All conversations about the Australian Open on the men's side start (and probably end) with eight-time champion Novak Djokovic, who has won the title the last two seasons. The No. 1-ranked Serbian won both of his singles matches at the ATP Cup to continue his unbeaten singles record at that event, so he enters the Aussie Open in fine form.
Djokovic is the clear favorite at the year's first major once again, but he could face No. 17 seed Stan Wawrinka in Round 4, who he hasn't defeated since 2015. The two have played in some classic Australian Open matches over the years, all three of which have gone to five sets.
Defending runner-up Dominic Thiem also lurks in Djokovic's half as the main threat. The two could be destined for a semifinal rematch of their five-set final from 2020 in which the Austrian had a two-set-to-one advantage. Thiem is coming off his first Grand Slam title at the US Open last fall, so his confidence level should be as high as ever.
Another challenger in his half of the draw is No. 6 seed Alexander Zverev, who Djokovic defeated in a tough three-setter at the ATP Cup and could meet in the quarterfinals. The Serbian leads the German in their head-to-head 5-2 and won their only major meeting in straight sets.
In the bottom half of the draw, No. 2 seed Rafael Nadal will have plenty of motivation as he seeks to break through for his 21st major title, which would send him past Roger Federer for the most Grand Slam titles in men's history. The 34-year-old Spaniard has alternated quarterfinal and final showings in his last four Australian Open appearances, and by that logic he would be due to reach another final.
However, Nadal is battling a stiff lower back that has kept him out of the ATP Cup – not exactly an ideal way to enter the year's first major. He'll have a plethora of challengers in the bottom half, including potential quarterfinal foes No. 9 seed Matteo Berrettini (1-0 record against) and No. 6 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas (6-1 record). In the semis, he could face No. 4 seed Daniil Medvedev (3-1 record), No. 7 seed Andrey Rublev (2-0 record) or No. 12 seed Roberto Bautista Agut (3-0 record).
Given his 15-2 combined record against those five players, Nadal is the clear favorite in the bottom half if healthy.
Notable Round 1 matchups
This intriguing meeting between up-and-coming stars will mark their first-ever meeting. It's a tough draw for Shapovalov as Sinner, ranked No. 36, was nearly seeded at this event. Shapovalov, 21, is a couple years older than the 19-year-old Italian and more experienced at the major level, so he should have a slight advantage in this matchup. It has the making of a seesaw five-setter that will be the beginning of a long rivalry between these two.
Nishikori isn't who Carreno Busta would have hoped to draw in the first round, considering the two played at the 2019 Australian Open fourth round – a match that Nishikori won in a fifth-set tiebreaker. But Nishikori has dealt with numerous injuries since then – and it's Carreno Busta who is coming off a semifinal showing at the 2020 US Open. Carreno Busta should be able to exact revenge for their 2019 meeting in this affair.
The top-ranked Australian is likely going to have his hands full to advance past the first round as Sandgren typically plays his best tennis at the Australian Open – with two quarterfinal appearances in the last three seasons. De Minaur, meanwhile, has yet to get past the third round at his home major. De Minaur is the favorite based on ranking, but this match could easily be an upset.
Berrettini played well at the ATP Cup, taking out the likes of Dominic Thiem and Gael Monfils, so this should be a relatively straightforward affair. But the 34-year-old Anderson, ranked down at No. 82, is dangerous considering he still has a huge serve and two Grand Slam final showings on his resume. On top of that, Berrettini has never advanced out of the second round at the Australian Open. Berrettini could go home early if he doesn't bring his A-game.
Quarterfinals: Djokovic d. Zverev, Thiem d. Schwartzman, Bautista Agut d. Rublev, Nadal d. Tsitsipas
Semifinals: Thiem d. Djokovic, Nadal d. Bautista Agut
Final: Thiem d. Nadal