In 1976, Mark Edmondson won his sole Grand Slam title at the Australian Open in impressive fashion, beating reigning champion and all-time great John Newcombe in the final. That triumph is particularly notable for two reasons. Edmondson remains the last Australian man to win the Australian Open, a remarkable distinction in a tournament almost completely dominated by domestic players before 1976. Edmondson is also the lowest-ranked player to win a Slam, storming to his surprise win as the 212th ranked player in the world.
The former record also does not appear to be in imminent danger. While there is currently an array of talented Australians, giving the nation greater strength in depth than in recent years, there is no candidate with genuine aspirations on lifting the first Grand Slam of 2019. When you consider that not even Lleyton Hewitt or Pat Rafter could triumph in their home Slam, it doesn’t bode well for the mercurial Nick Kyrgios. While Kyrgios’ talent has always been unquestioned, his fitness and game management have been more debatable. Kyrgios runs the risk of going the same way as Bernard Tomic, another player who emerged as a great Australian hope.Embed from Getty Images
Tomic’s level of dedication to the sport is well-documented, although he did grind out some Challenger wins in 2018 as a necessity due to his low ranking. One player who appears to be a more dependable Australian prospect is Alex de Minaur, who ends the year as the highest-ranked Australian at a career-high 31. De Minaur is showing great potential and has so far been unfazed by pressure. While the Australian could benefit from seeding to make a strong run at the Australian Open, he is yet to beat a top 20 player in 13 attempts. De Minaur will have to end that record before he can be a genuine Slam contender.Embed from Getty Images
Someone with a much better record against the elite is Andy Murray. The three-time Slam winner will start his season as fifth favourite in the Australian Open tennis market at Paddy Power, with odds of 14/1 reflecting the hope that Murray’s class is permanent. Murray struggled with injury for much of 2018, but his success at the Australian Open in previous years is cause for hope that the Brit can get back to his best quickly.Embed from Getty Images
That success has manifested in five Australian Open finals, but each final has ended in defeat for Murray. The juxtaposition of his recent injury record against his career Slam record has created a unique opportunity for Murray, as the player ends 2018 ranked 257 in the world. Murray will not be seeded at the Australian Open but instead enters via his protected ranking. Yet this is a player famed for a battling mentality that can overcome the toughest draws.
If Murray doesn’t accumulate many ranking points at the tournaments preceding the Australian Open, he could break Edmondson’s long-standing ranking record. This will not necessarily be a concern for Murray; winning his first Australian Open after five final losses and a year blighted by injury would be an outstanding achievement in its own right.
Novak Djokovic is the strong favourite to continue his fine form from 2018, but then John Newcombe was strong favourite in 1976. An Australian may not follow in Edmondson’s footsteps just yet, but a resurgent Murray has a better chance than anyone else of becoming the lowest-ranked male Slam winner.