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Melbourne hosts the year’s first sporting treat, welcoming the finest tennis players from around the world, all vying for the year’s first grand slam; the Australian Open.
Following Novak Djokovic’s curtain drawing victory of the 2013 season in London, narratives from both men’s and women’s tennis duly set-up an exciting year ahead: Is Federer past it? Will Serena stride toward another year of domination? Can Murray build on two impressive seasons? And what impact will prominent new coaches have?
Last year’s reigning champions Djokovic and Victoria Azarenka will seek to continue their love of the tournament, as they hunt down what would be their 4th and 3rd consecutive titles respectively. The Serbian would look the more likely to further his Melbourne monopoly, as a favourable draw paves the way toward a ‘relatively’ easy route to the final. In contrast, despite the Belarusian’s recent history she will have to be at her tiptop best to defeat the sport’s overwhelming power and current no 1, Serena Williams.
Beneath the dominant force of the hard-hitting American, the women’s game offers a host of names waiting in the wings for the American to slip-up or let her fiery – at times – temperament get the better of her. Names such as the aforementioned Azarenka, the returning Maria Sharapova, Sabine Lisicki, Li Na and Petra Kvitova do pose sufficient threats. However, whether they can be deemed strong enough for Williams to relinquish lifting a 6th Australian Open on January 25th …will be another story.
Djokovic’s main rival can be seen in the man lying just above him in the rankings, Rafa Nadal. The athletic Spaniard will be gunning to justify his no 1 spot by asserting himself in Melbourne for the first real time, since 2009 – when he last won there. After being dealt a testing draw, Nadal will have to potentially face Federer and Murray before reaching the final which could take its toll if he were to then face Djokovic in the final.
British man of the moment Andy Murray, following his inevitable SPOTY success, faces an uphill task to emulate last year’s runner-up spot. While hard courts are regarded his favoured surface, I believe due to his recent back surgery and subsequent lack of match fitness, the Australian Open will prove too soon an event to stake a legitimate claim for. Anything greater than a quarter-final birth can be considered a success for the man from Dunblane, as retaining the Wimbledon crown will be thought of as a more realistic target than going one step further in Oz this year.
Roger Federer has found himself outside the top 5 world rankings for the first time in ten years – stark evidence of the Swiss’ disappointing form of late. Recent losses to Lleyton Hewitt and the noticeable fact he hasn’t won a major since 2012, compound calls from the stands of potential retirement. The sport’s biggest gentleman, now aged 33, is still enjoying his game and undoubtedly remains a pleasure to watch. While his stamina and killer instinct seem to be fading, let’s celebrate one of the sport’s greatest ever players – before he and his luscious backhand are gone for good!
Interestingly old enemies shall lock horns once again albeit off the court, after Federer and Djokovic both announced new coaches to their ranks in recent months – Stefan Edberg and Boris Becker will join the Swiss’ and Serb’s teams respectively. Both retired with 6 grand slams, 2 of which were in the Australian open, but this time the old foes shall be strategists plotting the successes of the players they represent, hoping to create an instant impact in Australia. With no prior coaching experience at the top level, the pair will draw on their own careers as well as Ivan Lendl for inspiration, who joined Murray in 2011 and since has won 2 grand slams with the Scot.
At the time of writing, the competition had yet to start, now well into its second week I predict this year’s winners shall be the usual suspects: Djokovic and Williams. If both were to do so, Djokovic would become the first man in the open-era to hold the title five times and Williams would move tied second place on 18, along with Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert, on the all-time (open-era) list of grand slam winners.