With the Australian Open 2019 draw to be announced soon, all eyes are on the possible paths of the usual suspects. In the men’s section, it’s still the big three – Novak Djokovic, two-time defending champion Roger Federer and world number two Rafael Nadal – who are the favourites.
However, on the evidence of recent form and potential, here is a list of three players who could prove to be the dark horses and go all the way.
#1 Kei Nishikori
The Japanese superstar and long-time Asian number one has had an injury-plagued career so far. But his potential is unquestionable. He has long been seen as the first Asian male tennis player to be a grand slam singles champion.
Though he has been a permanent fixture in the top 10 for most of last five years since his breakthrough year of 2014 when he reached the US Open finals, he has not managed to reach another grand slam final.
But he is slowly coming back to his best. After a long injury lay off, he did come back to tennis last year. Though his performances beginning with last year’s clay court season saw an upswing, he could not manage to win a singles title despite reaching the finals of many tournaments including the ATP 500 in his home town.
He has begun 2019 by winning the Brisbane International and thus breaking the hoodoo of going title-less for almost three years that saw him lose a whopping nine finals. He enters the Australian open full of confidence.
He has the game and the experience to go all the way down under. With a ranking within top 10, he will be able to avoid top players till the round of sixteen, which will also help him ease into the tournament.
#2 Kevin Anderson
The last two years have seen the South African Kevin Anderson play the best tennis of his life. He always had a great serve. But he has improved his ground game beyond recognition.
As a result, he is firmly ensconced in the top 10 and has reached two grand slam finals. Both those grand slam finals have come on fast surfaces, at the hard court of US Open in 2017 and the grass court of Wimbledon last year.
Like Nishikori, he too has begun the year with a bang by winning the Tata Open Maharashtra in Pune and he certainly has a chance at the Australian Open.
The surface suits his style and his big match performances in recent times will boost his self-belief to no end. There is no reason why he cannot make a third grand slam final and this time be third time lucky.
#3 Tomas Berdych
Once touted as the next big thing in the world of tennis, Tomas Berdych’s career has been a case of what ifs.
Like David Ferrer, his career too coincided with those of the big four of men’s tennis and as a result, despite being in the top ten for many years, he has failed to win a grand slam title. What Rafael Nadal said recently referring to Ferrer is also applicable to the former world number four: “Worse players than him have won grand slam titles.”
In 2010, he managed to reach the Wimbledon final having defeated two of the big three on the way, only to lose to Rafael Nadal there. Though he did not manage to reach another slam final after that, he continued to remain in the top 10 for much of that period.
But the last 18 months have seen his ranking plummet due to injuries. Thankfully, he seems to have recovered fully. His performance at the Qatar Open was very encouraging, where he managed to reach the final, losing in a tight three-setter.
He has the game tailor-made for faster courts. If he gets a favourable draw, there is no reason why he cannot go all the way. Stranger things have happened on a tennis court.