Three Questions Heading into the Australian Open
The year’s first major is here, and players are looking to start off strong. At this year’s Australian Open notable players Serena Williams and Andy Murray will be missing due to health recovery and health concerns. As is always the case when top players withdrawn, new opportunities arise for other players to grab. Those opportunities, along with the return of familiar faces, leads to many questions. Here are three:
Who will be the winner in the women’s field?
This question has been on repeat ever since Serena announced her pregnancy in April 2017. No Serena means it’s open season on the WTA tour. Last year there were three different grand slam winners after Serena took home her 23rd major at last year’s Australian Open. Last season also saw five different women hold the number one ranking. It really is anyone’s guess as to who will step up when Serena isn’t around.
At this year’s Australian, possibly 20 different women have the chance to walk away with the trophy. With that said, there are some names at the top of the list that should be discussed. Simona Halep is the number one ranked player and won a warm-up tournament in Shenzhen. Though she hasn’t had much success at the Australian Open in the past, there is no reason why she can’t leave Melbourne with a title.
Elina Svitolina and Caroline Wozniacki, who play a similar counter puncher style to Halep, had successful campaigns in 2017 and both are contenders to win it all in two weeks. Angelique Kerber, another defensive player, won the Aussie Open in 2016. In that same year, Kerber also won the U.S. Open and made it to the Wimbledon Final. In 2017, Kerber had a disastrous year, failing to repeat an ounce of the success she had the previous year. But now, the German seems to be on course, winning several matches in warm-up tournaments against quality players. Perhaps she can rekindle some magic and win her second Australian Open title.
Finally, there are the big hitters who will be looking to bully their way to the title. There is Karolina Pliskova, whose serve and groundstrokes make her a contender at any grand slam. Garbine Muguruza is a two-time grand slam winner, looking for her third major. The only issue is she has been hit by the injury bug and has had to pull out of two warm up events. Venus Williams had a strong 2017, making two grand slam finals (one being at the Aussie Open). There is no reason why Venus can’t use all her experience to take home her first Australian Open trophy. Venus will have a first tough round against former top ten player Belinda Bencic (though she is 4-0 and never lost a set). Maria Sharapova is also worth mentioning, considering her experience and fighting spirit.
Americans Madison Keys and Sloane Stephens are also worth mentioning despite both failing to win matches since their run in New York. The list is truly endless. The winner might be a veteran or possibly someone upcoming. It really is anyone’s guess.
How will the Next Gen players fair?
Last season, Alexander “Sasha” Zverev established himself as a legitimate top five player, despite his struggles in the grand slam and his age of 20 years old. This season, Sasha is looking to build on his momentum and Australia is the perfect place for him to do so. The question is will he be able to do it? Sasha has a big serve and powerful groundstrokes, but can he live up to the pressure now that he is a threat, remains to be seen.
The same can be said for teen sensation, Denis Shapovalov. In 2017, in his home tournament in Canada, Shapovalov burst on the scene with wins over elite players such as Juan Martin del Potro and Rafael Nadal. Shapovalov then carried his great play to the US Open where he was able to make it to the fourth round. Though he did cool off the rest of the year, all eyes are on Shapovalov and the expectations are high. Many are wondering how he will fair this season and Australia is the first chance he can show that the hype around him is real.
Then there is talented, unpredictable Nick Kyrgios. Though Kyrgios, technically wouldn’t be considered a Next Gen player because he is over 21 (he is 22), he is still a young player looking to fully establish himself. Everyone knows how dangerous Kyrgios is. He has beaten Federer, Nadal and Djokovic. He is without doubt a big match player. The question that remains for Kyrgios is can he maintain his focus throughout the course of two weeks and be motivated to beat the lower tier players. If the 22 year old can concentrate and use his hometown audience in Australia as inspiration, then there is no reason why he cannot make it to his first grand slam final and possibly win his first grand slam.
There are many other young players who can’t be ignored. There is young American Francis Tiafoe, who is desperately trying to prove himself on tour. Andrey Rublev will be looking to build off his quarterfinal appearance at the U.S. Open. Hyeon Chung of South Korea, who won the Next Gen tournament, will also be looking to make some noise in Melbourne. These Next Gen players are hungry to get in the winner’s circle and Australia seems to be the perfect place for them to try.
Can Roger duplicate last year’s success?
Roger Federer shocked the tennis world last year by doing one thing: winning. No one expected Federer to be as dominant as he was last year. He won two grand slams and three Master 1000 titles (as well as two 500 titles). Federer had a record of 11-1 against top ten players in 2017. Very few people were able to derail the Fed-Express in 2017. So, with Federer in full health this year and most of the top players injured or recovering from injuries, why can’t he do it again?
Most tennis experts and fans expect him to do just that. Roger Federer is the oddsmaker-favorite to take the title. Though if he does win it won’t be easy. Federer is on the same side of the draw with big names such as Djokovic, del Potro, Wawrinka. All of this to possibly face his rival Rafael Nadal, whom he dominated last season. If Federer is to win, he will have earned the trophy.
This year’s Australian Open will be as unpredictable as it’s ever been. Everybody and anybody can win on the WTA. It is all based on who decides to take their chances and let their game do the talking. Though Federer is the heavy favorite to win his 20th grand slam title, there are other players on the tour who will try their hardest to see that that doesn’t happen. The only thing that is a given is that there will be great tennis to watch. Stay tuned!
The Australian Open beings Sunday at 6pm on ESPN 2 and the Tennis Channel.