Roger Federer is a five-time Australian Open champion. (AP)
ED MCGROGAN, SENIOR EDITOR: Nick Kyrgios
I recently said that Kyrgios, who just won a tune-up title in Brisbane, would win his first major at Wimbledon. That was before I saw his draw in Melbourne. There are definite obstacles, but the Aussie is the most talented player in his half and, more importantly, he looks supremely motivated.
NINA PANTIC, ASSOCIATE EDITOR: Roger Federer
The defending champion has given us no reason to doubt him going into 2018. He appears healthy—much healthier than most of his peers—and eager. This time around he benefits from a No. 2 seeding and a slightly injured Nadal. Look for him to get his revenge on his US Open conquerer, del Potro, in the quarterfinals.
STEVE FLINK, HALL OF FAME WRITER: Roger Federer
It must be Federer. His draw isn’t uncomfortable and he is overflowing with confidence. I can’t see him not collecting a sixth title in Melbourne. He is clearly the man to beat.
STEVE TIGNOR, SENIOR WRITER: Roger Federer
Over the last year, a rested Federer has been a virtually unbeatable Federer. While he’s still older than his rivals, this time he has the advantage of being healthier than they are.
ZACH COHEN, ONLINE EDITOR: Roger Federer
Federer has aged like a fine wine, and has lightened his practice load even more in recent months. It should put him in tremendous shape to defend his title. It’s hard to imagine anyone knocking him off, especially in a field watered down by injuries.
ASHLEY NDEBELE, LEAD EDITOR: Roger Federer
This time last year, most people had written Federer off. What a difference a year makes. Still in excellent form, the defending champion comes into the Australian Open as the man to beat, and betting against him will not be a smart move.
Dark Horse (No. 20 or lower)
MCGROGAN: Borna Coric
He’s never been past the first round in Oz. If he gets to the third round, he could face Rafa. But Nadal’s health has been questioned, and Coric—who owns two wins over the Spaniard—can hang with anyone, as evidenced by his win over Zverev at Flushing Meadows.
PANTIC: Denis Shapovalov
The teenager must be feeling déjà vu: he’s in the section of the draw with Tsonga (who he stunned at the US Open) and Kyrgios (who was the victim of his first big win in 2016). His draw is far from easy, but Shapovalov thrives in the spotlight and has nothing to lose in his Aussie debut.
FLINK: Roberto Bautista Agut
Only three players stand out to me as genuine dark horses: Bautista Agut, Raonic and Schwartzman. Raonic is not the player he was when he reached the semis in 2016. Schwartzman can be a spoiler. But I go with the thoroughly professional Bautista Agut in this category.
TIGNOR: Thanasi Kokkinakis
The Aussie has been sidelined for much of the last two years, but he’s still just 21, and he can still rip a forehand. His draw may give him a chance to get the home crowd behind him.
COHEN: Diego Schwartzman
The world No. 26 was eliminated in the second round of last year’s Australian Open, but he has a rather favorable draw in 2018. If he can win a tough opening-round match against Dusan Lajovic then it wouldn’t be shocking to see him make it all the way to the fourth round.
NDEBELE: Gael Monfils
Known for his showmanship on the court, Monfils is on a mission to prove he can also contend for big titles. He enters the Australian Open coming off a title run in Doha. If he doesn’t lose focus, he can go all the way.
Bust (No. 10 or higher)
MCGROGAN: Alexander Zverev
Given his 2017 breakout, the pressure will be on the 20-year-old right away Down Under. But he landed in the quarter of death, which includes Thiem, Wawrinka, Djokovic and, not to be overlooked, his older brother (and 2017 Australian Open quarterfinalist) Mischa.
PANTIC: Stan Wawrinka
If the ailing Swiss competes, he’s going to be the rustiest player in the draw. He’s pulled out of every event leading into the Australian Open, and now has a shoulder injury to go with his knee problem. Wawrinka needs confidence to win, and the 2014 champion, unfortunately, won’t have that in Melbourne.
FLINK: Jack Sock
I don’t think Sock is going to live up to his No. 8 seeding. He had a brilliant end of 2017 but is currently struggling, and I don’t foresee him moving beyond the third round at the year’s first major.
TIGNOR: Alexander Zverev
In theory, with many of the other top players hobbled or returning from injury, this could be his breakout Slam. But how would he handle playing his brother, or home favorite Kokkinakis, in the third round?
COHEN: Stan Wawrinka
Wawrinka will end up having a nice season, but won’t make much noise here. The 32-year-old just hasn’t played enough competitive tennis over the past few months. It doesn’t help that, in addition to recovering from two knee surgeries, Wawrinka was experiencing shoulder pain at the Tie Break Tens event.
NDEBELE: Jack Sock
Sock was the unlikely eighth man at the ATP Finals last year after his big win at the Paris Masters. But he hasn’t gone past the fourth round of a Slam, and it’s possible he’ll suffer from a hangover from his late-season heroics.
JANUARY: THIS MONTH ON TENNIS CHANNEL PLUS
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