Australian Open 2017
The first grand slam of the season, The Australian Open, is underway in Melbourne Will there be a new champion this year?
It’s a million-dollar question as both the men’s and the women’s schedule is packed with potential and former champions. The fab four of Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal would be competing against the likes of Stan Wawrinka, Milos Raonic, Kei Nishikori and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. There is always a surprise element like an Alexander Zverev, Nick Kyrgios, Dominic Thiem and Grigor Dimitrov who can put a spoke in the wheels of the fab four. The dice in the women’s draw is heavily loaded in favour of Serena William, who would be longing to lift her seventh Australian Open title and avenge her 2016 loss to Angelique Kerber, the new world number one. There are a few big match players who can stop Serena or Angelique in their bid to win the championship. Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland is fun to watch but lacks the temperament to last seven matches to take the crown. Simona Halep, the Romanian, has one of the most beautiful two-handed backhand in tennis today. But a shaky mental match dooms her tournament. The hard-serving Karolina Pliskova of Czech Republic is a former US open finalist, and having beaten Serena, could taste success in the open. The diminutive Slovakian, Dominika Cibulkova knows how to grind and win big matches and should be a threat in the tournament.
Novak has a tough opening draw against Fernando Verdasco of Spain. The two had met very recently in the semi-finals of the Doha Open. The Spaniard was on the verge of creating a major upset when he was a set up and had five match points to close the match in the second. But Novak played some inspired tennis, and drawing all his experience, closed out the match in a three setter and went on to beat Murray in the final to win the championship. Can we expect Novak to create that magic? He is coming off a very indifferent 2016 season. Having won the Australian and French Open titles to complete the career slam in tennis, Novak saw a slump in form and exited in the third round at Wimbledon. Though he reached the finals of the US Open, where he lost to Stan Wawrinka, he could not recreate the magic when he won seven titles by mid of the year. The loss at the Rio Olympics to Juan Martin Del Porto in the first round signalled his decline in form and he did not win a single tournament for the rest of the year and thereby losing the world number one ranking to the Scott, Andy Murray.
The 2016 season has been a standout year for Andy Murray, ultimately resulting in finishing the year-end as No.1 player in the world as well as clinching the year-end money title. He became the first man to win a Grand Slam, an Olympic gold, a Masters 1000 event and the World ATP tour final in the same calendar year. Andy ended the season with a whopping 78-9 record and 9 calendar titles. The Wimbledon crown and the Olympic gold added glitter to his trophy cabinet. The most imposing statement was the fact that he defeated world number 5 Nishikori, number 4 Roanic, number 3 Wawrinka and number 2 Djokovic in his last 4 matches of the 2016 season. Having lost 5 finals in Melbourne Park, it would be apt for Andy to rightfully win the championship in his sixth visit.
Roger Federer had an awful 2016 season, being side-lined by knee and back injury for most of the season. He went under the knife for his knee in February and returned to competitive tennis after a 10 weeks’ hiatus in the Miami Open. He pulled out of French Open, ending his record of 65 consecutive appearances at Grand Slams and reached the Wimbledon semi-final where he lost to Milos Raonic in 5 sets. Federer called in quits in July 2016 and ended the year at number 16, dropping out of the top 10 for the first time since 2002. It also marked the first time that Federer went without a title to show under his belt since 2000. Federer returned to action after a six-month’s sabbatical at Hopman Cup in 2017 where he could not stop France from beating Switzerland 2-1 despite beating Richard Gasquet in the semis. If Roger can manage to hold himself during the fortnight, who knows, a 18th Grand Slam title could be his for the taking.
The king of clay, Rafael Nadal, also found the going tough in the 2016 season. Nadal began with a first round loss against fellow Spaniard Fernando Verdasco in the Australian Open and did not win a tournament until the European clay court season. Nadal won the Monte-Carlo Masters and Barcelona Open defeating Gael Monfils and Kei Nishikori respectively. An injury to his left wrist forced Nadal to withdraw from the third round in the French Open. After a two-month layoff, Nadal reached the semi-final of the Rio Olympics but lost an epic encounter to the Argentine giant Del Podro in 3 sets. An exhausted Nadal could not bring out his best in the bronze medal match and lost in a three setter to Kei Nishikori.It was all downhill for Nadal from then on and he finished the year with a 39-14-win-loss record.
Stan Wawrinka was the third player to win a Grand Slam in 2016 when he won the US Open in August, beating Novak in 4 sets. When in cruise mode, Stan, may prove to be a tough customer to the fab four and would relish to add a fourth slam title to his kitty.
The 2016 season of WTA saw the rise of Angelique Kerber as a potential threat to the dominant Serena Williams. Kerber reached three Grand Slam finals and won the Australian and US Open and finished runner up at Wimbledon to Serena.Starting the year at number 10, Kerber played a staggering 81 matches, with a 78%-win record and 3 calendar titles.Her consistent performance during the year raised her aggregate to around 9000 points, thereby displacing Serena, who could accumulate around 7000 points. Will Kerber be able to sustain her consistent performance in 2017 is a question to be asked and pondered. At 35, Serena is an old campaigner. She had a disappointing 2016 season by her standard, with one Grand Slam title and 2 other WTA tiles. However, Serena could tie Steffi Graf’s Open Era record for Grand Slam singles titles at 22 when she won the Wimbledon crown. Serena was plagued by shoulder and knee injuries most of the season and could play only about 8 tournaments. Only time can tell whether her body and mind can withstand the gruelling 2017 season and she can regain the number one ranking, which she has made her own over the years.