There are not enough complimentary adjectives to describe Roger Federer’s career, but let’s just stick with “greatest of all time” and leave it at that for now.
The 19-time Grand Slam champion returns to Melbourne Park to defend his Australian Open title, which runs from Jan. 15-28 on the hardcourt surface.
The 36-year-old is the favorite (+185) to beat the field, which includes the No. 1-ranked player in the world in Rafael Nadal (+400) and No. 3 Grigor Dimitrov (+900). Federer beat Nadal in last year’s final in five sets (odds provided by bovada.lv).
Six-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic, who is dealing with pain in his right elbow, is still likely to compete in the 2018 tournament. But will he be 100 per cent?
It doesn’t look that way. Djokovic, who has won this event five of the last seven years, is right-handed. He cited an elbow problem on Dec. 30 when he withdrew from the Qatar Open, a hardcourt tuneup for the Australian Open.
Federer, who has captured this title five times in his 19-year career, is currently ranked No. 2 in the world. The winner of more than $110 million and 93 career tournaments is often mentioned among the greats such as Nadal, Laver, Sampras, Djokovic and Borg. And he’s still competing at the highest levels in tennis.
Federer’s 302 weeks ranked as No. 1 in the world is an open-era record. From 2004 to 2008, Federer went 237 consecutive weeks at the top, a mark that may never be surpassed. Being ranked No. 2 means Federer will avoid Nadal in the draw until the final.
Nadal and Stan Wawrinka both flew to Australia with injury issues affecting their games. Both are likely to enter the tournament despite having had no competitive matches under them. Nadal, who won the Australian Open in 2009, has captured 16 Grand Slam events in his career. The top player in the world is best known for his 10 French Open titles.
Andy Murray and Kei Nishikori will both miss the tournament this year because on injuries. Dimitrov is one of the most talented players in the world, but has been plagued by inconsistency in recent years.
The 26-year-old Bulgarian has lately been surging in the rankings, which included four victories in 2017. Nadal ousted Dimitrov in a five-set semifinal marathon last year, but his confidence could be high after winning the 2017 ATP World Tour Finals.
Federer is the player to beat, no question. But with injuries to many big names, the stage is set for Dimitrov to break through and win his first Grand Slam event.
VFB’s pick — Grigor Dimitrov (+900)
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Serena Williams won her 23rd Grand Slam title last year on this very stage, but she recently withdrew from this year’s event after giving birth for the first time four months ago. The absence of the game’s most decorated champion has left this field wide open.
Simona Halep (+900), currently the top ranked player on the women’s side, didn’t have the best of years in 2017. She won just one tournament, while losing in four other finals and the opening round of the Australian Open last year. However, the 26-year-old comes into this event off a recent victory.
Garbine Muguruza (+600), the reigning Wimbledon champion, has slipped in the rankings to third. The former No. 1 was forced to retire in her second match in Brisbane last week due to leg cramps. She enjoyed a career-best year in 2017, which concluded the WTA Player of the Year honors.
Elina Svitolina (+900), ranked No. 4 in the world, enjoyed a breakout season last year. The 23-year-old Ukrainian posted five victories and surged in the world rankings. She won recently in Brisbane, which will only help with her confidence in this year’s first of the majors.
VGB’s pick — Elina Svitolina (+900)