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Defending men's singles champion Serbia's Novak Djokovic holds the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup during the official draw ceremony on Margaret Court Arena ahead of the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)
Defending men's singles champion Serbia's Novak Djokovic holds the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup during the official draw ceremony on Margaret Court Arena ahead of the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)|Associated Press
Tennis

Australian Open: Neal Abrams says the men's champ will come from the Top 7 -- Djokovic, Nadal, Federer, Medvedev, Thiem, Tsitsipas, Zverev

The 14-day tournament starts Monday.

Neal Abrams

Neal Abrams

For the second year in a row, 2019 Grand Slam Titleholders came in only two sizes, as Novak Djokovic (who has now won two Wimbledon titles consecutively, took his 7th Australian Open with his 2019 win), and Rafa Nadal (who captured his record 12th French title -- and third consecutive -- to go with his fourth U.S. Open win.

So, here we stand, anxious to see if either Nadal, 2019’s #1 player, or Djokovic, 2018’s #1 charge, have the ability to withstand the field and rise to the top of the game again in 2020, or will World’s #3, Roger Federer, be able to rise like a phoenix and make his ascent to the top of the ATP Tour once again. Although Federer did not raise a Grand Slam trophy in 2019, he sure made a contest of it as he took Djokovic to an historic fifth set tiebreaker for the first time ever at London’s Wimbledon Championships, before the Serbian finally closed out their match-for-the-ages.

Who gets through among those three top players will go a long way in determining who we call “#1” for 2020, as Federer has slipped slightly behind both the Serbian and the Spaniard. But 6’6” 23-year-old-Russian Daniil Medvedev has clearly replaced Austrian Dominic Thiem as the Fourth-ranked ATP Tour player, as the Russian’s play in the U.S. Open, where he advanced all the way to the Finals before succumbing to Rafa, placed him squarely as the Fourth best player on the Tour.

Last year’s Fourth Ranked player, Thiem, dropped a spot this year to #5, as Medvedev’s meteoric rise to #4 was due primarily to his red-hot summer season and that Open run that catapulted him from a villain to a hero.

Assuming that the tournament even gets played, due to the horrendous fires that have been raging countryside for weeks, two other players should and will have some impact: Greece's Stefanos Tsisipas (currently ranked #6) and German Alexander Zverev (notched now at #7). Both have been playing fine tennis, and have mixed in great serves, wonderful returns-of-serve, strong groundstrokes, dominant volleying, and excellent strategy, and they will continue their quest to become Australian Champion. There may be a darkhorse lurking somewhere in the blackness of the early rounds, but I believe the this year’s champion lies in one of the seven names mentioned here.