Ah, the Australian Open is finally upon us, the first Grand Slam of the season. It leads to insomnia for us Yankees, but is well worth it. It will be worth staying up this year because there will be a new woman champion since Li Na retired. Can Stan Wawrinka defend his title? Will Serena Williams slip up and allow Maria Sharapova to move up?
The Big Four
Novak Djokovic enjoys the best draw and will travel an easy road to the championship match. Milos Raonic is in bracket, but as Courtney Nguyen at Sports Illustrated points out, Djokovic is 4-0 against Raonic. If he beats Raonic he will meet Wawrinka in the semifinals. Wawrinka did beat Djokovic in the quarterfinals last year, but it is too hard not to pick Djokovic. He leads the head-to-head matches against Wawrinka, 16-3. The main thing for Djokovic is he misses Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Andy Murray.
Nadal told the media he will not win the tournament, but someone should encourage him to look at his draw and remember he was in the final last year. Nadal needs to give himself more credit. He drew the top half of the bottom portion of the draw, which means he avoids Federer and Murray until the semifinals. Mikhail Youzhny might challenge him, but Nadal could easily breeze through to the quarterfinals against Thomas Berdych. He would be Nadal’s first real challenge, but even with bad knees, he can beat Berdych and face Murray or Federer in the semifinals.
Murray could possibly meet Grigir Dmitrov in the fourth round. The tennis world expects so much out of “Baby Fed.” Bleacher Report thinks Murray will best Dimitrov, but it is very possible for the Bulgarian to win. Federer’s demolition of Dimitrov at Brisbane probably weighs heavy on his mind. Dimitrov has the potential to push through the top players. It is right there, but he just needs to make it happen. If Murray wins he will lose to Federer in the quarterfinals.
However, can Federer reach the quarterfinals? Yes, but it will not be easy. The second seed received the worst draw. Granted, 2014 easily showed the world that the elder Federer is still a force to be reckoned with on the courts. After he won Brisbane, I thought he would be the favorite at Melbourne, but this draw! He can beat his first three opponents, but they will not make it easy. They can help the other men by wearing out Federer in these matches and force him to work for every single game.
While the young players like Dimitrov, Raonic, and Kei Nishikori made headlines in 2014, it is hard not to pick the Big Four. I choose Djokovic to win it all. After Brisbane, I was determined to pick Federer, but I cannot due to his draw.
Serena and Maria
Li Na retired, which means there will be a new women’s champion. Serena is still the one to beat, but Maria Sharapova is on her heels to take over the number-one seed. Her performance at Brisbane with Serena’s meltdown at Perth makes Maria a logical pick. But history has shown us that Serena easily picks up after a huge loss. She struggled at the French Open and Wimbledon, but won the US Open.
Depth of Women’s Tennis
But women’s tennis is much deeper than the men’s side, which means lower seeds can easily dominate the higher seeds. Last year, Eugenie Bouchard made the semifinals at the first three Grand Slams and the final at Wimbledon. She lost her spark in July, but gained a new coach and agent. Simona Halep is at the third seed and she is starving to show her worth. Her final against Sharapova at the French Open in 2014 was one of the best in recent history. I still want to pick Serena, but something is nagging me to pick Sharapova. Keep that eye on Halep, though. Do not be surprised if she wins it all. But her first Grand Slam will probably be the French Open since her favorite surface is clay.
Players to Watch
Viktor Azarenka is back. She only played 24 matches in 2014 and struggled at Brisbane. She will not win the Australian Open, but the draw presented her an opportunity to provide the world with the most exciting first three rounds. In the first round she will play against American Sloane Stephens, who shocked Serena Williams in 2013 and played Azarenka in the semifinals that year. She did not live up to her breakthrough, but is still a shining star in American tennis. I think Azarenka will win, but it might be close. Next up will either be American teenager Taylor Townsend, who has the potential to be a superstar, or Caroline Wozniacki. Either opponent will be a test for the 25-year-old former Australian Open champion. If Azarenka can defeat Wozniacki, she could possibly play against Barbora Zahlavova Strycova, who caused major waves at Wimbledon. She defeated Australian Open champion Li Na and Wozniacki to reach her first Grand Slam quarterfinal. It would be fascinating to watch her play against Azarenka.
Juan Martin del Potro also returns to the Slams. He is always my favorite male dark horse, but it will not be easy for him since he spent almost all of 2014 injured. He just fell in the quarterfinals at Sydney and admitted he felt pain in his wrist. The Argentine plays a very good Jerzy Janowicz in the first round. If he can get past him, he will probably face energetic Gael Monfils. I do not think he will last very long so watch him while you have the chance!
Weather Delays a Thing of the Past?
The summers in Australia are extremely hot. The heat caused many delays in matches in 2014 when temperatures reached over 104 degrees, but much higher on the court. A ball kid fainted, nine players retired in the first round, player Frank Dancevic fainted after he hallucinated Snoopy, and over 1,000 fans received medial treatment for heat exhaustion. The Australian Open addressed the issue by adding a roof on the Margaret Court Arena. Play will not be interrupted since it can open and close in five minutes.