WITH 2019 only a few weeks old, tennis fans are ready for one of the sports most anticipated events. The Australian Open field is all but set with plenty of contenders emerging in both the men’s and women’s bracket as the 256 hopefuls prepare for battle starting Monday. Roger Federer and Serena Williams will be out to add to their glittery trophy case and enhance their legacy as perhaps not only the greatest tennis players we’ve seen but perhaps the greatest athlete of the 21st century. Defending champions Novak Djokovic and Caroline Wozniacki might have some to say about that, with the likes of Simon Halep, Kevin Anderson, Marin Cilic, Elina Svitolina, Angelique Kerber, Dominic Thiem, Naomi Osaka and of course, Rafael Nadal all capable of going on a championship calibre run in Melbourne.
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IF this Australian Open is anything like the last major, we are in for one helluva show. Serena Williams sits outright second among all women with 23 Grand Slam crowns to her name but wasn’t able to top Japenese sensation Naomi Osaka in controversial fashion at Flushing Medows, with the 21-year old claiming top honours. Osaka has been rewarded with the 4th overall seed and should she continue her form, there could be a rematch in the semi-finals between her and Serena. There is plenty more to talk about in the bracket though, with world No. 1 Simon Halep the likely favourite following her finals appearance 12 months ago and a breakthrough for her first career major at the French Open last year.
SHE fell one win short last season at Melbourne Park to current world No. 3 Caroline Wozniacki who claimed the first Grand Slam of her career under the bright lights of Rod Laver Arena at the 2018 event. Both women are on opposite sides of the field once again this season and they could both be forced to contend with Angelique Kerber should they make a deep run with the 2016 winner at Melbourne Park eager to capture her 4th career major. With six different winners in the last eight Aus Open’s, there’s every chance we see another first-time winner in two short weeks time as well. All signs point to an enthralling few weeks of tennis with plenty of contenders eager to make a name for themselves.
Aussie, Aussie, Aussie
All the buzz is around Ash Barty who could be in for the best major of her career. Australia’s bright 22-year old drew the 15th seed for the tournament and may have to contend with the defending champ Wozniacki or Mario Sharapova (30th seed) in the third round. She isn’t the only Australian woman who will have to face a big name though with fellow youngster Dasha Gavrilova on track to duel with Naomi Osaka in Round 2, should she overcome Tamara Zidanšek first up.
Image from womenshealth.com.au
STICKING with the trend the draw wasn’t kind to Sam Stosur who could be slated to play Serena in the third round. The last of the relevant Aussie women in Anja Tomljanovic has a rough road ahead of her as well. The top-50 ranked Australian will go up against former semi-finalist Johanna Konta to open her campaign and may have to do battle with former world No. 1 and two-time Grand Slam winner Garbiñe Muguruza, who holds the 18th seed and will be eager for another strong run.
Dark Horse – Aryna Sabalenka (11th seed)
WHILE she might not be a textbook underdog, Aryna Sabalenka is hitting her straps at the right time. A year ago she had her deepest tournament run with a 4th round exit in the U.S. Open falling to the eventual champion in Osaka. She was the only woman to take a set off Osaka during the tournament and with an open portion of the bracket in front of her, an appearance in at least the quarterfinals is there for the taking.
First Round Matchup You Can’t-Miss – Simona Halep vs. Kaia Kanepi
THE last time Simona Halep was in a hard court major she was upset by unseeded Estonian Kaia Kanepi in round one. So it’s only fitting that the two are slated to go head-to-head in the first round once again. The thought of seeing the world No. 1 bow out to the same unseeded opponent in consecutive majors is too good to miss.
Image from reuters.com
Last Two Standing – Elina Svitolina vs. Angelique Kerber
ONE one side of the draw I wanted to be different and pick against Serena, even though it doesn’t feel right. If someone is going to dethrone Goliath, it could very well be Naomi Osaka in a potential semi-final, but I’m tipping 6th seeded Elina Svitolina to be her undoing. She is more than capable of storming to a finals berth against former winner Angelique Kerber who has a somewhat friendly draw. Kerber’s previous success at this major and her recent form are good signs that she can and should claim her fourth career Grand Slam.
WINNER: ANGELIQUE KERBER
THE men’s bracket continues the same trend in 2019 that has dominated the sport for the last 10-15 years. Who can stop Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic? Since 2010 that trio has won 30 of a possible 36 grand slams with only four other men tasting Grand Slam success. The ‘Big 3’ dominating the men’s bracket aren’t exactly in for a cakewalk though with Nadal and Federer being dealt tough draws, which begs the question, who can stop the Djokovic Express?
IT could be former champ Stan Wawrinka, who looms as an underdog with a chance of making some noise in his portion of the bracket. 4th seeded Alexander Zverev is yet to taste Grand Slam glory and the youngest member of the top-10 has his work cut out for him as he battles injury concerns. Last year’s finalist Marin Cilic has been rewarded with the 6th seed and will look for consecutive appearances on the big stage, while we could all be sleeping on South African Kevin Anderson, who might be running out of time to snap up his first career major.
Aussie, Aussie, Aussie
WE could be entering a new era in Australian men’s tennis with Alex de Minaur (27th) the only seeded Aussie in the year’s Open. Stop me if you’ve heard this before. With Bernard Tomic and Nick Kyrgios failing to make Melbourne Park their own fortress in the past de Minaur might be ready to stake his claim as a new force. He captured his first ATP title on Saturday defeating Andreas Seppi for the Sydney International crown, but he’ll have his work cut out for him early in the first major of the season. Should he battle through to the 3rd round his likely opponent will be Rafael Nadal, who to get there may also have to go through two Australian’s in James Duckworth and Matthew Ebden.
THE next highest ranked Aussie in John Millman has a potentially daunting second-round date with former giant Andy Murray or the 22nd seed Roberto Bautista Agut. Murray, who plans to retire from tennis at the end of Wimbledon this season will be out to leave Melbourne on a high note, which isn’t great news for Millman. The aforementioned Tomic and Kyrigos along with Thanasi Kokkinakis and Jordan Thompson all also have their work cut out for them and will battle to make it much further than the second or third rounds.
Dark Horse – Karen Khachanov (10th seed)
AFTER bowing out in the second-round at two straight Aus Open’s, don’t rule out Khachanov surviving for a longer stretch in this campaign. While his path to the final is terrifying with both 2018 finalists Marin Cilic and Roger Federer standing between he and a semi-final place, the big-hitting Russian is more than capable of causing an upset.
First Round Matchup You Can’t-Miss – Nick Kyrgios vs. Milos Raonic
IT’S tough not to pick Andy Murray in what could be his final Grand Slam appearance, but I’m going a different route. Win, loss or draw (that’s not a thing in tennis Fry), there will no doubt be fireworks between unseeded hot head Nick Kyrios and Milos Raonic in Round 1. After the Canadian’s run to the semi-finals in 2016, you could be forgiven for thinking these two would be meeting in the 2019 final, rather than the first round. Regardless, this looms as the can’t miss matchup on Day 1 on Aus Open action.
Last Two Standing – Novak Djokovic vs. Roger Federer
I hate to go chalk, but can you really see this tournament ending any other way? After both Djokovic and Federer made headlines in 2018 it’s only fitting that the two meet for all the marbles in a few weeks time. Djokovic has owned the Australian Open in the past with six of his 14 majors coming at this event.
HOWEVER, he won’t be going up against any other tennis player. The greatest player of our generation in Roger Federer owns a narrow 25-22 all-time record over ‘The Joker’, but if you dig deeper you’ll see Djokovic has the ledger in his favour on hard courts (19-17) and in Grand Slam Finals (3-1). Couple this with the fact that Novak has won the last two Grand Slam’s to close out 2018 and I just can’t see how you pick against him.
WINNER: NOVAK DJOKOVIC
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