Without the nine-time champion, the draw has taken kindly to the likes of Daniil Medvedev and Alexander Zverev who were the second and third favorites behind the Serb respectively. Should either of them win, they will become the new world number one at the tournament's end.
For those who were in that quarter, the news is even better as it gives them an even better chance at a semifinal. Matteo Berrettini is eyeing up a spot there while Lorenzo Sonego, Gael Monfils all hope to make their way into the final four as well.
Here's a look at the tournament's favorites, sleepers, early exits, and matches to watch for as well as predictions from the last 16 on.
Daniil Medvedev: Everyone's favorite personable Russian is back at it. Arguably the best hard court player in the world outside of Djokovic, the world number two will look to do one better than his runner-up performance last year by lifting the winner's trophy this time.
Despite a short offseason, he hasn't looked like he has missed a beat, but should Ugo Humbert get to him in round three, it could bode trouble for the Russian who is 0-2 against him.
Alexander Zverev: The German reached his first major final in 2020, which he probably should have won to be completely honest. 2021 saw even greater heights with the world number three capturing Olympic gold along with titles at the Nitto ATP Finals, Cincinnati, and Madrid.
For years, we have talked about the talent of the German, but now it does seem that he has it all to put it together to win a first major title.
Rafael Nadal: Like Simona Halep in my women's preview, it's a bit off to view Nadal as a sleeper, but he does seem to be going under the radar. He's only won this title once in 2009 but has made the finals on four other occasions since then.
Had the draw been a little kinder to him, he would be talked about as one of the favorites. However, a run of Kokkinakis, Hurkacz/Karatsev, Khachanov all to get to Zverev is asking a lot of the 35-year-old. Should he get through all of them, he would be a favorite to make the final.
Jannik Sinner: Despite having fourth-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas in his quarter, the Italian should be the favorite to take this section of the draw. The Italian's all-around game has very few holes as he can deal with a variety of different players. His draw is kind, all the way up to Tsitsipas, whom I see him defeating. The 11th seed had yet to make it past the first two rounds in Melbourne; he should be making a big splash here.
Aslan Karatsev: The story of the 2021 season has continued his rise and cannot be stopped while in Australia it seems. After his Cinderella run to the Australian Open semifinals last year, he's picked up right where he left on Down Under by claiming the title in Sydney.
The Russian is in that section with Nadal and could be playing Mackenzie McDonald before Hurkacz. Not the easiest road for the Russian number three, but like Nadal, if he survives, then he will be fancied to make a run to the final.
John Isner: The American only has one win to start the season and that came in the ATP Cup against Brayden Schnur. He starts against Maxime Cressy, whose stock has risen ten-fold over the last few months. Cressy, a tennis star for UCLA, finished 2021 with wins in seven of his last eight matches and started this year with wins in eight of his first ten matches.
His maiden ATP final came in Melbourne, and in the battle of servers. Cressy's additional tools will get him over the line in an upset.
Casper Ruud: The world number eight finally cracked the second week of a major for the first time in his career last year and did it in Melbourne Park. Nothing will come easy for the Norwegian with Alex Molcan, Ilya Ivashka, and Alex de Minaur all potential opponents for him just to get to the last 16. For me, Ruud will go out in round two or three, at the hands of Ivashka or de Minaur should they get there.
Cameron Norrie: After a career year in 2022, the effects of that long season have caught up to the British number one. During the ATP Cup, he looked fatigued and outmatched for the most part against his compatriots. Getting drawn with Sebastian Korda was certainly not the answer he was looking for in the draw.
Korda won their only head-to-head meeting in Delray Beach, and despite the American not having played any warm-up events, I can foresee an upset happening here.
First Round Matches To Watch For:
Andy Murray-Nikoloz Basilahvili: A rematch from their meeting last week in Sydney, and if that was any indicator as the prequel, then the sequel will be cracking. The Brit survived from a set down and will have it all to do to counter the hard-hitting Georgian. Expect no less than four sets here.
Brandon Nakashima-Matteo Berrettini: The big-hitting Italian against the smaller agile American will be a fun one to watch. The contrasting styles of speed vs power will be on full display in this showdown. Berrettini looked a step slower than normal at the ATP Cup. If he's off his game just one bit, you can expect Nakashima to cause an upset.
Lorenzo Musetti-Alex de Minaur: It's not the full Australian Open experience unless one of the home favorites guess a "popcorn match". Musetti brings unpredictability, flair, and can do it all with drop shots, lobs, volleys, etc. De Minaur will bring guile, speed, and of course the backing of the crowd. The styles and personalities of these two have the makings of an Australian Open classic.
Medvedev def. Zverev