What’s at stake at Australian Open 2022?

 - Alex Sharp

The page has turned over to a new season and its already time for the ‘Happy Slam.’ Shots at history and major breakouts are on the menu in Melbourne.

Daniil Medvedev / Entraînement Open d'Australie 2022©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

The 110th edition of the Australian Open is just days away and there is plenty on the line at Melbourne Park. 

Time to take a look at what else is at stake over the next fortnight on the men’s roster. 

No.21 is the magic number 

Since Roger Federer’s captivating comeback Australian Open triumph in 2018, Djokovic and Rafael Nadal have won 12 of the last 14 majors.

The ‘Big Three’ rivals are locked level on 20 Grand Slams each. Unfortunately, Federer remains sidelined, so it’s Nadal who can gun for a priceless No.21 and sole ownership of the most men’s majors of all-time.

The 35-year-old returned from five months out with a left foot injury to storm to the Melbourne Summer Set 1 trophy last week.

World No.66 Marcos Giron is the first round opponent and further down the track Hubert Hurkacz or Aslan Karatsev could await at the beginning of the second week, prior to top seed clashes.

Has Nadal had sufficient on-court time to fine-tune his devastating artillery? It’s an almighty ask, but we’ve learned over the years to never count out Nadal.

Medvedev back-to-back?

Given the gravitas of the occasion, Daniil Medvedev was ice cool in picking up his maiden major at the US Open.

The unorthodox Russian will be bidding to become the first man in the Open Era to win a second Grand Slam at his next major appearance. Five women have done so (most recently Naomi Osaka in 2019 in Melbourne).

Medvedev, who was instrumental in RTF lifting the Davis Cup to curtail his 2021 campaign, was a finalist last February Down Under and must fancy his chances of another silverware showdown.

Should the world No.2 succeed, Medvedev will become the sixth man to complete the US Open then immediate Australian Open double.

The 25-year-old doesn’t alter his path for anyone, doesn’t wilt under pressure and certainly isn’t fazed up against history- chasing rivals. Watch out for more Medvedev mischief.

Lopez in a league of his own

Feliciano Lopez continues to dazzle with his immense longevity.

The 40-year-old is still canvassing the court with ease to defy his age and the young guns firing up the rankings.

Lopez, taking on home hope John Millman in the first round, is set to compete in his 20th Australian Open main draw, which is joint level with green and gold great Lleyton Hewitt and just one behind record holder Federer.

More remarkably, Lopez is appearing in his 79th consecutive Grand Slam, extending his all-time record for the longest streak in singles play at the majors. The Spaniard’s run stretches from Roland-Garros 2002 to this month’s action. Andreas Seppi is the only active player within range on 66.

Feliciano Lopez©Cédric Lecocq / FFT

Stefanos to strike?

2021 was a significant shift for Greek talisman Stefanos Tsitsipas.

The world No.4 sparkled at the Australian Open, rallying from a 0-2 sets deficit to defeat Nadal for a semi-final spot.

The brushstroke single-handed backhand was on song to rocket Tsitsipas into a maiden major final at Roland-Garros, before a heart wrenching loss to Djokovic from a 2-0 sets advantage.

He’s close, so very close.

Should the fourth seed rule Rod Laver Arena, the 23-year-old will become the youngest men’s champion at Melbourne Park since Nadal won the title in 2009 at 22-years-old.

Olympic and ATP Finals champion Alexander Zverev, who lost the 2020 US Open final, and 2021 Wimbledon finalist Matteo Berrettini have had a sniff at major glory. They’ll be eager to banish the demons of those runners-up spots.  

Murray edging to a half century

Five-time Australian Open finalist Andy Murray continues to build momentum back towards the top.

The former world No.1 has impressed this week at the Sydney Tennis Classic. If the Scot can transfer that form to Melbourne, Murray could reach a milestone 50 match wins at the Australian Open.

The three-time major winner prevailed in a three-hour midnight marathon over Nikoloz Basilashvili in Sydney and that’s his first round duel.

Murray might leave Andre Agassi and Ivan Lendl behind, who are also on 48 Australian Open wins, to stake claim to fifth on the all-time list.

First time feeling

In the Open Era 11 men have chalked up their first major triumph on the grounds of the Australian Open. Stan Wawrinka was the last player to do so back in 2014.

Outside the usual suspects Candian duo Felix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov reached their first Grand Slam semi-final last season. They just lifted the ATP Cup together, could that catapult them to greater heights?

Hubert Hurkacz enjoyed a semi-final showing at Wimbledon in 2021, Jannik Sinner keeps popping up in the latter stages of marquee events.

Maybe it’s time for a fresh face to grace the trophy presentations.