his horn, which would make a deep run at Melbourne a very real possibility, despite being placed in the bottom half of the draw along with the likes of Raonic and Djokovic.