Aussie tennis legend Fred Stolle has cast his eye over the men’s tournament at this year’s Australian Open. Could there be surprises here too?

No Roger, so it really is down to two, believes Fred Stolle as players sit it out in quarantine ahead of the first Grand Slam of the year in Melbourne. Maybe three.

“Novak and Rafa have to be the favourites,” Stolle believes. “Although Dominic Thiem is good enough now to beat both.

“I really can’t see past those three – they will be prepared for the event and Djokovic knows how to play the hard courts better than anyone.

“Without line judges, I’m sure he will feel happier, but the ball bounce of Melbourne’s courts will suit him perfectly.”

Novak Djokovic. Photo: Roger Parker International Sports Fotos Ltd

Stolle believes Thiem is the heir apparent and will continue to close in on the big two but for Melbourne 2021, while he can see upsets because of quarantine and the C OVID-19 restrictions, he may well have to settle for a semifinal spot.

“Zverev has lost his way a bit. I like his style but he needs to do more and Medvedev is the other unknown at this Slam – capable of anything – but the ball will bounce a little too high for him on the courts, so I’m not going to tip him.”

One player Fred loves watching play is Argentinian Diego Schwarzman, a “battler” in his eyes.

“He’s a tough cookie, battles through five-setters, but too often it takes it out of him if he makes it to the next round.

“That will probably be his undoing, but I do like his never-say-die attitude.”

Diego Schwartzman. Photo: Roger Parker

Of the Aussies on their home turf, Stolle still likes Nick Kyrgios and Alex De Minaur, the latter showing some form in Europe late last year.

“He’s beefed up a bit and is another battler. Aggressive on court, a bit like his mentor Lleyton Hewitt,” says Stolle.

“He will go OK but he’s not going to win the tournament.”

The other, Kyrgios, won’t either, a player Stolle often gets frustrated with.

“He’s talented but his attitude would have Harry Hopman turning in his grave,” Stolle said, relating to the legendary Australian tennis coach and manager who was a tough taskmaster and  disciplinarian.

“He does entertain and people do like that. His trick shots are great to watch but he won’t win slams unless he disciplines himself.”

Nick Kyrgios. Photo: Roger Parker International Sports Fotos Ltd

Stolle believes today’s game is all about giants. All the Americans are 6ft 5. I’m 6-3 and I’m a dwarf,” he concedes.

“I was stood next to John Isner and Alexander Zverev and I had to ask what the weather was like up there.”

And today’s game is losing its human touch as HawkEye takes over.

No line judges in Melbourne, something Stolle believes is a positive step.

“The players accept it and is stops Djokovic being suspended .”

Jannick Sinner. Photo: Roger Parker

And a surprise winner at the first Slam of the year?

“Like the women, there will be upsets. The quarantine, lack of match action and limited training will show up.

“But I like what is happening in Italy – they are producing players who can play on surfaces other than just clay. 

“For me the tip for 2021 is Jannick Sinner. A Next Generation winner and definitely one for the future.”