Given their past successes at the Australian Open, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams are definitely among the favorites at this year’s tournament. However, there are other players that could make a title-winning run, which might come as a shock to observers of the game.
Here’s a look at some of the dark horses who could be in line for great things in Melbourne. (Seeds in parentheses; all photos, Getty Images)
Alex de Minaur (No. 21)
In the 2000s, only one Australian man, Lleyton Hewitt, has reached the final of his home Slam. Will the former world No. 1’s protégé be the next one to do so? De Minaur, one of the brightest young talents in the men’s game, got the year off to a perfect start with his fourth career title, but he took a couple of hits playing in the No. 1 spot for Australia at the ATP Cup. He has a dangerous match first up in Melbourne against two-time quarterfinalist Tennys Sandgren, but could push through that—and possibly contend for the title.
Elise Mertens (No. 18)
Over the past several seasons, Mertens has shown that she knows how to start a new year off right, reaching multiple finals before the Australian Open, with another happening already in 2021. And she’s carried that success with her to Melbourne, too: In 2018, after winning in Hobart, she reached her first career Grand Slam singles semifinal. At this year’s tournament, the Belgian is in as open a section of the draw as any, and could be poised for a deep run.
Grigor Dimitrov (No. 18)
Given his ability, Bulgaria’s best-ever male player is a threat to win any tournament, even though his last triumph came back in 2017 at the ATP Finals. That year, he also had one of his brushes with Grand Slam glory, when he advanced to the semifinals in Melbourne. At this year’s tournament, he’s going to have to be focused right off the bat as he faces 2018 Australian Open runner-up Marin Cilic in the first round. A number of other contenders would follow if he gets past that, but Dimitrov has the game to match up with anyone.
Dan Evans (No. 30)
Making tennis his primary focus has paid off the past few years for the Englishman, and his all-court game translates well on any surface. Back in 2017, he reached the second week in Melbourne, the only time he’s gotten that far at a major, but he has the ability to make more deep runs at the Grand Slams. His potential third-round opponent, Rafael Nadal, might say otherwise on it happening this year, but should the Spaniard continue to be hampered by his back issues, Evans has the game—and fight—to take advantage.
Angelique Kerber (No. 22)
The last time the German was seeded lower than her current positioning was back in 2012, when she was No 30. In the years since, she’s obviously shown that she knows what it takes to succeed in Melbourne: winning in 2016, advancing to the semifinals in ’18 and reaching the second week seven of the past eight years. Kerber’s in a dangerous section of the draw with major champions Garbine Muguruza and Naomi Osaka, but her own Grand Slam-winning pedigree should serve her well if she were to face them.
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