5 Outsiders Who Could Win The 2021 Australian Open Men's Singles Title
While Covid has photobombed its way into every moment of the lead-up to this year’s Australian Open, it’s easy forget we've got an actual Slam on our hands, with some prestigious silverware set to be claimed over the next couple of weeks.
As for the Men’s side of affairs, the strangeness of this year’s tournament is only amplified by Roger Federer’s absence, with the tennis legend not taking his place in the draw for the first time in 22 years.
If you are however desperately looking for a little familiarity amid these uncertain times, there’s always Novak Djokovic, who’ll be aiming for his 9th Melbourne crown, and 18th Major overall.
While the Serb looms large over this tournament, both politically and athletically, it’s easy forget that there’s 127 other players in the main draw, all searching for their own moment in the sun.
With that in mind, let’s look beyond all things Novak, and nominate a handful of players capable of dislodging him from his throne.
Stats Insider Hard Court Rank- 4
Sure, Thiem’s the relatively short-priced second-favourite, yet he’s someone other than Novak, which in itself means he’s an outsider in the field.
Right now, this tenacious Austrian is walking a fine line between international sporting stardom, or being filed away as a hard luck story, which is why 2021 looms as such a seminal year for the world #3.
While Thiem finally did break through for a maiden Slam at last year's US Open, there still exists a perception he's left quite a bit of meat on the bone in his career, with 2020 being indicative of a season which he could have achieved even more.
While Theim's win in New York was a staggering effort, particular from a two-set deficit, he failed to advance past the quarter-finals of the French Open for the first time in five years, while he had a golden opportunity to knock off Djokovic in the Australian Open Final, yet ultimately fell in 5-sets.
With Nadal and Federer both in the absolute twilights of their careers, Theim appears to best placed on tour from letting Novak run completely wild.
Key Stat: 11-5- That’s Thiem’s record against top-ten opponents over his last 16 matches, including multiple wins over Djokovic.
welcome home 🏆 pic.twitter.com/5YEqRJZWmV— Dominic Thiem (@ThiemDomi) December 20, 2020
Stats Insider Hard Court Rank-9
In an other era, one perhaps without the legendary presence of the Big 3, it's quite possible Alexander Zverev would have made more of a mark and truly rattled the cage of tennis untouchability. Instead, the German has taken a more 'chilled' approach to his talent, resulting in a difficult evaluation of his career so far.
With that said, if 2020 was indicative of the player Zverev might morph into over the next decade, he might prove us all wrong after all.
Zverev used last year's Australian Open to illustrate a new-found commitment which he employed for the bulk of the season, qualifying for his first-ever Grand Slam Semi, and going a step further at the US Open where he not only made the final, but shot out to a 2-set lead over Thiem.
Still just 23 years old, and with 13 titles already under his belt, now is the time to take the next step in his career.
Key Stat: 43.5%- We justifiably gravitate towards Zverev's 6 foot 6 frame and the role it plays in him dominating on serve, yet so much of his 2020 progress was made possible because of his much-improved defence. Last year he added a ruthless edge, converting 43.5% of his break-point opportunities which was the 7th best mark on tour, and massive leap on the 38.7% number he posted in 2019, and which good for 29th overall.
Stats Insider Hard Court Rank- 11
While most of the world tried to duck and cover in 2020, Andrey Rublev used it as his coming out party. The 23-year old won 80.4% of his matches which was a number bettered only by Djokovic (89.1%) and Federer (83.3%), while he also claimed a tour-high 5 ATP titles, ending the year ranked #8 overall, and with a couple of Grand Slam quarterfinals appearances in his pocket.
The young Russian should be confident of a good showing in Australia thanks to a remarkably improved record against the tour’s finest over the last couple of years. In fact, since the middle of 2019, Rublev is 8-8 against top-ten opposition, knocking off the likes of Thiem and Tsitsipas on multiple occasions, while even beating Federer in straight sets in Cincinnati.
Key Stat: 44.4%- Best not to give Rublev break-point chances, as he’s likely to gobble them up. In 2020, he took advantage of 44.4% of such opportunities which ranked 6th best on tour- and constituted a massive jump on the 36.5% he mustered in 2019, and which was good enough for 43rd overall.
Stats Insider Hard Court Rank- 28
Still just 21-years old, but already a star on tour, this young Canadian has achieved so much, helping his country to its first-ever Davis Cup triumph, while he's already progressed to a handful of Semi-Finals at Masters level.
His form however at the Slams has floundered, with just a solitary quarterfinal appearance from his 13 appearances, while he's yet to progress out of the third-round in Melbourne.
Until Shapovolov can make some noise during two-week tournaments, he'll remain on the fringe of discussion where the tour's truly elite is concerned.
Key Stat: 6-4- That’s the southpaw’s record against top-ten opposition since the the start of the 2019 Paris Masters, and where he ultimately met Djokovic in the final.
Quarantine workouts 😂😂 pic.twitter.com/4JB6oxvwNZ— Denis Shapovalov (@denis_shapo) January 17, 2021
ALEX DE MINAUR
Stats Insider Hard Court Rank- 14
Australia’s little Demon has become very comfortable with being uncomfortable, a trait that should hold him in great stead amid the globe's present circumstances. While De Minaur only played 19 matches on tour last year, he’s quietly built up a formidable resume which already includes 4 titles and a position within the world's top-twenty.
The next step in the 22-year old's progression will be about making a serious Grand Slam statement, the likes of which has so far alluded the young man, who has just a solitary quarterfinal appearance to show from his 13 Slam entries, along with a middling 16-13 record overall.
Key Stat: 34.8%- The Demon isn’t phased by the tour’s most powerful servers, consistently generating opportunities for himself agains the very best. Over his last 20 games, he’s won 34.8%of his points on his opponent’s first serve, which actually ranks 4th on tour behind only the game's premier returners in Nadal (37.9%), Djokovic (36.2%) and Diego Schwartzman (35.1%).
Congrats to Alex De Minaur on another title, this time in Antalya. pic.twitter.com/TM9Ald2L94— Steve (@Ace_Previews) January 13, 2021
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