Fever pitch for tennis aficionados is right around the corner with the Australian Open soon to kick off. Despite talks about the air quality forcing players to address the issue, all sights will be set on Melbourne for the first major of the season.
Tennis media and fans alike will be wondering whether or not someone can stop The Big Three from continuing their reign. If 2019 was any indication, we are getting ever so close to seeing someone new grab the bull by the horns.
Dominic Thiem once again made the French Open final, this time, claiming a set off of Rafael Nadal. Daniil Medvedev, a US Open foe than friend of the fans, took Nadal to a fifth set from two sets down in an epic final in New York.
The world number one could not have asked for a better start to his road back to the finals after an emotionally and physically taxing effort to take Spain to the ATP Cup Finals just over a month and a half after winning the Davis Cup with Spain. Fellow countryman Pablo Carreno Busta could await in the third round, but all eyes are on a potential fourth-round meeting with either Karen Khachanov or Nick Kyrgios.
Plenty of threats await Thiem who is seeded to get out and face Nadal, but the Austrian has yet to make it past the round of 16 in Melbourne. Adrian Mannarino is no pushover for a first-rounder, and the likes of Kevin Anderson, Taylor Fritz, Felix Auger-Alliassime, or Gael Monfils would like to cause an upset to get to a coveted last-eight spot.
Projected Quarter: Nadal vs Thiem
Prediction: Nadal def. Thiem
The weather wasn't the only thing scorching hot last summer in tennis, as Daniil Medvedev firmly put a stamp on his ambitions to make his mark on the men's tour. The world number four made six straight finals, including titles in Cincinnati, St. Petersburg, and Shanghai.
The Russian proved a threat before that run though, pushing Djokovic in a draining fourth-round match in Melbourne. Frances Tiafoe is a formidable first-round opponent, but the American's form has severely dipped to end last year and that carried into the new year. Look for the Russian to cruise into the last eight here, especially if he's dealt with his stamina issues in the heat.
Despite all the "noise" of Alexander Zverev and his troubles last season, the German still managed to make the Nitto ATP Finals. The curiosity still looms of when will he make a run to the last four in a major. Disappointment ended in the fourth round last year for Zverev, and the other top seed in this quarter, David Goffin, does not have history on his side of doing well here.
It is all set up for the most in-form player on tour to make his claim in Andrey Rublev. The Russian dipped in form after a deep US Open run a few summers back, but titles in Qatar and Adelaide mean Rublev will be the one to watch out for in this section.
Projected Quarter: Medvedev vs Zverev
Prediction: Medvedev def. Rublev
The 20-time Grand Slam champ comes in as one of the freshest players after opting out of the ATP Cup. Whether the lack of matches comes as a concern or not, Federer should find himself in the quarters unless a couple of his recent demons have something to say about that. John Millman has been quiet since his upset of Federer back at the 2018 US Open while Grigor Dimitrov made a Paris-Bercy semifinal after his win over the three seed in New York.
Denis Shapovalov has made waves so far after an excellent showing at the ATP Cup, but also for being one of the most vocal top players in regards to the quality of air in Melbourne. With tennis still being played in Australia despite the bushfires all over the nation, criticism of the year's first Slam has come under heavy scrutiny.
The air quality in and around Melbourne is generally horrific due to the bushfires which has seen play pushed back, and players being forced to retire from qualifying matches. The 20-year-old said he didn't want "to risk his life" to play in these conditions if it remains poor.
Italy continues to impress on the men's side with Matteo Berrettini and Fabio Fognini both inside the top-15 of the world. Both Borna Coric and Guido Pella have struggled for form in the last number of months so expect the two countrymen to faceoff for the right to face Federer.
Projected Quarter: Berrettini vs Federer
Prediction: Federer def. Berrettini
After leading Serbia's charge to an inaugural ATP Cup title, Djokovic has to be salivating at a great draw for him. Granted, it will take a once in a lifetime performance again to pull off something like Denis Istomin did back in 2017, the Serb looks to be ready and hungry to defend his crown and claim an eighth title Down Under.
He will open up with Jan-Lennard Struff, and the other seeds in his section don't pose too much of a threat until the quarters.
Stefanos Tsitsipas is the man projected to face Djokovic and is looking to make Melbourne somewhat of a sentimental place, having beaten Federer here last year en route to his first major semifinal. Former Grand Slam finalist Milos Raonic and last year's quarterfinalist here, Roberto Bautista Agut, await in the wings. Raonic'sbig battle is with the injury bug so should he be healthy, a third-round match against Tsitsipas would be mouthwatering.
Bautista Agut finally got over the fourth-round Grand Slam hump last year in Australia against Cilic and went on to make the last eight or better in two of the four majors. Having finally gotten over the line once, the ever-consistent Spaniard will be looking for more in 2020.
Projected Quarter: Tsitsipas vs Djokovic
Prediction: Bautista Agut vs Djokovic
Semifinals and Finals Predictions
Medvedev def. Nadal
Djokovic def. Federer
Djokovic def. Medvedev