Novak Djokovic's deportation from the country after the cancellation of his visa has left the Australian Open draw open with second seed Daniil Medvedev, third seed Alexander Zverev and former champion Rafael Nadal looking the best placed to win the men's singles title.
Germany's Alexander Zverev seems the best placed having made breakthroughs at the ATP Tour Finals and the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.
Practicing at the Australian Open on Sunday, Zverev was sporting his nation's Olympic garb, a yellow tank top emblazoned with 'GERMANY' and the familiar five interlocking rings.
"There's no psychology behind it. I just feel very comfortable in this gear," said Zverev, who upset World No. 1 Djokovic on his way to earning the gold medal in Tokyo last summer.
"I did have the biggest victory, the biggest tournament in the world that I won in this gear. It brings back incredible memories. I just wanted to have that feeling before the tournament starts here," Zverev was quoted as saying by the ATP Tour website.
The 24-year-old was addressing the press before the Australian Open, where he's among the favourites. His achievement at the Summer Games was just one of an ATP Tour-best six titles in 2021, including Masters 1000 trophies in Madrid and Cincinnati, and the year-end ATP Finals in Turin. He arrived in Melbourne at No. 3 in the ATP Rankings more determined than ever to break through to his first major singles title and make a push at No. 1.
"You have to be playing your best tennis to give yourself a chance here," said the 2020 semi-finalist, who will take on countryman Daniel Altmaier in the first round in Margaret Court Arena when play gets underway on Monday at Melbourne Park.
According to the report, joining Zverev in Day 1 action will be 2009 titlist Nadal, whose quest for a record-breaking 21st major singles title will begin with a first-time meeting with former UCLA standout Marcos Giron in Rod Laver Arena.
The Mallorcan has wasted little time putting an injury-dampened 2021 behind him.
The way he played at the Melbourne Summer Set last week, denying serve-and-volleyer Maxime Cressy 7-6(6), 6-3, to earn the 89th title of his career, you would never guess he was limited to just 29 matches last year due to left foot woes, the report said.
"I came here just with the clear goal to be back on the Tour," said the World No. 6, who has now won at least one tour-level title every year dating back to 2004. "That's the most important thing. Then, if I am able to win matches, to improve every single day, fantastic, no? But the main thing is to be back. I'm excited about playing again in a Grand Slam here in Australia," Nadal was quoted as saying on Sunday.
Likely to win players
Meanwhile, Medvedev is no longer one of the benchwarmers among a select group considered most likely to win a major outside the Big Three. With Djokovic deported and Roger Federer still absent from the circuit, Medvedev is one of the favourites to win the title.
The Russian had come close on hard courts twice before, with a runner-up showing to Nadal in New York in 2019 and to Djokovic at Melbourne Park last year.
As he prepared for his sixth tilt at the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup, the intention was no doubt the same, but the pressure came in a different form.
"I would say that it gave me more confidence (in) any tournament that I played afterward," Medvedev said on Saturday. "Sometimes before the tournaments, I could be ... a little bit concerned if I was not playing well.
"Let's say, two days before the tournament, I would lose a practice set, I would be concerned, a little bit nervous, sometimes angry. It did change this. Now I feel like I know even more what I can do, how I can play, what I have to do to play like this," said Medvedev.