Ahead of the first tennis Grand Slam of the year, I comment on what to watch out for.
In the men’s game, all eyes will likely be on World Number One Andy Murray as he gears up to start his campaign against Ukrainian Ilya Marchenko on Monday. However, he may find progressing to the final (which he has done five times previously) quite difficult, as Roger Federer, Tomas Berdych and Kei Nishikori are all in his half of the draw, alongside big servers John Isner and Sam Querrey, and up-and-comer Lucas Pouille. A repeat of the Djokovic match-up in the final is no doubt what everybody is looking forward to, but it may be easier said than done.
The question on everybody’s lips, though, will be whether former World Number One Novak Djokovic has managed to recover the dominant form that has seen him power to 12 Grand Slam titles with relative ease. He had a blip last year, but following his win over Murray at the Qatar Open recently, this will be the first big test of who is able to maintain their form. However, given their record of long rallies and almost attritional games, should they both reach the final it may well be a case of which player can outlast the other.
But there is an unanswered question. Roger Federer remains on the tour, and although he has slipped down the rankings, should never be counted out. He has expressed his desire to win another Slam, and it should be remembered that in 2015 he reached the finals of both Wimbledon and the US Open. His relative underdog status could yet work in his favour, though it will remain to be seen as to whether he can add to his tally of four Australian Open titles.
In the women’s game, Angelique Kerber is the World Number One, and claimed the Australian Open title last year. But the biggest imponderable is whether or not Serena Williams can continue to even greater heights, having won another Wimbledon last year, or whether the likes of Kerber or 2016 French Open champion Garbiñe Muguruza (who has run Williams close at Wimbledon previously) can challenge her at all. In this respect, although the American’s domination of the game is admirable, there may well be players out there playing a more engaging style of tennis.
However, there are some other names coming through, such as the likes of former Wimbledon finalist Eugenie Bouchard, Czech player Karolina Pliskova (the 2016 runner-up at the US Open), and up-and-coming Russian 19-year-old Daria Kasatkina, but whether or not they can reach the level required to fulfil their potential and win Slams is something that the next two weeks will decide. Heather Watson and Naomi Broady of Great Britain are once again in the draw and could make progress, but another British name is now being murmured in hushed tones as well. Johanna Konta, who triumphed against the tough and experienced Agnieszka Radwanska to win the Sydney Open last Friday, has all of a sudden been touted as a contender. Konta has played her prospects down, but the eyes of the press will undoubtedly be on her nonetheless.
So in both the men’s and women’s game, it appears to be the case that the British are coming, but given that this is sport, a few surprises may well lie in wait. Whether it is going to be business as usual, or whether the Grand Slam script is going to be rewritten down under, is something we will soon find out.
The 2017 Australian Open will run from 16th-29th January.