Could 2020 be the year that the greats finally let loose on their grip at the top? Probably not.
The season begins on a familiar note, as all-time greats Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer remain ranked at the top of the men's game. Those three still have their stranglehold on major events, and it would be a significant surprise if one of those three don't claim the year's opening major at the Australian Open. With that said, new contenders are rising as the greats continue to get older. Let's take a look at some of the main contenders for the big titles as a new decade of tennis begins.
Rafael Nadal – Nadal starts the 2020 season just one Grand Slam title shy of tying Roger Federer for the all-time record. After winning two slams in 2019, the 33-year-old Spaniard starts the year ranked No. 1. He has just once claimed the Australian Open title, way back in 2009. But Nadal has still been close to top form at the year's opening major of late, as he finished as the runner-up in both 2017 and 2019. The Spaniard will be the second favorite for the tournament crown, behind Djokovic, as he begins a season which could potentially cement his place as the greatest men's tennis player ever.
Novak Djokovic – Djokovic relinquished his No. 1 ranking to Rafael Nadal in the latter half of the 2019 season, but he'll be extremely confident to start the 2020 season as he has seven Grand Slam titles in his career at the Australian Open, nearly half of his total of 16 overall. The 32-year-old Serbian, who is also the defending champion at the year's opening major, will be the favorite to capture his 17th major title overall, just ahead of No. 1-ranked Nadal, who he crushed in last year's final. Djokovic is the greatest performer ever at the Australian Open, so there's no reason to think he won't be in the mix this year for another title.
Roger Federer – Federer's most recent Grand Slam title came in 2018 at the Australian Open when he picked up his 20th major title to extend his all-time record. Since then, the 38-year-old from Switzerland has only been to one Grand Slam final, Wimbledon in 2019, which he lost in a five-set thriller to Djokovic. Federer has six-career titles at the Australian Open, making it his second-most successful major event. He'll be feeling the pressure to start the 2020 season, as his Grand Slam title lead over Rafael Nadal has shrunk to just one. Federer may need a little luck in the draw to break through for another major title, but he's obviously still capable if he brings his A-game.
Daniil Medvedev – Medvedev caught fire in 2019 as he broke into the top tier of the men's game to the tune of two Masters 1000 titles and six-consecutive finals, highlighted by a thrilling five-set loss to Rafael Nadal at the US Open. The 23-year-old Russian ran out of gas to close the 2019 season, but he is a machine, especially on hard courts, so expect a hot start to 2020. Consider Medvedev a third-favorite for the Australian Open title, as he is currently as dangerous as anyone to start the year on hard courts behind Djokovic and Nadal.
Dominic Thiem – Thiem was excellent in 2019, as he won five titles, picked up a second-consecutive runner-up finish at Roland Garros and closed the season with a runner-up finish at the Nitto ATP Finals. The 26-year-old Austrian defeated both Djokovic and Federer at the ATP Finals, displaying his steady progress on hard courts. It's likely only a matter of time until he breaks through for a big result at a hard-court major. Thiem has disappointingly never advanced past the fourth round at the Australian Open, but he'll be expected to do so in 2020.
Stefanos Tsitsipas – Tsitsipas closed 2019 with the biggest title of his career at the Nitto ATP Finals, where he defeated the likes of Roger Federer and Dominic Thiem to claim the crown. The 21-year-old from Greece made his major breakthrough last year at the Australian Open, where he defeated Federer en route to the semifinals, which stands as his best-ever performance at a Grand Slam tournament. Tsitsipas is still extremely young, but he's already up to No. 6 in the world and has shown the ability to defeat the best players in the men's game.
Alexander Zverev – After an extremely promising start to his career in which he vaulted to the No. 3 player in the world, Zverev has flattened off slightly, as he currently stands at No. 7 to start the 2020 season. The 22-year-old German has never advanced past Round 4 at the Australian Open, and has shown the tendency to not bring his best tennis to Grand Slam events. He went through some serious struggles with his serve in 2019, but his game looked to be headed in the right direction to end the year as he lost in the semifinals of the Nitto ATP Finals in London.
Matteo Berrettini – Berrettini announced himself in a big way in 2019, as he went from No. 52 all the way up to No. 8 at year's end. The 23-year-old Italian's year was highlighted by a semifinal showing at the US Open, so it's clear that he's a serious threat on hard courts, despite no titles in his career so far on the surface. There's no reason to think Berrettini won't be a fixture in the top 10 in 2020.
Felix Auger-Aliassime – Injuries to close the year slowed down the precipitous rise of the 19-year-old Canadian, who rose to as high as No. 17 in the world in 2019. The case could be made that Auger-Aliassime is the most promising prospect in the men's game under 23 years old, and 2020 could be when he breaks through on the big stage. The youngster has only played in three Grand Slam events so far in his young career, but he'll be expected to win a few rounds at the Australian Open this year.
Denis Shapovalov – Shapovalov begins the 2020 season with a career-high ranking of No. 15 after he finished as the runner-up at the Paris Masters 1000 event to close 2019. The talented 20-year-old Canadian also helped his country finish as runner-up at the Davis Cup to close the year, so he'll be brimming with confidence to start 2020. Shapovalov reached the third round of the Australian Open in 2019, which was the best result of his young career at the year's opening major.
Stan Wawrinka – After injuries slowed him down, Wawrinka rose to excellent form near the end of the 2019 season as he defeated Djokovic at the US Open before falling in the quarterfinals. The three-time major winner, a champion at the Australian Open in 2014, is not to be taken lightly at Grand Slam events.
Juan Martin del Potro – Del Potro will be making his return to the tour in 2020 after injuries nearly derailed his entire 2019 season. The 31-year-old Argentine has numerous successful injury comebacks so far in his career, and he was playing arguably the best tennis of his career late in 2018 prior to the injury bug striking. He's never advanced past the quarterfinals at the Australian Open, and it would be unwise to expect much from him in his return.