The first Grand Slam of the year serves off in Melbourne on January 15 and the most profound questions to be answered would be whether the young guns could overhaul the ‘dinosaurs’ in both the men and women’s draws and whether injury would play a part in who emerges the men and women’s champions.
The year 2017 was the year for the over 30s as all four men’s Grand Slams were won by Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Many thought their careers to be over the hill, but at the 2017 Australian Open [they met in the final), they showed they are not ready to abdicate their thrones. Both players then ended the year ranked one and two by the ATP.
In the women’s side, Maria Sharapova is back from a drug suspension and she would be secretly glad that Serena Williams would not appear in Melbourne because of a lack of match sharpness.
The draws, made last Thursday, threw up exciting exciting matchups to look forward to, though the more profound news is that some world-class players will be absent due to various injuries.
Injuries and abstentions
While Serena Williams took time off to have a baby and is not yet fit for the grueling task and Melbourne heat, two-time champion, Victoria Azarenka, had to withdraw because of an ongoing custody battle over her 11-month-old son with her former husband.
Andy Murray and Kei Nishikori had to pull out of the Australian Open because of injuries while Stan Wawrinka’s participation in Melbourne is yet to be guaranteed after he withdrew from the pre-Open Tiebreak Tens where Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal made their first appearances for the season.
Djokovic will wear a sleeve on his right arm to forestall any reoccurrence of the elbow injury that has plagued him since Wimbledon 2017.
Federer looks sure in the men’s draw
The combined age of Nadal and Federer is 67 compared to the 70 for the players ranked third to fifth. These are Grigor Dimitrov, Alexander Zverev, and Dominic Thiem.
There is a sneaky feeling that Federer, who is in good form by his showing at the Hopman Cup, where he helped Switzerland overcome Germany, is also fighting fit, and could snag a sixth Australian Open crown come January 28.
His draw is a difficult one with the returning Djokovic, fit-again Juan Martin del Potro, big-serving Milos Raonic and tricky David Goffin all on his side of the draw. If he gets through this minefield, then a 20th Grand Slam title might just suffice.
That is not writing off home favourite (if we can call him that) Nick Kyrgios, who won the Brisbane last week though he battled injury to win his first ATP tour title on home soil. Dimitrov, the world’s No.3, seems to be intent, at 26, to finally become the player he has threatened to be since he was 20. Winning the ATP Tour final in London last year should give him more belief in his abilities to battle the likes of Nadal, Federer and Djokovic to win a first Grand Slam title.
There are also other players, who can come in from left field to stake a claim to the title; but it looks like a very fit Federer could go all the way.
Prediction: Federer to win 20th Grand Slam title
Serena-less draw could see a new Grand Slam winner
In the last two years at Grand Slams, whenever Serena Williams has been absent, an unknown has thrown her hat in the ring. Jelena Ostapenko and Sloane Stephens won at the French Open and US Open in 2017 with the dominant Serena missing in action.
But it could be former No.1, Angelique Kerber, rising again as she has been the most outstanding player in the New Year. The German, who finished 2016 as world No.1 had a troublesome 2017 in which she slid down the rankings to end the year in 22nd place. She has since parted from her long-time coach, Torben Beltz, last November, replaced by Wim Fissette and has started a renaissance of sorts.
No one should write off Maria Sharapova, as she possesses a quiet confidence that could see her go all the way despite all the attention directed towards her by other players because of her dope ban.
World No. 1, Simona Halep, is yet to win a Grand Slam title and lost in the first round to Shelby Rogers in last year’s tournament. Her career at Grand Slams looks like a nearly storyline – making the finals of the French Open in 2014 and 2017; semifinals at Wimbledon in 2014 and the US Open in 2015. Halep has since been bolstered by words from four-time Grand Slam winner, Kin Clijsters. “I met Kim Clijsters and she told me that she lost four finals before winning a Grand Slam, so maybe I need more time, more experience,” Halep told Forbes. Maybe, it will finally be her time in Australia.
Then there is Serena’s elder sister, Venus, who played a magnificent 2017. She was a finalist at the Australian Open, where she lost to Serena; Wimbledon where she lost to Garbine Muguruza and made the semifinal of the US Open, where she lost to eventual winner, Sloane Stephens.
Prediction: Madison Keys to surprise everyone