Defending champion Novak Djokovic is gunning for an eighth title

Melbourne (AFP) - Five players to watch in the men’s draw at the Australian Open, the first Grand Slam tournament of the season, which starts on Monday:

- Novak Djokovic -

Melbourne Park is a home away from home for the Serbian world number two who has won seven of the last 12 Australian Opens since making his Grand Slam breakthrough on its hardcourts way back in 2008.

Djokovic, who has amassed 16 Major tournament wins, thrashed his old sparring partner Rafael Nadal in last year’s final to kick off another phenomenal year where he won his fifth Wimbledon title and collected five tournament victories to take his career tally to 77.

Now 32 and seeded two, he enters the tournament after leading Serbia to the ATP Cup title in Sydney with few betting against ‘Nole’ dominating his favourite event once again.

- Roger Federer -

Tennis royalty Federer is rapidly becoming the oldest swinger in town but even at 38, he still has the tools to add to his all-time record of 20 Grand Slam titles.

Even at 38, Roger Federer still has the tools to win the title

Retirement talk is never far away at his age but there are few signs he plans to call a halt this year, when Federer will look to fill the only gap in his trophy cabinet – Olympic singles gold.

Like Djokovic, he has a liking for Melbourne Park, where he has won six titles, most recently in 2018. But he enters the opening Grand Slam of 2020 rusty, with no competitive matches under his belt this season.

The Swiss great crashed last year in the fourth-round to Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas, who is 17 years his junior.

- Rafael Nadal -

Top-ranked Nadal, so often Federer’s nemesis, can deliver the ultimate slap to the great Swiss by equalling his 20 Major titles in Melbourne.

Rafael Nadal is just one away from Federer's record of 20 Grand Slam titles

The Mallorcan, the first man to be world number one in three different decades, won the 2009 final against a tearful Federer but that remains his best showing in Australia, with four runner-up finishes to his name.

Nadal, 33, has been the gallant loser in two of the last three deciders but it would be just like the indomitable Spaniard to hit back with a long-awaited second Australian Open title on February 2.

- Stefanos Tsitsipas -

Expectations are high for the 21-year-old Tsitsipas, who stunned Federer last year en route to the Melbourne semi-finals before making a breakthrough by winning the season-ending ATP Finals in London – the youngest to do so since Lleyton Hewitt in 2001.

Stefanos Tsitsipas is targeting his first Major title

It was a standout year for the 1.93m (6ft 4in) Greek, who lifted two other trophies to end the season as world number six.

But apart from his Melbourne run, he wasn’t such a threat at Grand Slams, losing in the first-round at Wimbledon and the US Open and in the fourth round at Roland Garros.

He admitted last week to sometimes losing focus at crunch moments with Tsitsipas needing to show he has what it takes to break the Big Three’s stranglehold on the Major titles.

- Nick Kyrgios -

When Kyrgios plays, controversy is never far away and the combustible Canberran could well provide some fireworks at Melbourne Park.

Nick Kyrgios of Australia is playing under a suspended 16-week ban

The Australian is possessed of a huge forehand and serve – when he’s not serving underarm – but all too often allows emotions to get in the way, sparring with umpires, fans and fellow players.

The 24-year-old, however, heads into his home Grand Slam seemingly more reserved after spearheading efforts to raise funds for bushfire-ravaged Australia, a disaster that he admits has impacted him deeply.