Australian Open preview: Best bets for the Men's singles title
Roger Federer starts as favourite in Melbourne, but has some serious competition from an old foe.
As is becoming customary with the men’s game, this tournament will be defined by absentees and fitness.
Andy Murray wouldn’t have been top of the betting regardless, but his withdrawal ensures that the remaining three of the game’s big four are the clear favourites.
There is plenty of doubt surrounding Novak Djokovic , though.
The Serbian has not played a tournament match since Wimbledon, having withdrawn from the Qatar Open at the start of this year, and has only progressed beyond the quarter-final in one of his last five slams.
That leaves the path clear for last year’s finalists, Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal.
Federer lifted the title 12 months ago and helped Switzerland to victory in the Hopman Cup in Perth last week, so is the clear favourite to go back-to-back.
But the smart money is with Nadal .
The Spaniard reminded everybody of what he is capable of on the hard courts in 2017, losing to Federer in five sets Down Under before brutally winning the US Open in September.
If he can shake off any lingering injury doubts and build up the same unstoppable momentum as at Flushing Meadows, then he is a good bet to claim what would be just his second Australian Open title.
Best of the rest
Rounding off a promising 2017 with victory in the ATP Tour Finals should bode well for Grigor Dimitrov , who equalled his best ever performance in a slam in reaching the semi-finals last year.
The Bulgarian is perhaps the best bet to challenge the top three, along with Alexander Zverev , for whom 2018 should be the year in which he begins to make more of an impact at majors.
Nick Kyrgios won the Brisbane International last week, but is unlikely to have the temperament to go all the way in front of a home crowd that does not universally support him.
As he proved in reaching the French Open final from nowhere last year, meanwhile, the fit-again Stan Wawrinka is capable of producing his A-game just when it matters, as unlikely as it appears now.