The Australian Open has a history of producing unpredictable results with healthy helping of long-shot champions, finalists and semifinalists. A primary reason for this is because the event is played in the third week of the tennis season and a players off-season training – or lack thereof – showcases itself.
Injuries and comebacks are the major theme heading into the 2018 Australian Open. On the men’s side, five-time finalist Andy Murray is out of the event after undergoing hip surgery. Former top 10 star Kei Nishikori of Japan is also not competing due to injury. Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka are expected to post in their returns to tournament tennis. Djokovic has not played since last summer with a right elbow injury. Wawrinka has also not played since the summer after undergoing knee surgery.
World No. 1 Rafael Nadal had a much shorter injury layoff, not playing an official tournament since having to withdraw from the ATP World Tour Finals at the end of the 2017 season with a hampered knee.
The Australian Open has a long history of long-shots advancing deep into the tournament and also claiming the men’s and women’s singles titles. On the men’s side, some most recent surprise performances have been champions Petr Korda (1999), Thomas Johannsson (2002) and also Marcos Baghdatis, Fernando Gonzalez and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who made their only major singles final appearances in 2006, 2007 and 2008 respectively. Since then, winners and runners-up have been among the elite of the elite – Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray – with the lone exception being Stan Wawrinka, who was ranked No. 9 when he won his first major title in Melbourne in 2014.
In 2017, Grigor Dimitrov had another breakthrough major tournament by reaching the semifinals, where he lost in an epic five-set thriller to Nadal. After his victory at the year-end ATP World Tour Finals in London to end 2017, Dimitrov is the top choice to win the title in Melbourne this year other than No. 1 Nadal and No. 2 seed and defending champion Roger Federer. Austria’s Dominic Thiem, ranked No. 5, and Germany’s Alexander Zverev, ranked No. 4, are also poised for greatness and could begin this next generation of champions with an Australian Open win. Australia’s immensely talented Nick Kyrgios, ranked No. 17, could put his temperament aside and rise the tide of local support to fulfill his massive potential. His title in Brisbane leading into the event have buoyed his tennis betting odds.
On the women’s side, the Australian Open has also crowned unheralded champions such as Kerry Reid in 1977, Chris O’Neil in 1978 and Barbara Jordan in 1979. Angelique Kerber was the Australian Open surprise in 2016, winning her first major title with a final-round upset of world No. 1 Serena Williams. Kerber and 2008 champion Maria Sharapova are the only two former Australian Open winners in the 2018 women’s singles field. Defending champion Serena Williams has pulled out of the event, not feeling her post-pregnancy comeback has progressed fast enough for her liking. Vika Azarenka, the 2012 and 2013 Australian Open champion, also pulled out of the event since she is not able to travel overseas in a custody battle of her son.
The top two women’s seeds, Simona Halep and Caroline Wozniacki respectively, have never won a major singles title, which may place No. 3 seed Garbine Muguruza, the 2016 French Open and 2017 Wimbledon champion, as the favorite. Elina Svitolina, the No. 4 seed, has also never won a major singles title but appears as though she is a future candidate for that role and Australia would be an appropriate stage for this kind of breakthrough.
Johanna Konta of Britain, born in Australia and ranked No. 9, may be a surprise pick to win the title. She was a surprise semifinalist Down Under in 2016 and also at Wimbledon in 2017 so she could make a move to a later round.