The new tennis season upon us, and it feels like the old season just ended. What better way to begin the New Year than with the first Grand Slam of the tennis season.
The best players in the world will descend on Melbourne Park for a chance to win a major championship. There are many storylines heading into the Australian Open on both the men’s and women’s side. The event will be a two week test in the hot Australian sun, and the winner will have to play seven matches to secure the championship.
Here is a preview of the top contenders on the men’s and women’s side:
1) Novak Djokovic
Coming into the tournament Djokovic is the odds-maker favorite to win on the men’s side of the draw. He is the two-time defending champion at the event comingin as the number one seed and number one ranked player in the world. Djokovic had a good season, but compared to his 2011 season, it was a down year. Djokovic ended 2012 on a high note by winning the ATP World Tour Finals. A big question facing the defending champ can he continue his dominance over his opponents on the hard court surface? He will need to be at his best because there is some tough competition standing in his way of a three-peat.
2) Andy Murray
Murray is coming off a successful season where he thrived under new coach Ivan Lendl. He first won the men’s singles gold medal at the Olympics and followed that up by winning the U.S. Open. It was his first major championship, and he was the first British male since Fred Perry in 1936 to win a major. With the pressure of ending the drought for British men at Grand Slam events, he will be more relaxed and primed to win another major. He has a great record on hard courts, and he has reached the finals two of the last three years. He is a dangerous opponent for anyone in the draw.
3) Roger Federer
Federer loves playing in Australia as he has won the event four times and has made the semifinals in eight straight years. He is always a threat when he takes in the court, but Djokovic and Murray have outperformed on this surface in recent years. He was won 17 career Grand Slam Championships, most recently at Wimbledon. His best chance to add to that total will be at this event, Wimbledon, and the U.S. Open. Federer may have just turned 31 in August, but he is a young 31 if there is such a thing. He is moving like he is still in his twenties. One thing going against him is father time, but that has not stopped him before. Look for him to make another deep run.
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4) Juan Martin Del Potro
Del Petro is finally back to the form that won him the 2009 U.S. Open in five sets against Roger Federer. Del Potro joins Murray as the only men in the last 31 Grand Slam events to win a major not named Federer, Nadal, or Djokovic. Del Potro is playing well and finally recovered from his wrist injury that cost him the 2010 season. Del Petro won the bronze medal at the Olympics and could make an impact in a big way in the draw.
Other notable men that have a shot to win down under are David Ferrer, Jo-Wilfred Tsonga, Tomas Berdych. The man they call the “Little Beast” has made a deep run here before and has the game to lift his first major title. Tsonga is another man that can play with the big hitters in the game and potentially can pull the upset against the top three in the game.
Berdych has the game to pull the upset, just ask Roger Federer, whom he beat in the quarterfinals in 2010 at Wimbledon and in 2012 at the U.S. Open. Berdych reached the finals of Wimbledon, but seemed to crumble under the pressure. He will need to stay the course if things do not go his way later in the event. He is a dangerous opponent and has the game to win. Question facing Berdych is will he?
The women’s side is just as competitive as the men’s side. Victoria Azarenka is the defending champion and the number one seed and player in the world on the WTA tour. However, with Serena Williams playing at her best, it will be tough for Azarenka to repeat. Serena came off her best year in a long time as she won Wimbledon, Olympic Gold in singles and doubles, and the U.S. Open. She will be a challenge any player in the draw.
The world will be watching if Caroline Wozniacki can finally breakthrough a win a major. She has a good chance to win here, but she needs to play more aggressive. She has struggled of late, but if she gets on a roll, she can be a dangerous player in the draw. Petra Kvitova won at Wimbledon for her first major, and she can add a second in Australia.
Let’s not count out Maria Sharapova, who made the finals of this event last year, falling to Azarenka. She completed the career Grand Slam winning the French Open, and has the game to win any tournament she enters. But, she most stay focused at the task at hand. There may be a surprise winner on the women’s side as well.
The Australian Open draw will be announced later in the week. The tournament begins this January 14th. Coverage of the event can be found on the networks of ESPN2 and Tennis Channel.