Editor's Note: This article was published prior to Sunday's deportation of Novak Djokovic from Australia. He will not compete at the Australian Open.
Plenty has happened in the build-up to the 2022 season, and some of it has involved tennis matches played on a tennis court.
The focus now turns to the Australian Open, where Novak Djokovic has won the title three-consecutive years and a record nine times overall. The Serbian enters the year's first slam as the favorite despite recent events surrounding his entry into Australia.
It's still not crystal clear that he will be available for the tournament, but he's in the draw as the No. 1 seed so it seems that he will likely be playing. Despite everything else happening in his life, Djokovic will like his chances and he has been virtually unbeatable in Melbourne in his career. Below, we'll take a look at his draw and other contenders who could dethrone him.
Tier 1: Nine-time champ
The 34-year-old Serbian was unable to play any matches ahead of the Aussie Open and could be somewhat taxed from the way his season has begun. He's coming off a rare defeat in the US Open final to Daniil Medvedev, who is likely going to be his main threat in this tournament. But the last time Djokovic lost in Melbourne came in 2018, so he enters a notch above everyone else. No opponents in his quarter of the draw look too threatening, but a potential semifinal matchup against either long-time rival Rafael Nadal (30-28 H2H) or Alexander Zverev (7-4 H2H) would likely be a battle.
Tier 2: Biggest threats
As mentioned above, Medvedev is coming off his first Grand Slam title at the US Open and he's currently the biggest threat to take over the No. 1 ranking from Djokovic. The 25-year-old Russian was the runner-up at the Aussie Open last season and he's the most consistent hard-court performer in the game outside of Djokovic. He could see a tricky matchup in Round 3 against No. 29 seed Ugo Humbert, who he lost to at the ATP Cup to begin the season. Medvedev has a combined 7-1 head-to-head record against potential quarterfinal opponents Andrey Rublev and Felix Auger-Aliassime.
Nadal kicked off his 2022 season with a title against (by his standards) lowly 250-level competition in Melbourne, which was still a positive sign after he missed the second half of the 2021 season due to injury. The 35-year-old Spaniard has been a shoe-in to reach at least the quarterfinals in Australia, with five-consecutive trips to at least that stage of the tournament. A potential quarterfinal matchup with Zverev (6-3 H2H) would likely be a stern test for the 20-time major champion.
Zverev played arguably the best tennis of his career to close out the 2021 season as he defeated Djokovic and Medvedev back-to-back to win the year-end finals. The German went 2-1 at the ATP Cup to begin the season and has reached at least the quarterfinals of the Australian Open in each of the last two years. The 24-year-old has reached one slam final to this stage of his career and he will likely win a major sooner rather than later.
Ever since Stefanos Tsitsipas blew a two-set lead against Djokovic in the 2021 Roland Garros final, he has not been the same player. The 23-year-old hasn't even reached a final since that tournament, but he typically plays well in Melbourne with two-career semifinal showings. The No. 4-ranked Greek has some tricky opponents in his section of the draw, such as Grigor Dimitrov (2-1 H2H), Jannik Sinner (2-1 H2H), Roberto Bautista Agut (2-0 H2H) and Casper Ruud (1-1 H2H).
Tier 3: Breakthrough potential
Rublev, ranked No. 5 in the world, has yet to get past the quarterfinal stage of a major. The 24-year-old Russian has gone 0-4 in quarterfinal matches, as he typically runs into a more well-rounded player at that point. Likely standing in his way in the 2022 edition of the Aussie Open will be his countryman Medvedev, who he lost to in straight sets in the 2021 AO quarters.
Sinner, the No. 11 seed, landed in the most favorable quarter of the draw with the likes of Tsitsipas (1-2 H2H) and Ruud (2-0 H2H). The 20-year-old Italian is quickly rising up the rankings and has one major quarterfinal showing at this stage of his career.
Auger-Aliassime had the best result of his career at the 2021 US Open when he made his first slam semifinal, and on top of that, he is coming off a strong ATP Cup showing to begin the season where he defeated the likes of Alexander Zverev and helped Canada win the title. The 21-year-old made the fourth round of the Aussie Open last season, which was his best result so far in Melbourne. He's in the same quarter of the draw as Andrey Rublev (0-2 H2H).
Ruud has yet to reach a major quarterfinal but his ranking has risen to No. 8 in the world thanks to consistent play throughout the season. The 23-year-old Norwegian reached the fourth round in Australia in 2021, which was his best-ever slam result. Ruud doesn't possess the power of some of his rivals but he's still one of the favorites in his quarter of the draw.
Carlos Alcaraz is the hottest prospect in the men's game right now and he enters the year's first major seeded 31st at 18 years old. The Spaniard reached his first major quarterfinal at the 2021 US Open and he could reach the same stage here if he's able to get past tough competitors like Matteo Berrettini (1-0 H2H), Cameron Norrie (1-0 H2H) and Pablo Carreno Busta.
Quarterfinal predictions: Djokovic d. Alcaraz, Zverev d. Nadal, Tsitsipas d. Sinner, Medvedev d. Rublev
Semifinals: Djokovic d. Zverev, Medvedev d. Tsitsipas
Final: Medvedev d. Djokovic