Novak Djokovic is the overwhelming favourite to win the 2024 Australian Open, but who can challenge his dominance as he aims to continue his reign in Melbourne?
Djokovic will be looking to seal a remarkable 11th title at Melbourne Park when the first major championship of this New Year gets underway on January 14th.
Yet he will have live contenders to knock him from his throne this year and two of them have recent track records of victories against the world No.1.
Here is our look at why Djokovic may not have it all his own way in 2024.
THE LOSING HABIT
Djokovic has not gotten used to the sensation of defeat too often in his career, but he is heading into the Australian Open after losing four of his last eight matches.
Admittedly, one of those losses came in an exhibition contest, yet the fact that it was inflicted by Carlos Alcaraz could be significant when the duo meet once again.
Djokovic has a winning record over Alcaraz since losing to the young Spaniard in an epic Wimbledon final last summer, but Alcaraz sent out a small message of intent as he beat him in Saudi Arabia last month.
Throw in Novak’s defeats against Jannik Sinner in the Davis Cup and ATP Finals in November and his United Cup defeat against Alex de Minaur and that is a lot of losing by Djokovic’s standards.
Beating the great man in a Grand Slam tournament is a much tougher task, but his aura of invincibility will be threatened if he continues to lose matches.
THE SINNER EFFECT
Djokovic didn’t have a rival he feared at last year’s Australian Open and confirmed his dominance by winning the title despite suffering from a hamstring problem. The tennis landscape has changed a little since then. First of all, Djokovic has a rival who has proved he can hold his nerve and beat the Serbian in a Grand Slam after Alcaraz’s impressive win at Wimbledon last July. In addition, Sinner has a serve and forehand that troubles Djokovic and he will be wary of facing both of those rivals in Melbourne. While the safe money would still be on Djokovic to win those contests, the young guns feel closer to the world No.1 than ever before.
Injury concerns are a threat to Djokovic’s dominance at the top, and in a year where he will toast his 37th birthday, that will inevitably become a factor sooner rather than later. The wrist problem that affected him in the defeat against Australia’s Alex de Minaur earlier this month is a short-term concern, but we will find out in the first couple of rounds in Melbourne how big an impact that may have on his hopes. Beyond this event, Djokovic must carefully manage his schedule to give himself the best chance of staying fit for Grand Slam tournaments. He mastered that last year and won all but one of the tournaments he targeted, with ruthless planning and suitable breaks a key part of what he needs to get right in 2024.
WHAT ABOUT THE WOMEN’S DRAW?
Two names have emerged as favourites in the women’s draw at the Australian Open, with world No.1 Iga Swiatek and Elena Rybakina the form players heading into the first major of 2024.
Swiatek ended last season back at the top of the WTA rankings after a stunning win at the WTA Finals, as she ousted Aryna Sabalenka from the No.1 spot and cemented her position as the player to beat in Melbourne. Yet the former Wimbledon champion has to be the player to watch at the Australian Open after her impressive 6-0 6-3 win against Sabalekna in the final of the Brisbane International. Slick, polished and thrillingly effective, Rybakina is a player who can beat anyone in the game when she is at her best and looks to be primed for another long run in Melbourne.
If Djokovic stays fit, he is the favourite to win all four Grand Slams and the Olympic Gold medal in 2024, as well as the gold medal at the Paris Olympics. Injuries will be the biggest threat to his dominance, but Sinner could also be a big factor in what lies ahead this year. Djokovic looked uncomfortable against the hard-hitting Italian, losing twice against him in November. Their first meeting at a Grand Slam event in this new season could be a blockbuster encounter. Look out for resurgent German Alexander Zverev to make a deep run in Melbourne, with Bulgaria’s Gregor Dimitrov another player to watch after his win in Brisbane last week. In the women’s draw, US Open champion Coco Gauff started her year with a title win and will fancy her chances of a deep run in Melbourne, but it is hard to look beyond Swiatek if she can finally find her best form in a Grand Slam, somewhere she is yet to produce her best performances.