Australian Open 2018, men's contenders: Roger Federer favourite to win title as Novak Djokovic returns from injury

With a host of players returning from injury breaks, Roger Federer remains favourite to defend the title he won a year ago against rival Rafael Nadal. Nadal and six-time champion Novak Djokovic will be looking to mount a serious challenge for the title as will the next generation of stars led by Grigor Dimitrov, Dominic Thiem and the mercurial Nick Kyrgios.

Here we look at the contenders for the men's singles title.

Rafael Nadal

Seed: 1

Last five appearances at Australian Open: 2017-F, 2016-R1, 2015-QF, 2014-F, 2013-DNP.

Nadal returned from lengthy injury lay-offs last year to reach the Australian Open final and renewed his vintage rivalry with Federer, who won in the title in a five-set thriller. The Spaniard went on to win his 10th French Open title — becoming the third man to win majors in teens, 20s and 30s — and he followed it up with his third US Open title. He finished 2017 atop the rankings, becoming the oldest year-end No 1 in the history of ATP rankings. His preparation has been hampered by a right knee injury that has restricted him to two exhibition events at the start of the season. Apart from his shock first-round loss to Fernando Verdasco in 2016, Nadal has made it to the quarter-finals at every Australian Open he has contested since 2007.

Roger Federer

(FILES) This file photo taken on January 29, 2017 shows Switzerland's Roger Federer serving against Spain's Rafael Nadal during the men's singles final on day 14 of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne. The prospects of an unprecedented 20th Grand Slam victory have strengthened for ageless wonder Roger Federer as his main rivals flounder ahead of the Australian Open, which starts on January 15, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Greg Wood / IMAGE RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - STRICTLY NO COMMERCIAL USE

Roger Federer enjoyed a resurgent 2017 as he won the Australian Open and his 8th Wimbledon title. AFP

Seed: 2

Last five appearances at Australian Open: 2017-Champion, 2016-SF, 2015-R3, 2014-SF, 2013-SF

Taking the last half of the 2016 season off to let his surgically repaired left knee heal did the trick for Federer last year. He kicked off the 2017 by winning his fifth Australian title and his 18th Grand Slam title. In the process, he ended a long sequence of defeats in Grand Slam finals against Nadal. After skipping the French Open, Federer won the Wimbledon Championships for a record eighth time and become the second-oldest major winner in the Open era behind Ken Rosewall. With the exception of a third-round exit in 2015, has reached the semi-finals at Melbourne Park every year since 2004. The 36-year-old warmed up by combining with Belinda Bencic to win the Hopman Cup international mixed teams tournament for Switzerland.

Grigor Dimitrov

Seed: 3

Last five appearances at Australian Open: 2017-SF, 2016-R3, 2015-R4, 2014-QF, 2013-R1

The 26-year-old Bulgarian heads to Melbourne third in the rankings behind Nadal and Federer. Nicknamed "Baby Fed" early in his career for his Federer-style game, Dimitrov has struggled to live up to the comparison and was as low as 40 in the world in mid-2016. But he bounced back to enjoy the best season of his career in 2017, winning four titles, including his first Masters crown in Cincinnati and the season-ending ATP Finals. Dimitrov has the task of defending his rankings points this year and backing up a top-five season. He has never been beyond the semi-finals of a Grand Slam, reaching the last four at Wimbledon in 2014 and repeating the feat in Australia last year.

Alexander Zverev

Germany's Alexander Zverev serves during a practice session ahead of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 12, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / PAUL CROCK / IMAGE RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - STRICTLY NO COMMERCIAL USE

Alexander Zverev will be leading the charge for tennis' next generation of stars at Melbourne Park. AFP

Seed: 4

Last five appearances at Australian Open: 2017-R3, 2016-R1, 2015-DNP, 2014-DNP, 2013-DNP

Zverev is a giant young German, who is seen as a trailblazer of tennis's widely touted 'Next Gen'. The 20-year-old heads into the year's first Grand Slam ranked fourth and is coming off five titles last year. Zverev is one of just four men to have beaten Federer in 2017 when he defeated the Swiss great in the Montreal final. But Zverev has never made it past the fourth round of a Grand Slam and he's reached that stage only once, at Wimbledon in 2017. Zverev gets enormous power off his 6'6 frame and pundits say as he bulks up and gains more experience in five-set matches, success at all tournaments, including Grand Slams, should follow.

Dominic Thiem

Seed: 5

Last five appearances at Australian Open: 2017-R4, 2016-R3, 2015-R1, 2014-R2, 2013-DNP

The 23-year-old Austrian finished the 2017 season with a title on clay in Rio de Janeiro and a year-end fifth ranking. Thiem claimed his first win over Djokovic at the French Open quarter-finals on the way to reaching the semi-finals at Roland Garros for the second straight year. His boyhood idols were countrymen Stefan Koubek and Jurgen Melzer, while his favourite shot is the forehand and he prefers to play on clay. Thiem finished 2017 by making his second appearance at the ATP Finals in London but bowed out in the group stage. The World No 5 pulled out of the warm-up Qatar Open with flu ahead of his semi-final against Gael Monfils.

Novak Djokovic

Serbia's Novak Djokovic hits a return during a practice session ahead of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 13, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / PAUL CROCK / -- IMAGE RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - STRICTLY NO COMMERCIAL USE --

Novak Djokovic will be looking to mark his return from a six-month injury layoff with his record 7th Australian Open title. AFP

Seed: 14

Last five appearances at Australian Open: 2017-R2, 2016-Champion, 2015-Champion, 2014-QF, 2013-Champion.

Djokovic shares the record for most Australian titles, six, with Roy Emerson but was a doubtful starter after an extended break from the tour dating back to the quarter-final exit at Wimbledon because of a right elbow injury. His year-end ranking slid from No 2 in 2016 to No 12 last year after his lay-off. The Serb beat Thiem 6-1, 6-4 in an exhibition at Kooyong on his return from injury and has changed his service action to release some pressure off his elbow. Djokovic excels on the hard courts at the Australian Open where he is aiming to be the first man to win seven singles crowns and break the tie with Emerson, who won his home title in 1961 and from 1963-67. Prior to a shock second-round loss in five sets last year to wildcard entry Denis Istomin, Djokovic held a 40-1 record and had won five titles in the six years at Melbourne Park.

Nick Kyrgios

Seed: 17

Last five appearances at Australian Open: 2017-R2, 2016-R3, 2015-QF, 2014-R2, 2013-DNP

A volatile Australian whose potential has often been betrayed by his temperament, Kyrgios brought last season to an early end when he surrendered to a long-standing hip injury. He has started 2018 in top form by winning the Brisbane International on Sunday seeing off Dimitrov along the way. Kyrgios is aiming for a fresh assault on his home Grand Slam, where he threw away a two-set lead to lose to Andreas Seppi in the second round last year. The 22-year-old crowd-puller, ranked 17, has the exceptional talent to beat the best but so often undermines his brilliance with petulance directed at the umpire or fans. Kyrgios has two career wins over Nadal and remains a strong contender if his hip and attention span hold up.

With inputs from agencies.

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Updated Date: Jan 13, 2018 21:28:16 IST

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