Cape Town - Seven-time Grand Slam champion Mats Wilander believes Novak Djokovic is the man to beat heading into this year’s Australian Open as Rafael Nadal has 'a problem'.
Wilander also suggested Aussie hero Nick Kyrgios could be a dark horse and enjoy a long run in the tournament in front of his home fans.
The Eurosport analyst believes the five-set format favours the established champions who have dominated the game for the last 15 years, and has backed Djokovic to add to his haul of 16 Grand Slam titles in Melbourne while picking a familiar cast list including Nadal and Roger Federer to be his chief rivals once again.
“Novak Djokovic has won the Australian Open seven times and I think he’s the big favourite once again,” Wilander said.
“I think Rafa is the second favourite because of doing well in Davis Cup and now he is playing well in ATP Cup. He hasn’t really taken a break at the end of the year so I don’t think we will see a reaction from Rafa until after the Australian Open.
“So for the Australian Open I think that Novak is the slight favourite ahead of Nadal and then I think Roger Federer and Stefanos Tsitsipas and other players like Daniil Medvedev are in the mix, but I would say Novak is the big favourite for sure.”
Despite his backing for Nadal to enjoy another long run in Melbourne, Wilander suspects the Spaniard may struggle to draw level with Federer at the top of the Grand Slam-winning charts as he targets his 20th major title.
“I really think that the Australian Open has become a little bit of a problem for Rafa,” adds Wilander.
“The main reason why it is a small problem for Rafa is that the courts are playing very fast.
“I would say it is the fastest hard courts that they play on the whole year and I think for Rafa he has improved on every different surface, of course, he has, but when it comes to playing on a fast hard court to me it’s his worst surface.
“Obviously indoors is not good either but fast hard court is not a great surface for him because everybody else, they enjoy playing against Nadal on a fast hard court.
“So if Novak is in decent form, I think he is by far the favourite to win the Australian Open because he knows how to, he’s done it so many times. He knows if I can win the Australian Open I am going to have a great year, it’s a good start of the year.”