All eyes on the prize down under
Originally published on: 11/01/12 16:59
Australian Open singles best: Won – 2008, 2011
Twice a champion in Australia and the only man not named Federer or Nadal to win in Melbourne since Marat Safin did so in 2005 knows that a repeat of his incredible 2011 season is unlikely. Of course, with a carefully managed schedule Djokovic could well dominate the Grand Slams again, and Melbourne seems an ideal place to keep his dominance going, but might the Serb have a hangover from all that celebrating in 2011?
Australian Open singles best: Won – 2011
The 2012 season could well be the broody Belgian’s swansong but she certainly won’t go out without giving it her all in the Grand Slams. Success at Wimbledon, a trip to the Olympics and another shot at the US Open remain her biggest targets, but after being officially crowned Aussie Kim at last year’s tournament the free-swinging defending champ will be tough to beat, injury permitting.
Australian Open singles best: Won – 2009
It will be interesting to see how quickly Nadal gets out of the blocks in Australia after admitting to wavering motivation and tiredness toward the end of 2011. Beating Djokovic would do him the world of good having lost six finals to the Serb last year, and his decision to add some extra weight to his racket head shows that he’s determined to pack a little more power in his punches this year. However, the fact the Mallorcan has only won two of his 10 Grand Slams on a hard court means a repeat of his 2009 triumph at Melbourne Park is still quite an ask.
Australian Open singles best: Won – 2001, 2003, 2009, 2010
With sister Venus out, Serena will be carrying the flag for the Williams sisters once again as she searches for Grand Slam title No.14. As ever, Williams remains a tough character to figure, but if she recovers from the ankle sprain that saw her pull out of Brisbane few would be suprised to see her back to her brute-force best in Melbourne, whether she loves the game or not. It’s tougher to read the American’s mind than most, but you would assume she’d be keen to gloss over her eventual, and highly controversial, defeat to Sam Stosur at the US Open with a fifth Australian Open crown. Wouldn’t she?
Australian Open singles best: Won – 2004, 2006, 2007, 2010
The Swiss has made at least the quarter-finals of the last 30 Grand Slams, so not only can you rule out an early exit, consider Federer a frontrunner after his stylish triple swoop of titles in Basel, Paris and London in a phenomenal end to 2011. The question marks are physical and mental – can he recover from the back issue that saw him retire from a tournament – an incredibly rare occurence – in Doha, and does he have the mental steel over five sets?
Australian Open singles best: Semi-finalist – 2011
Wozniacki tried to liven up her relationship with the press at last year’s Australian Open by claiming she had been scratched by a kangaroo, only to later reveal it had been a joke. Unfortunately, you feel the Dane will only truly get the press on side when she wins her maiden Grand Slam. For her sanity’s sake, fingers crossed that moment comes soon, but signs suggest it won’t be this one after the world No.1 injured her wrist in defeat to Agnieszka Radwanska in Sydney.
Australian Open singles best: Finalist – 2010, 2011
A season of sensational consistency saw Murray reach one final and three semi-finals in 2011 and while it is well documented that he hasn’t yet gone all the way at a major tournament, it would be no surprise to see the Scot make his third consecutive appearance in the title decider at Melbourne Park. Will Ivan Lendl give him the mental steel to push over the line this time?
Australian Open best: Quarter-finalist – 2011
The standout performer on the women’s tour last season after rising from outside the top 30 to No.2 in the world, the 6ft shot-maker will be bursting with belief going into Melbourne despite losing to Li Na in her warm up tournament in Sydney. All signs suggest she will pick up the No.1 ranking very soon, and if she continues the form that took her to victory at Wimbledon and the WTA Championships, the Daphne Akhurst trophy should have her name written all over it come the end of January.
Australian Open best: Fourth round – 2006, 2010
After becoming the first Aussie woman to win a Grand Slam singles title since Evonne Goolagong in 1980, Sam Stosur now faces the test of following up on home soil. The 27-year-old has never fared better than the fourth round in Melbourne – and she hasn’t got off to the best of starts in 2012 following early defeats to Iveta Benesova in Brisbane and Francesca Schiavone in Sydney – but she should certainly be expected to top her best run at home after passing the ultimate test on the big stage in New York.
Australian Open best:
Third round – 2011
He may still be a good few years from being a title contender but the 19-year-old home hope performs well on the Melbourne plexi-cushion surface and will expect a good run through the rounds if given a kind draw. There’s still much to improve – volleys and footwork in particular – but the last year’s Wimbledon quarter-finalist has impressed already this year – reaching the semi-finals in Brisbane and the final at the Kooyong Classic – and should do well again at his home slam.