Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Defending champion Djokovic not competing at the Australian Open: Opportunities for the young generation

Posted on 16 January 2022 by Kristina Thiedeitz

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The negotiations surrounding the defending champion have dragged on for a long time. But now it has been decided: nine-time Australian Open winner Novak Djokovic will not play in Melbourne.

The Serb would have been the first contender for the title this year, but instead he will not even get the chance to defend it. So, there will be a new singles winner in Melbourne this year. But who has the best chance?

Last year’s finalist Daniil Medvedev

One favourite for the title is Daniil Medvedev. The Russian reached the final of the Australian Open last year but lost 5-7 2-6 2-6 to Novak Djokovic.

The 25-year-old won four titles last year with his greatest triumph was the victory at the US Open. It was his maiden grand slam in which he beat Novak Djokovic 6-4 6-4 6-4 in the final.

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He faces Finnish-born Swiss Henri Laaksonen in the first round. The 29-year-old is ranked 92nd and it should be a winnable match for the Russian.

Olympic champion Alexander Zverev

Another favourite for the title is Alexander Zverev. Last year, the German made it to the quarter-finals of the Australian Open. However, he was defeated in thrilling fashion by the eventual winner of the tournament Novak Djokovic 7-6 2-6 4-6 6-7.

In the 2021tennis year, the 24-year-old won his most titles to date. The highlights were the Olympic Games and the Nitto ATP Finals. At the Olympics, Zverev defeated the favourite Djokovic 1-6 6-3 6-1 in the semi-finals to reach the final. He gave surprise finalist Karen Khachanov no chance and secured the gold medal with a 6-3 6-1 win. At the ATP Finals, he beat the Russian defending champion, Daniil Medvedev, in the final.

Zverev will meet his compatriot Daniel Altmaier in the first round who is ranked 91st and it should be a manageable match for Zverev.

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The 24-year-old has big plans for the tennis year 2022: “I have two goals ahead of me: That is, of course, to win a Grand Slam and to become the number one in the world.” The Australian Open plays a unique role in this: “In Australia, I have the chance to achieve both at the same time. That’s why I hope it will work out there.”

Other favourites: Tsitsipas, Rublev, Nadal, and Berrettini

Stefanos Tsitsipas only won two tournaments in 2021 but still managed to make it to the semi-finals in Melbourne. In the first round, he will play against Mikael Ymer. The Swede is ranked 82nd in the world. Tsitsipas is the clear favourite in this duel and will be one to watch in this tournament.

Andrey Rublev could only win one tournament in the tennis year 2021. But the Russian, who made it to the quarter-finals of the Australian Open last year, is always a force to be reckoned with. The 24-year-old will play the 63 ranked Gianluca Mager in the first round.

Rafael Nadal is back after a long break and could surprise. At the preparatory tournament in Melbourne, he won 7-6 6-3 against American Maxime Cressy and celebrated the 89th title of his professional career. He admitted afterwards, “I have some challenges behind me with the injury, and I am just coming back. So, I can’t be happier.” The Spaniard will face American, Marcos Giron in the first round at the Australian Open who is ranked 66.

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Italian Matteo Berrettini is another in this bracket of favourites. The 25-year-old won two tournaments in 2021 and reached the fourth round of the Australian Open. He will play Brandon Nakashima (Rank 68) in the first round, in a duel which the Italian should win.

Cancellations for the Australian Open

As expected, Roger Federer will not compete in Melbourne. The Swiss is not fit after his serious knee injury.  Austrian No. 1 Dominic Thiem will also be unable to compete at the Australian Open. The Austrian suffered a wrist injury in June 2021 that is still bothering him. Milos Raonic, Stan Wawrinka, Guido Pella, Tennys Sandgren and Kei Nishikori have also cancelled.

Four Brits in the singles

The current British number one, Cameron Norrie, will play at the Australian Open. The 26-year-old reached the third round in Melbourne last year. This year he is playing American Sebastian Korda in the first round. He is currently ranked 40th in the world but is one of the sports rising stars and will set up an exciting match with the Brit.

Daniel Evans was impressive at the ATP Cup for Team GB. He plays David Goffin in the first round. The Belgian is 45th in the world rankings making for another intriguing contest.

Thanks to a wildcard from the organisers, Andy Murray will play in Melbourne. At the Sydney International, Murray fought his way to the final before losing to Aslan Karatsev. But he will face a strong Nikoloz Basilashvili in the first round.

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Liam Broady (Rank 127) will also play in the Australian Open. The 28-year-old won his qualifying final 4-6 7-6 6-2 against the Russian Safiullin and faces Nick Kyrgios (Rank 114) in the main draw. Both players are close to each other in the rankings, making for an exciting match. Nevertheless, the Australian has a slight advantage on home soil.

Preliminary reports on the Australian Open have been dominated by the debate about the unvaccinated Novak Djokovic. But now, it is inevitable that the Serb will not be allowed to compete.

Daniil Medvedev and Alexander Zverev are the top favourites for the title. Whether they will make use of their chance or whether someone else will surprise them with a big performance will become clear tomorrow at the 110th Australian Open. However, one thing is already certain: the winner of the 2022 Australian Open will not be Novak Djokovic.


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