As the tour rolls into another season, the curtain raiser for the tennis calendar in Melbourne will set the tone for what is to come this year. With the next generation of players progressing and the established veterans firmly holding their ground, there is plenty to look forward to at the Australian Open 2016.
The obvious victors in the men’s and women’s draw respectively are Djokovic and Serena Williams. Djokovic returns after arguably the greatest individual season ever, kick-started by a relentless run where he amassed 11 titles after winning the Australian Open last year. The 28-year-old will be looking to extend his streak into 2016 with victory down under and it is difficult to see anyone knocking him off his perch.
Rivalling Novak’s current dominance is Serena Williams. Only two wins away from capturing the US Open in 2015, she has held her number one status for a record 151 consecutive weeks.
Muguruza and Halep are the most likely to challenge Serena Williams after impressive performances in the majors. Having reached a final respectively they will want to taste success this time around.
Perhaps the closest in calibre and the biggest threat to Djokovic is the evergreen Roger Federer. His 2015 season would be revered by most, however the 34-year-old will be desperate to dethrone the world number one following defeat to him at the US Open and Wimbledon finals last year. Ivan Ljubicic’s shrewd guidance could ensure the Swiss maestro claims a historic 18th Grand Slam title.
British hopes lie with four-time Australian Open finalist and Davis Cup champion Andy Murray, who spearheaded Great Britain to glory in Ghent. The slow surface suits Murray’s game and he will be trying to gain some ground on Djokovic.
In the women’s draw, Watson has a point to prove after a season where she enjoyed relative success on grass but was mediocre on hard or clay. She was ultimately surpassed by Sydney-born Konta as British number 1, who reached the fourth round of the US Open and broke into the top 50. Konta, also nominated for Most Improved Player by the WTA last year, is definitely one to watch this tournament.
After arguably the worst year of his career, Nadal will be hoping to make a resurgence in Australia. Questions surrounding his ability to continue vying for major titles remain. The Spaniard has not progressed further than the quarter-finals at any of the majors last year, most notably exiting prematurely to journeyman Dustin Brown in the Wimbledon second-round. After a good showing at the World Tour Finals in December, a fresh start may be exactly what he needs to gain momentum.
Similarly, Azarenka battles on after a season recovering from injury and depression, and on her return she pushed Serena Williams to a final set three times. The two-time Australian Open champion remains a strong contender.
Other players to look out for include Wawrinka, whose baffling inconsistency makes the Swiss prone to producing some delightful surprises. Bouchard, Kokkinakis and Tomic all made headlines for the wrong reasons last year – on and off the court – but with their natural talent they will be planning to take Melbourne by storm as future stars. Similarly, Kyrgios recently enjoyed victory over Murray at the Hopman Cup and is the most likely to impress.
What with the awe-inspiring second wind in Venus Williams’ career, as well as home hero Hewitt playing his final tournament with the backing of a home crowd, there are a number of players hoping to make a name for themselves this tournament. The upcoming Australian Open will be nothing short of dramatic and is not one to miss.
Image courtesy of Yann Carradec.