You read it here first... Seven bold predictions

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Here’s our take on the Australian Open prediction game: we asked the writing team to give us six headlines they expect to emerge from this year’s tournament, be they winners, stunners, or players having shockers – and there’s already a standout clairvoyant clash before you reach midway! Crystal balls at the ready…

Federer defends title for Grand Slam No.20
By Linda Pearce

In 2017, they said it wasn’t possible. Roger Federer was just too old. He’d been out for almost six months. Hadn’t won a major for more than four years. Was it time to put the GOAT out to pasture? Not when a spell – and a fierce new backhand – was all that was needed to work such wonders that he counts the fifth set of the Australian Open final against one-time nemesis Rafael Nadal as the best he's ever played. So this year, with so many rivals absent or struggling physically, why not? Why can’t it happen for a sixth time at Melbourne Park for his 20th slam? No reason. The draw is reasonable, despite danger man David Goffin lurking in his quarter. And this is RF. Anything’s possible. Consider it probable, again.

Nick Kyrgios crowned first Aussie AO champ since 1976
By Vivienne Christie

After 2017 passed without lifting a trophy, it’s already a season of change for Nick Kyrgios, who defied any home pressure with victory in Brisbane. Now comes the chance for a bigger breakthrough with a maiden major in Melbourne. After a first round against Rogerio Dutra Silva potential tests will come from fast-rising Denis Shapovalov or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the third round and Grigor Dimitrov in the fourth. But the latter was among Kyrgios’ victims in Brisbane and Kevin Anderson, the other big seed in his quarter, is manageable too. It’s not easy to claim a major title as the 17th seed – but it didn’t hurt Roger Federer in 2017.

Kerber returns to the winner's circle
By Matt Trollope

Few players have looked as impressive to start 2018 as Angelique Kerber - in six matches so far across Perth and Sydney, she's undefeated. This is a player who knows who to perform in Australia, having stunned the tennis world two years to win her first ever Grand Slam title at Melbourne Park. As one of only two former champions in the draw in 2018, she knows she has what is takes to conquer Melbourne again. And she seems to have rediscovered the form, grit and joy of competition that highlighted her No.1 season of 2016. As for her form dip last year? "I say goodbye to 2017," she said emphatically. "I really try to forget (that) year and starting from zero. I'm starting 2018 with completely new mind and just going for it."

De Minaur announces himself on the Grand Slam stage 
By Val Febbo

Alex de Minaur has been outstanding this month, with a semifinal run in Brisbane and at least a semifinal showing in Sydney. The 18-year-old is returning serve in a world class fashion and his ground strokes have been sublime. An unlucky first-round draw against Tomas Berdych will be tough, but De Minaur has all the tools and the form to beat his second-round showing at last year's Open.

Bencic back with a bang
By Alex Sharp

The draw is tough, extremely tough. A first-round clash with 2017 finalist Venus Williams presents a true test of Belinda Bencic’s Grand Slam credentials. However, with very light expectations on her shoulders, the staunchly talented Swiss is set for a mighty 2018. Last year was blighted by injury, but she finished the season with three consecutive titles. Also, with Roger Federer in her corner, the rejuvenated 20-year-old helped clinch the Hopman Cup with several eye-catching performances. Swinging freely and without the pressure Williams will play under, Bencic could spring an early shock to spark a strong run. I'm calling a maiden Grand Slam semifinal, then it depends on the match-ups.

Kokkinakis takes down Zverev brothers
By David Packman

Just imagine… “With his injury woes finally behind him, Aussie favourite Thanasi Kokkinakis has sensationally knocked off both Mischa and Sascha Zverev to post his best ever result at Melbourne Park – repeating the dose for the world No.4 after edging past Sascha at the Hopman Cup in Perth just a fortnight ago. Kokkinakis overcame some demons in the first round, defeating fellow 21-year-old Daniil Medvedev of Russia – the man who ousted him handily twice in a fortnight while on the comeback trail last year – before embarking on his impressive run through the seeded Germans siblings. He will now face Novak Djokovic for a coveted quarterfinal spot.”

Grigor Dimitrov to reach first Grand Slam final
By Dan Imhoff

The hype has been swirling for years. Now aged 26 and having crashed as low as No.40 in the world in 2016, enigmatic Bulgarian Dimitrov is finally showing proof he is the real deal. He loves playing Down Under – the Brisbane title in 2017 preceded a semifinal run at the Australian Open where he stretched Nadal to five. A first Masters 1000 title in Cincinnati and his biggest title – at the ATP Finals – cemented his place at No.3 at year’s end. Expectations have never been higher but with the men ranked below him in a state of flux his chances have never been better. The Bulgarian looks ready to implement what he took from defeat to Nadal in last year’s semis with the pair again tipped to clash in the last four.