Every Grand Slam, there’s that player: one who shocks a big-name star to achieve a career-defining personal best. Who will be the disruptors of AO2018? Here are our top-10 standouts.
1. Thanasi Kokkinakis: Clearly a far more credentialed player than his injury-impacted world No.215 ranking suggests, the 21-year-old is throwing everything at his first home Grand Slam showing since 2015. A hard-fought win over Alexander Zverev in arguably the best-quality match of the recent Hopman Cup suggests the popular Aussie is at last poised to deliver on potential.
Match of #HopmanCup 2018?
— Hopman Cup (@hopmancup) January 5, 2018
2. Daniil Medvedev: If not Thanasi then look to his first-round opponent Daniil Medvedev to make a charge. Winning the Sydney final as a qualifier and with upsets of Philipp Kohlschreiber and Fabio Fognini – seeded No.6 and No.4 respectively – the 21-year-old has developed a habit of big-name wins. At Wimbledon 2017, his first-round victim was Stan Wawrinka. Many top players have been taking note.
3. Alex De Minaur: It’s logical that the 18-year-old Aussie will be considered differently after a blitzing start to the year. The Brisbane semifinal and Sydney final included wins over former No.3 Milos Raonic and former No.7 Fernando Verdasco, among a string of high-profile seeds. A question, of course, will be inevitable fatigue from the highest-intensity of his young career but positive momentum can be a powerful force – De Minaur’s first-round opponent Tomas Berdych has a tough task.
— alex de minaur (@alexdeminaur) January 14, 2018
4. Stefanos Tsitsipas: The 19-year-old Greek was the first alternate in the ATP Next Gen Finals last November and after an upset of experienced world No.31 Richard Gasquet to reach the Doha quarterfinals as a qualifier, there’s a sense of bigger things ahead. First-round opponent Denis Shapovalov is also a proven disruptor – he upset Juan Martin del Potro and Rafael Nadal to reach the Montreal semis, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at the US Open. A fascinating battle looms.
5. Andreas Seppi: In 2016 Roger Federer was a third-round victim to the unheralded Italian; in 2017, he dismissed Nick Kyrgios in the second round. Now ranked No.80 and soon to celebrate his 34th birthday, you’d think Seppi was past his best – if not for a win this week at the Canberra Challenger, which signalled alarming intent. Round one opponent Corinten Moutet, a French wildcard, would be right to be scared. And so too Jack Sock, who’d potentially meet him in the third round.
6. Belinda Bencic: It’s strange to consider a former top-10 teen and winner over Serena Williams and Caroline Wozniacki – among others – an outsider but after wrist injury kept her off tour for five months, Bencic slipped dramatically down the rankings. The rebuilding to her current world No.78 began with three lower-level titles at the end of 2017 and she also combined with Roger Federer to win a Hopman Cup title for Switzerland. She’s never won a set against Venus Williams in four matches; few would be surprised if she does so in their AO first round.
— Belinda Bencic (@BelindaBencic) January 6, 2018
7. Aliaksandra Sasnovich: In the absence of two-time champion Victoria Azarena, could fellow Belarusian Aliaksandra Sasnovich make a run at the Australian Open? The 23-year-old showed her credentials as a Brisbane qualifier, when she went on to upset Kristina Mladenovic and Alize Cornet as she progressed all the way to the final. Facing Christina McHale first up, the world No.56 must be feeling confident.
8. Ajla Tomljanovic: Another player who had their career disrupted by injury, former world No.47 appears back to full fitness. At Brisbane, she beat Destanee Aiava and pushed top-10 ranked Jo Konta to three high quality sets. Born in Croatia but now proud to represent Australia, she’ll be well supported in Melbourne and could make the first round difficult for No.29 seed Lucie Safarova.
9. Shelby Rogers: A year after she upset No.4 seed Simona Halep in the Australian Open’s first round, Shelby Rogers must fancy her chances against Mirjana Lucic-Baroni. The Croat, seeded no.28, faces some pressure to match her heartwarming semifinal run of 2017 and with a quarterfinal run at the 2016 French Open on her record – which included wins over Karolina Pliskova and Petra Kvitova – Rogers will be buoyed by some happy memories.
10 Kaia Kanepi: A Grand Slam quarterfinalist before her 22nd birthday, Kai Kanepi’s potential was horribly thwarted by an Achilles injury. Now 32, she even toyed with retirement before she qualified for the 2017 Open and reached a sixth Slam quarterfinal. The Australian Open is the only tournament where the Estonian is yet to progress beyond the third round. With a first-round upset of Dominika Cibulkova, that’s a stat she could change dramatically.
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