The Australian Open Preview

January 11, 2019

- Grant Whittington

While British tennis fans will have been looking forward to Andy Murray’s return after a debilitating hip injury and subsequent surgery, the Scot’s tearful interview on the eve of the 2019 Australian Open has revealed that this could well represent his last ever appearance on the ATP Tour.

While the three-time slam winner hopes to appear at Wimbledon in the summer, the emotional nature of Murray’s revelations have cast a shadow over the first Grand Slam of the New Year.

Despite this, there’s a tremendous amount to look forward to in the next two weeks. Here’s a brief review of the tournament as a whole…

The Men’s Championship – Can Anyone Stop Djokovic?

In the absence of a fit and confident Murray, the Australian Open could well emerge as a straight shootout between world number one Novak Djokovic and the defending champion Roger Federer.

The Swiss legend, who recently won the Hopman Cup with Belinda Bencic and will arrive in Melbourne in pursuit of his 100th ATP title, has won the last two Australian Open titles and enjoyed something of an Indian summer – while Djokovic and Murray were struggling with injuries.

The Serb returned to his very best form last season, following a tense and incredibly hard-fought Wimbledon semi-final against Rafa Nadal that lasted for five gruelling sets. He subsequently won at SW19 and lost just two matches during the hard court season, claiming his third U.S. Open title and completing the Career Golden Masters in Cincinnati in the process.

As a result, Djokovic will undoubtedly and deservedly start as the favourite in Melbourne, with Federer expected to push the Serb all the way. The structure of the draw means that the two cannot meet before the showpiece final, further fuelling the idea that they’ll meet in a winner-takes-all contest to claim a record-breaking seventh Australian Open.

Outside of these two, the fitness doubts surrounding Nadal have continued right up until the eve of the tournament, with the Spaniard having undergone surgery at the end of last year and severely lacking in match practice. This explains why the 17-time Slam winner is priced at 9/1 to win, despite his pedigree and outstanding form since 2017.

The first two weeks of the new season have also seen fringe contenders Roberto Bautista-Agut and Kevin Anderson showcase excellent form and establish their credentials as potential winners.

The former beat Djokovic on-route to his ninth career title at the Qatar Open last week, for example, while two-time Slam finalist Anderson also won impressively in Pune earlier in the month.

The perennial top-20 contender Kei Nishikori also captured a title in Brisbane to bring a nine-match losing streak to a spectacular end, while the precocious ATP Finals winner and world number four Alexander Zverev will also be keen to enjoy a Grand Slam breakthrough in Melbourne.

What About the Women’s Championship – Will Serena Williams Make History?

In the women’s camp, all eyes will be on Serena Williams as she looks to win her first Grand Slam since the birth of her child in 2017.

The seven-time Australian Open winner (who last won here in 2017), will arrive in Melbourne hoping to equal Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam titles.

Despite her lengthy lay-off and being 37 years old, Williams remains extremely competitive at the highest level and is the 5/1 favourite to make history in Melbourne.

Williams won’t have it all her own way down under, however, particularly with Angelique Kerber in excellent form and having won her three majors during the last two years (including an Australian Open success in 2016).

In total, this two-year period has seen Kerber make five further semi-final appearances in Grand Slam tournaments, despite an unexpectedly disappointing 2017. Kerber also has a penchant for the hard courts in Melbourne, while the fact that she’s in the easier half of the draw should guarantee a smooth path to the latter stages.

If you’re looking for a wildcard contender in Melbourne, the 20-year old Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka undoubtedly fits the bill. Unpredictable, talented and confident in equal measure, she already carries herself like a champion and has been earmarked as a Grand Slam winner of the future.

This success may come sooner rather than later, with the youngster having won two WTP titles last season, including a significant one in Wuhan, and achieved a breakthrough by reaching the fourth round of the U.S. Open.

This run included a triumph over world number eight Petra Kvitová in the third round, while it helped to propel Sabalenka to the top-20 an establish her as a genuine force on the tour.

As for British number one Johanna Konta, she’ll be hoping to reap the rewards of new management and a renewed focus.

She certainly showed promise when thrashing former U.S. Open winner Sloane Stephens in Brisbane, and while some inconsistencies remain in her game she undoubtedly has the talent to reach the latter stages here.

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