By Brian O’Connell
The firm favourite in the men’s draw is again Novak Djokovic, who will be bidding to win his fifth title Down Under. It’s no surprise the Serb is well fancied to win the first Grand Slam of the year as the hard courts of Melbourne Park are well-suited to his hard-hitting baseline game.
Roger Federer has had a stunning start to the year, having just won his 1000th ATP tour match in the Brisbane final. The 33-year-old Swiss beat emerging talent Milos Raonic in three hard fought sets, showing he can still compete with the best on the tour. Last year’s champion Stanislaw Wawrinka also comes into the tournament in good form, with another tour title victory at the Chennai Open in India on Sunday.
The home favourite this year will be Nick Kyrgios, who announced himself as a future Grand Slam contender in 2014, with big wins over Rafael Nadal and Richard Gasquet at the Wimbledon Championships. Joining the 19-year-old in the draw on Friday will be fellow rising Aussie stars James Duckworth and Thanasi Kokkanakis.
Meanwhile, the women’s draw sees Serena Williams as the number one seed. Although the American has won the tournament five times in her career, she doesn’t go into this year’s competition in great form. Her recent 6-2 6-1 defeat by Canadian starlet Eugenie Bouchard showed her to be sluggish, and at times, disinterested in the game.
On the other hand, we’ve seen this all before from Williams, who at times seems to decide when she wants to hit top form. If her mentality is right it seems no one can touch her in any of tennis’ major competitions.
Other contenders for the women’s title are Maria Sharapova, Simona Halep, Petra Kvitova and the aforementioned Eugenie Bouchard. Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland is still searching for the first Grand Slam title of her career, and although not considered one of the favourites, the 25-year-old is simply too talented not to win a major. She has brought Czech legend Martina Navratilova in to her coaching team, and has got off to a great start in 2015, winning the Hopman Cup in Perth with compatriot Jerzy Janowicz. Expect big things from the Pole this year.
Sadly, this year’s Aussie Open looks set to be missing some of the biggest hitters to grace the game in recent times. Among those who have already withdrawn are US Open champion Marin Cilic and Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Rafael Nadal was doubtful about his participation as he has struggled to get back to full fitness following months on the side line. However, the Spaniard has arrived in Melbourne and is now expected to compete. Caroline Wozniacki is another on the injury list as she suffered a wrist injury in this week’s Sydney International.
The other big news in the build-up to the Australian Open are the changes to the tournament’s extreme heat policy, which took major criticism last January for allowing players to play in what some called ‘inhumane’ conditions. This year, tournament organisers consulted with several players to come up with a solution to the problem. The tournament referee will still make the final call on when to suspend play, but strict guidelines are now in place as to when that intervention will take place. Once the temperature reaches 40C, the playing conditions and the state of play are taken into consideration before the match is suspended.
Last year, Maria Sharapova spoke of feeling ‘delusional’ on court while playing in her first round match against Camille Pin. Argentine David Nalbandian said that he suffered intense headaches and dizziness as a result of the heat. And Canada’s Frank Dancevic even collapsed on court from heat exhaustion. With temperatures expected to hit the high thirties and low forties in the first week of the tournament, let’s hope common sense prevails and the player safety is given top priority.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia