The preparation phase of this year's Australian Open has entered its final lap, and the top names have now begun fine-tuning themselves in warm-up tournaments. Leading the field for the 2021 Australian Open are two-time defending champion Novak Djokovic, former winners Rafael Nadal and Stan Wawrinka, and other top-10 stars including Dominic Thiem and Stefanos Tsitsipas.
With just under a week left for the main draw action of the Australian Open to start, now is the perfect time to look at the prospects of some of these big names. Here, we rank the top eight contenders for the Melbourne Slam based on the players' performances in the Australian Open series over the last three years.
8. Stan Wawrinka
A former champion in Melbourne, Stan Wawrinka will be closely watched by many of the top players ahead of the 2021 edition of the Australian Open.
The Swiss has always managed to bring out his best Down Under, and he ranks No. 8 on the list courtesy his surprise run to the quarterfinals of the Australian Open last year.
7. Stefanos Tsitsipas
Stefanos Tsitsipas, unlike fellow Next Gen stars Alexander Zverev and Daniil Medvedev, is still looking for his big Grand Slam breakthrough. The Greek came close to reaching his first Major final in Melbourne in 2019 but came up short against Rafael Nadal.
With a game tailor-made for hardcourts coupled with a few solid results to build on, Tsitsipas could well go deep in Melbourne this year.
6. Tennys Sandgren
Tennys Sandgren has built a reputation as something of an Australian Open specialist over the last couple of years. Irrespective of his form heading into the Australian summer, Sandgren has consistently managed to produce big results.
With a world ranking outside the top 40, the two-time quarterfinalist is likely to remain unseeded this year. And that in turn could make him a dangerous floater in the draw.
5. Milos Raonic
Another player who enters the 2021 tournament following back-to-back quarterfinal appearances is the big-serving Milos Raonic.
The Canadian has scored wins over the likes of Wawrinka, Zverev, Marin Cilic and Nick Kyrgios over the tournament's last two editions. Raonic has a power-packed game that can trouble even the best, and with a little help from the draw, this could well be his year.
Alexander Zverev reached the semifinals at last year's Australian Open, his first at a Grand Slam. The youngster, who had previously struggled to make at impact on the biggest stage of the game, showed great resolve over the fortnight and looked formidable in his wins over the likes of Wawrinka and Andrey Rublev..
While Zverev managed to top that performance with the run to the summit clash at the US Open, the breakthrough in Melbourne was enough to secure the 22-year-old a place in this list.
3. Rafael Nadal
The Australian Open remains Rafael Nadal's least successful Grand Slam in terms of both title wins and overall winning percentage. That sounds like an outrageous stat given his 82% match wins in Melbourne, but the number does pale in comparison to his staggering 98% wins in Paris.
The Spaniard still enters the tournament on the back of a final and two quarterfinals, and he will be hopeful of a second Australian Open crown.
2. Dominic Thiem
Dominic Thiem's ability as a hardcourt player was suspect early on in his career, but his Slam performances on the surface in 2020 seem to have erased all the doubts.
The Austrian enters this year's tournament not only as a finalist from last year but also armed with his newfound status as a worthy successor to the Big 3.
1. Novak Djokovic
As always, Novak Djokovic will be the man to beat at the Australian Open. Save the injury-riddled years of 2017 and 2018, the Serb has been absolutely dominant in Melbourne Park.
Djokovic enters this year's tournament riding high on the back of consecutive titles Down Under. Add the impressive match wins at the ATP Cup and one begins to wonder if there's anything at all that opponents can do to challenge the World No. 1's dominance in Melbourne.
Seasoned campaigners including Cilic, Grigor Dimitrov, Kei Nishikori and Roberto Batista Agut, as well as Next Gen stars Rublev, Alex de Minaur and Ugo Humbert have all also done well in Australian Open in the past and can cause some big upsets this year.