Nick Kyrgios celebrates after his Brisbane International victory. Picture: Getty Images
Nick Kyrgios celebrates after his Brisbane International victory. Picture: Getty Images

Meet the men who can take down Fed

THE top of the men's tennis rankings could easily be mistaken for a hospital ward.

Just days out from the Australian Open, Andy Murray has already pulled out, while superstars Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal remain under injury clouds.

Kei Nishikori has also confirmed he won't take part in this year's event, Stan Wawrinka is in a race against time to be fit and big serving Canadian Milos Raonic has barely played for months.

However, while all this carnage is unfolding, Roger Federer is licking his lips at the prospect of taking home a sixth Australian Open trophy.

But before we hand Federer the title, there are still a number of quality contenders waiting to give him their best shot.

Get the lowdown on the men who can stop the Fed Express.

NICK KYRGIOS

Is this the year Nick Kyrgios takes the next step and really contends for a Grand Slam?

All the signs are there that the Aussie excitement machine has what it takes to go deep at Melbourne Park.

His Brisbane International form was outstanding, knocking off world No. 3 Grigor Dimitrov on his way to the title.

Even more impressive was Kyrgios' attitude throughout the tournament. Despite being down in a number of matches, he kept his cool and was able to fight out wins before blitzing Ryan Harrison in the final.

Nick Kyrgios is a legitimate contender heading into the Australian Open. Picture: Getty Images
Nick Kyrgios is a legitimate contender heading into the Australian Open. Picture: Getty Images

Kyrgios has played Federer twice over the last two years, with all six sets between the pair tie-breakers. They are tied 1-1 in the head-to-head ledger.

First Round opponent: Rogerio Dutra Silva

GRIGOR DIMITROV

Outside his loss to Kyrgios, Grigor Dimitrov has had an ultra-impressive preparation ahead of the Open.

The Bulgarian picked up the biggest win of his career at the end of 2017, taking out the World Tour Finals. The run to the trophy included five wins over top 10 rivals.

Dimitrov also has the runs on the board at Melbourne Park. He made the semi-finals last year, losing a five-set classic to Rafael Nadal. His ranking has climbed from 17 to three in the last 12 months and he looks primed to take an even bigger step in 2018.

First Round opponent: Qualifier

ALEXANDER ZVEREV

Another member of generation next, Alexander Zverev's tour level form has been the equal of any of his ATP rivals.

He won four titles last year, including two Masters 1000 events.

Throughout the season he picked up wins against Roger Federer, Marin Cilic, Milos Raonic, Novak Djokovic, Kei Nishikiro and Roger Federer.

However, in four slam appearances last year, Zverev failed to go past the fourth round.

Is this the year he takes the next step and wins through to a semi-final or final?

Zverev certainly has all the tools to be there when the whips are cracking.

First Round opponent: Thomas Fabbiano

Alexander Zverev is one of the Australian Open favourites. Picture: AAP Images
Alexander Zverev is one of the Australian Open favourites. Picture: AAP Images

JUAN MARTIN DEL POTRO

He's already a Grand Slam champion but Juan Martin Del Potro is about as far under the radar as anyone heading into the Australian Open.

Currently ranked 12 in the world, Del Potro was one of the form players on the ATP Tour late last year, making the US Open and Shanghai Masters semi-finals and winning the Stockholm Open.

Del Potro's pre-Australian Open preparation took him to the less hyped Auckland Open, where he again remained under the radar.

The big hitting Argentine has been there and done that on the biggest stages in the game and has more than enough in the tank to be a contender when the heat is at its hottest this year.

First Round opponent: Frances Tiafoe

DAVID GOFFIN

Underestimate David Goffin at your own peril.

The Belgian has been proving the doubters wrong for years. His most recent effort came at the end of the 2017 season, when he defeated the likes of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer on his way to the finals of the World Tour Finals.

Two weeks later he did everything he could to lift his home country to the Davis Cup title, winning both his matches in the final without dropping a set. Unfortunately, Belgium fell 3-2 to France.

Goffin is already a two-time Grand Slam quarter-finalist and it would take a brave punter to say he can't make the last eight or four here.

Currently ranked a career high seven in the world, Goffin's Hopman Cup form was ultra-impressive. He is the ideal dark horse.

First Round opponent: Qualifier

David Goffin in action during the Kooyong Classic. Picture: AAP Images
David Goffin in action during the Kooyong Classic. Picture: AAP Images

DOMINIC THIEM

Few players were more impressive in 2017 than Dominic Thiem.

The Austrian smashed Novak Djokovic at the French Open before losing to Rafael Nadal in the final.

Nadal was the only man who could stop Thiem on the clay, topping him in another two finals.

Thiem made the fourth round of the Australian Open last year.

First Round opponent: Guido Pella

THE OTHERS

American Jack Sock has won plenty of fans with his laid-back style. But there is plenty more to his game. After finishing last season with a bang, Sock is currently ranked eighth in the world. He won the Paris Masters 1000 event late last year, by far the biggest victory of his career.

Canadian Denis Shapovalov might need another year on the tour before he is quite ready to contend, but he is close.

The 18-year-old is climbing the rankings at a rate of knots and was contending at last year's US Open.

Familiar names Jo-Wilfred Tsonga, Tomas Berdych, John Isner, Kevin Anderson and Gael Monfils will also be in the mix.



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