Despite a few bumps in the road, it looks as though we are at the dawn of another age of dominance from the Serbian. Perhaps it was fatigue that finally got him at the ATP Finals last year, and he might have been a surprise loser to Roberto Bautista Agut in Doha, but he is in final-reaching form nonetheless.
Although on ranking Martin Klizan is set to face him (and indeed has a winning head to head over the Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga who is also returning from injury this year), it could well be Tsonga in the second round, over whom he has an even more commanding head to head (17-6).
Alexander Zverev managed to edge him in London at the end of the year but coming into the tournament carrying an injury is not an ideal start for the youngster. Djokovic surely emerges as the favourite to take the crown and crave out an historic seventh title.
In light of the sad news of Andy Murray’s decision to retire from tennis this year, he beats to the punch the most bullish of the Big Four whose injury problems have continued into his preparation for the first Slam of the year.
Nadal pulled out of an exhibition at Abu Dhabi, and was unable to even get going on the tour proper, pulling out of the season opener in Brisbane.
Nadal’s Path to the Final (Ranking/Seeding)
R1: James Duckworth [WC] | First Meeting
R2: Matt Ebden | Nadal leads H2H: 1-0
R3: Alex De Minaur  | Nadal leads H2H 1-0
R4: Kyle Edmund  | Nadal leads H2H: 1-0
QF: Kevin Anderson  | Nadal leads H2H: 5-0
SF: Roger Federer  | Nadal leads H2H: 23-15
F: Novak Djokovic  | Djokovic leads H2H: 27-25
It is a nice easy start for the Spaniard, and a fit and healthy Nadal would be on a remarkable run to the final. Last year he played in just three hard court tournaments, retiring in the semi-finals of the Australian Open, winning the Toronto Masters and retiring in the US Open semi-final, and not even taking to the court for the others withdrawing from nine tournaments altogether in 2018 and starting the year with a withdrawal from Brisbane.
On paper he should be a show in for a final showdown, and a lot of fans would relish the chance of another showdown with Roger Federer. It might be a great story for the Aussies though if Alex de Minaur can effect a quick turnaround from claiming his first title in Sydney to topple the former champion in the third round.
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Also looking for an historic seventh title, Federer joins Djokovic in coming in as the most in-form challenger for the title.
Federer’s Path to the Final (Ranking/Seeding)
R1: Denis Istomin | Federer leads H2H 6-0
R2: Tatsuma Ito | First Meeting
R3: Gael Monfils  | Federer leads H2H 9-4
R4: Stefanos Tsitsipas  | First Meeting
QF: Marin Cilic  | Federer leads H2H 9-1
SF: Rafael Nadal  | Nadal leads H2H: 23-15
F: Novak Djokovic  | Djokovic leads H2H: 25-22
Denis Istomin is a tricky starter – despite having a commanding head to head over him, few will forget him bouncing Djokovic out of the Australian Open in 2017… and that was off the back of a 5-0 head to head over him. Federer does have the form though, coming into the tournament and is certainly a better bet than Nadal to come out of this half.
With Ivan Lendl in his corner and what looked like a solid start during Hopman Cup, Zverev picked up a hamstring niggle that might temper his progress a little at a time when we want to look to the chasing pack to start to establish themselves as the old guard start to look towards grassy pastures.
Zverev’s Path to the Final (Ranking/Seeding)
R1: Aljaz Bedene | Zverev leads H2H 2-0
R2: Jeremy Chardy | Zverev leads H2H 2-1
R3: Gilles Simon  | Zverev leads H2H 4-0
R4: Milos Raonic  | H2H tied at 1-1
QF: Dominic Thiem  | Thiem leads H2H 5-2
SF: Novak Djokovic  | H2H tied at 2-2
F: Rafael Nadal  | Nadal leads H2H 5-0
A fair few ‘ifs’ for Zverev. If he can recover from his hamstring pull, he ought to be pretty solid for round four but getting into the second week has got to be the aim, and his fellow chaser Dominic Thiem. Zverev has a win over him on outdoor hard court but that is a scant bonus to hang on to. Thiem has made it to a Slam final already, and if we are treated to a semi-final clash with Djokovic, it could be a rare treat and a stern test for both players to et the edge on their head to head.
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