A new year brings a new tennis season, and with it, the promise of exciting matches and intriguing storylines. Organizers of the Australian Open are hoping both will be in abundance during the two-week long first Grand Slam of the year. While defending champions Novak Djokovic and Angelique Kerber will be hoping to repeat as winners, the by far massive sentimental favorite is just happy to be back playing, along with everybody else who follows the sport.
Four-time Australian Open winner Roger Federer is back after a six-month absence due to a knee injury last year. The long layoff means Federer is seeded No. 17 and though he should get through his early rounds, he will immediately start bumping into seeded players in the first week including Tomas Berdych and then Kei Nishikori. If Federer get through those, he will then take on new World No. 1 Andy Murray in the quarterfinals.
Not an easy journey for sure for Federer despite enjoying massive success down under. While a Federer title run would delight his many fans, and the tennis media in terms of headlines, it’s more likely tennis watchers will have to settle on Federer just enjoying his return to the sport in hopes that 2017 will be a full year for him on the courts.
Murray himself is still in search of his first ever Australian Open title having been a finalist five times, including last year to Djokovic who snapped Murray’s recent win streak by beating the Scot in the Doha final a few weeks ago. Djokovic, who has endured something of a slump since winning the French Open title last year (though he did reach the US Open final) may well be ready to resume his own winning streak, albeit without long-time coach Boris Becker in his corner. Many are predicting that the final will once again feature Djokovic and Murray.
Former winner Rafael Nadal may have something to say about that, although his up and down results last year had many wondering if perhaps the 30-year-old Spanish star had reached his apex in terms of results. The mercurial, and 2014 title winner, Stan Wawrinka is back as well. Wawrinka is still unpredictable and a lot will depend on how the Swiss feels throughout the fortnight. Wawrinka is like a comet. Sometimes, when least expected, he shines brighter than any player out there (look at his run to the US Open title last year), and he can also burn out quickly, with a not at all surprising early round loss.
Speaking of mercurial, Australia will once again place their hopes in Nick Kyrgios who certainly has the firepower and all-court game to beat anyone. But can he stay focused and believe in himself for the entire two weeks? Federer when asked about Kyrgios’ chances cited those two potential pitfalls to a Kyrgios title run, but then added he would be happy to be proved wrong. If Kyrgios is indeed perhaps a potential future Grand Slam winner, this tournament might indicate how far he is able to go in that quest.
The women’s title could be won by a familiar face or by a first-time champion, that is how even and unpredictable the WTA Tour is right now. Though Kerber, with two Grand Slams last year, is the current World No.1, her reign, does not feel like a sure thing for this season. Kerber suffered two early losses in the new season heading into Melbourne. While those could be chalked up to not having enough match play, the German is susceptible to early round losses and will have to embrace being the hunted and the world’s top player.
Someone who has no trouble embracing that is Serena Williams. The recent news that Williams is engaged have some wondering where the 22-time Grand Slam title winner main focus is these days. Williams herself is coming back from several months away from tennis and a scratchy early round loss in Auckland did her no favors. Now facing a potentially tough opening round in Belinda Bencic, Williams will have to find her A-game fast if she wants a shot at yet another AO title.
Williams, when playing her best, is still a huge favorite, but there are plenty of other solid players out there who could win it all. Karolina Pliskova, who beat both Serena and Venus Williams en route to the US Open final has the big power game that will translate well in Melbourne. Elina Svitolina, who beat Kerber earlier this year, has also beaten Williams and just may be ready to take the next step at a major. Simona Halep and Garbine Muguruza could also find themselves in the winner circle as well.
“Sleep is for the weak” is a popular though unofficial slogan for the Australian Open given that most tennis watchers have to stay up late wherever they are in the world to watch. A few hours, well maybe more than that, lost sleep may well by worth it though for fans to keep up with what could be one the best and potentially drama filled Australian Opens yet.