The men’s singles tournament at this year’s Australian Open gets underway on February 8. In this preview, Dan Weston looks at the contenders for the title, plus whether anyone can dismantle the dominance of Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal.
Australian Open 2021: Men's singles build-up
As was also covered in the Women’s singles preview, it is important to recognise that the players’ preparations for this tournament have been troubled by both quarantine (in various conditions) when arriving in Australia, as well as the suspension of the warm-up events that were halted until all players were able to provide a negative COVID-19 test.
It’s also worth mentioning the often-made point that the men’s Grand Slam events are a real test of fitness. Best-of-five set matches can often last in excess of four hours, and in the typical oppressive heat of the Australian summer, this can have a dramatic effect on the accumulated fatigue of players.
However, this year’s postponed schedule, which has seen the tournament pushed back by a few weeks, may benefit the players in this respect, with the temperatures likely to be much cooler this year than has often been the case.
Australian Open Men's singles: Who are the favourites?
Despite there being a number of different circumstances surrounding this year’s tournament, there is one relative constant - Novak Djokovic at the top of the market. The world number one, who is currently available at 2.39*, leads the way from Daniil Medvedev (5.26*), Rafael Nadal (6.52*), and Dominic Thiem (7.52*), who look to be his main contenders for the title.
Daniil Medvedev will likely enjoy the quick conditions at Melbourne Park.
Djokovic incurred a tricky end to 2020, comprised of a shock loss to Lorenzo Sonego in Vienna before being beaten by both Thiem and eventual winner Medvedev in the ATP Tour Finals in London at the end of the season.
However, Djovokic has not lost a completed hard court Grand Slam match since January 2018, when he was defeated by Hyeon Chung at the Australian Open. His only two hard court Grand Slam losses since then involved a retirement against Stan Wawrinka and his infamous default against Pablo Carreno-Busta at the US Open last summer. He still looks like the man to beat in the coming fortnight in Melbourne.
Conversely, Medvedev enjoyed a strong finish to last season, winning his first Tour Finals title immediately after his third Masters 1000 trophy in Paris. It is extremely evident that Medvedev is on a significant upward ability curve, and on hard courts, he posts stats not far from the numbers which Djokovic and Nadal have exhibited over a number of years.
2021 could be the year where Medvedev joins the two remaining of the traditional elite quartet to create a new dominant top three, and the historically slightly quick conditions at Melbourne Park will also probably be to his liking as well.
Nadal hasn’t played any warm-up events, and was last seen in a competitive match when he lost to Medvedev in London last November. However, the Spaniard retains a high level even away from his preferred clay. Indeed, he didn’t drop a single set en-route to the French Open at the start of October, winning 21 out of 21 sets, and while conditions will be markedly different here, he remains a real threat in the opposite half of the draw to Djokovic.
The final member of the quartet in single-digit pricing is Dominic Thiem, who statistically still has something to prove on hard courts despite winning the US Open in 2020. He slightly overperformed on break points (based on his service and return points won expectation) on hard courts last season, and went 10-2 on tiebreaks in the process (again outperforming expectations).
It is worth noting that these statistics tend to eventually revert to the mean based on ability levels. Thiem is undoubtedly good, but looks slightly below the trio currently ahead of him in the market.
Australian Open Men's singles: Who are the outsiders?
After the top four players, there is a clear ‘second tier’ of players in the outrights. Both Stefanos Tsitsipas (16.04*) and Nick Kyrgios (28.57*) have posted mediocre return stats, and Kyrgios has also endured a lack of match activity which generally goes against historical trends for Grand Slam success. To some extent, this is also the case for Denis Shapovalov (61.14*).
Some of the younger players in this tier might offer better value. Andrey Rublev (21.05*) won five titles in 2020 - a superb achievement even in a full season, let alone a shortened one - and is a young player with huge potential.
The same can be said of Jannik Sinner (36.08*), although he’s still a little behind Rublev numbers-wise. Alex De Minaur (41.10*) disappointed a little last year after high expectations, but he is still a very strong hard court player with plenty of scope to improve further.
You can also check out Dan's preview of the Women's singles tournament at this year's Australian Open.