Charles Perrin presents a strong case as to why Roberto Bautista Agut, Alex De Minaur and Matteo Berrettini could be the surprise packages...
"If anything, he bares similarities to Lleyton Hewitt as he is a whippet around the court and he is happy to chase down every ball like his compatriot used to."
The Australian Open gets underway next week and it looks set to be an enthralling tournament. Novak Djokovic, who inspired Serbia to ATP Cup success over Spain last weekend, will be bidding to claim a record-extending eighth title in Melbourne.
Rafael Nadal, meanwhile, will be looking to be crowned champion for just the second time Down Under and should he do so, then he would move level with Roger Federer (20) in the all-time Grand Slam list. However, there are a few dark horses in the men's draw that will be worth keeping in mind.
Rise of Agut
Reliable Roberto! Agut has become one of the most consistent players on the tour and he won all five of his ties in the ATP Cup. The mercurial Spaniard's rise to prominence has been impressive and with his short take on both his backhand and forehand wings, he gives his opponents very little time to settle. He is inside the world's top 10 and he reached the semi-finals of Wimbledon last year, so he has had some experience of going deep at a Grand Slam.
While the past 12 months were very difficult on a personal level for the 31-year-old as he lost his father, Agut is a player that has worked very hard on evolving every aspect of his game, including the mental side and in previous interviews, he has alluded to the impact that Nadal has had on his career.
Agut got to the quarter-finals of the Australian Open last year where he lost to Stefanos Tsitsipas, but he feels at home on a hard court and on a quick surface, he can construct points well and make his opponent play that extra ball. Although he is at 75.0074/1 with the Betfair Exchange, Agut will be no pushover and if the draw works to his advantage, he can blast his way through the field.
Fearless De Minaur
The ATP Tour is full of fearless young stars that thrive playing against the game's elite. Alex De Minaur certainly falls into that category and while he is thin and wiry, don't let that fool you. He has a very vibrant style and the way he whips his forehand and gets excellent depth with his sliced backhand makes him very difficult to play against. If anything, he bares similarities to Lleyton Hewitt as he is a whippet around the court and he is happy to chase down every ball like his compatriot used to.
Although he came up short against Jannik Sinner in the Next Gen Finals last year, he claimed three titles, including one in Sydney. His best showing at the Australian Open came 12 months ago when he reached the third round, but he fell to Nadal. Australia hasn't had a homegrown champion since 1976 when Mark Edmondson beat John Newcombe in the final, but De Minaur has an X factor about him that his compatriots don't have. He may be at 90.0089/1 to go all the way in Melbourne, but he can catch fire quite quickly and he shouldn't be underestimated.
2019 was a year when Matteo Berrettini really came to the boil and he made his debut at the ATP Finals at London's 02 Arena. He reached the semi-finals of the US Open and he has a huge game. He is able to routinely bomb down serves at speeds of around 142mph and he can pin back players with his ferocious forehands. He has tried to model his game on that of his idol Federer and it should stand the test.
From a Grand Slam perspective, he reached the fourth round at Wimbledon last year and he had his first taste of a semi-final at the US Open where he lost to Nadal and while he went down in straight sets, it would have been a big learning curve for him.
Berretini's game seems to be tailor made for the Australian Open and now it is a case of whether he has the belief to shake up the upper echelons of the men's game. Last year, he rained down 870 aces and won 86% of his service games. The Italian may be a rank outsider at 200.00199/1 to lift his maiden Grand Slam, but he has it within him to ruffle a few feathers and spring a surprise.
Back Roberto Bautista Agut @ 75.074/1 to win the Australian Open