By Roger Childs 

The on-again – off-again Djokovic saga kept the journalists and cartoonists busy for a couple of weeks, but deflected attention away from the tennis. The focus is now on the competition in Melbourne as the Serbian star is now back in Belgrade and the Open is into the third round. 

Who then are the favourites for the singles titles?

Men’s Singles – the original top seed gone but plenty of other talent

Novak Djokovic currently has the world number one ranking, but he lost in the last two big tournaments of 2021 – the US Open and the ATP Finals in Torino. All the other top ten seeds are in Melbourne battling for the first grand slam title of the year.

Nadal

The favourites are now the two men who beat Djokovic in those two late 2021 finals – Danill Medvedev who won in New York and Alexander Zverev who prevailed in Italy. However the number three seed, Stephanos Tsitsipas, could be a threat and of course 20 times grand slam winner the powerful and determined Rafael Nadal. 

In the absence of the two others players with 20 titles in the majors – Roger Federer and Djokovic – the Spaniard has a golden opportunity to be the first to 21. However, he doesn’t have the air of invincibility he use to have. “The King of Clay” was beaten in the 2021 French Open quarter finals on the red dirt surface at Roland Garros by Djokovic, who went on to beat Tsitsipas in a five set thriller in the final. Nevertheless Nadal is a players who never gives up and will be well aware of his chance to take the lead in grand slam victories.

Women’s Singles – plenty of potential winners

The home country favourite is also the number one seed, Ashleigh Barty. She won the Wimbledon title in 2021 and was in very good form in the second half of the year. Second seed Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka will also be a strong contender. Japan’s Naomi Osaka and Romanian Simona Halep had their ups and downs in 2021 but are now in good touch for the Australian Open. They have won four and two grand slams respectively. 

Another who is not in the top ten seeds and cannot be ruled out is Emma Raducanu the sensational winner of the US Open in 2021.  The teenager won that tournament after gaining entry as a qualifier and then did not lose a set. 

One thing is guaranteed over the next ten days and that is plenty of excellent tennis and entertainment in front of enthusiastic crowds. The quality of the singles and doubles fields is not in doubt and for every player winning the first grand slam of 2022 is a very desirable outcome.