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Friday, May 20, 2022
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Opportunity Knocking


The week leading into the Australian Open was certainly more dramatic than in years past thanks to the saga of Novak Djokovic and the back-and-forth rulings regarding whether he would be eligible to compete. In the end, just a day before the start of the tournament, it was determined that Djokovic would be deported and denied the chance to defend his title. Whether in the camp that supported that decision or opposed it, all would agree that as the top seed and arguably the most dominant player when competing Down Under, the departure of the Serb left a seismic hole in the draw. As the saying goes, however, one man’s loss is another man’s gain, which begs the question, who will seize the opportunity before him and benefit most from Djokovic’s absence?

Newly-minted US Open Champion Daniil Medvedev is not a bad bet to take advantage of the situation. Seeded second and in the opposite half, the Russian’s outlook on the draw is not immediately impacted by Djokovic’s departure, but nonetheless, psychologically, he has to feel his odds of leaving Melbourne with a trophy have improved. It is true, Medvedev has had his share of success against the Serb, including getting the better of him to secure the US Open title last summer. That said, Melbourne has been the happiest of hunting grounds for Djokovic, and he has dashed the Russian’s hopes at this venue on two prior occasions, including steamrolling in the final last year. Medvedev might have relished the challenge of exacting revenge for that defeat, but he is hardly going to complain when one of if not the biggest hurdle to his winning the title was removed before the event even got underway.

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Another notable and possible beneficiary of Djokovic being absent is Alexander Zverev. The German, who along with Medvedev and Djokovic make up what some are coining the “New Big 3”In tennis, has been on the cusp of greatness at the slams, and he would dearly love to get the monkey off his back with a title run in Melbourne. He went deep last summer in New York before losing a nail-biter of a semifinal against Djokovic. The draw was poised for a showdown at that same stage here, but Zverev now heads into each match knowing that one of his most dangerous rivals will not be waiting at that pivotal juncture. That might just be the little break he needs to build on his victory at the ATP Finals and go all the way at a major for the first time in his career.

Flying somewhat under the radar but no less a clear beneficiary of Djokovic not in attendance is the man who has been his fiercest rival for over a decade, Rafael Nadal. No matter what his end result, Nadal knows that at worst, he will leave the Australian metropolis still tied with the Serb for most major singles titles. At best, he might just move ahead of him and fellow rival, Roger Federer. The Australian Open remains the only slam that Nadal has just bagged once, and that is thanks in part to Djokovic, who has gotten the better of him in the final on more than one occasion. The Spaniard is well aware that there are other legitimate threats to his title hopes, but knowing that the tournament’s greatest champion is not among them definitely helps his chances.

Naturally, these are not the only three who could benefit from Djokovic not defending his title. The winner of Matteo Berrettini and Carlos Alcaraz could capitalize. Stefanos Tsitsipas, who came within a set of upending Djokovic in the final of Roland Garros last spring, might also realize his dream of becoming a major champion. Still, some other player may emerge and surprise. With the World Number 1 out, it is a field that feels more wide open than ever. Opportunity is knocking. It is up to these men to step up and answer that call.





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