The first Grand Slam tournament of the year gets under way in Melbourne from 18-31 January. The 104th edition has been in the news for other reasons too. No, it is not related to tennis but about the weather. The Australian summer is brutal and in the past it has forced many players to withdraw from the tournament citing exhaustion and dehydration. It really tests the players’ fitness and endurance. Like the years before, this edition of Australian Open too will be played in the heat. Thus throwing the gauntlet at the players to not only battle their arch rivals but also battle the climate in their quest for glory.
So, going by the 2015, the way the calendar year was finished, it is quite simple to analyse and put the money on the two world champions at the moment — the Serb Novak Djokovic and American Serena Williams — as the hot favourites to win the Australian Open this year. Both these players have had an outstanding 2015 and would be quite keen to maintain the winning momentum.
Top seeded Novak Djokovic has already given hints that he will be the man to beat at the year opening Grand Slam. He has warmed up beautifully by beating his arch rival Spaniard Rafael Nadal in the Qatar Open final. Djokovic wore down Nadal with his superb all court game and even matched rallies with great effect with the Spaniard. It was Novak’s ninth victory in 10 meetings over Nadal. Interestingly the last five had been in the straight sets. In their overall 47 clashes so far Djokovic leads Nadal 24 to 23.
The win at Qatar with a 6-1, 6-2 was clearly the most convincing one. In the post match news conference, Djokovic expressed satisfaction with his perfect tennis. He said: “From the beginning, I hit every shot the way I imagined I would hit it. Those two sets give me a great feeling. It gives me a lot of confidence and satisfaction, particularly against Rafa.” Djokovic is aiming to win the Australian Open for the sixth time in his career. Trained by the German tennis icon Boris Becker, Djokovic’s game has really blossomed and making him a tough man to beat, as he simply refuses to give up.
Moreover, the win over Nadal augurs well for Djokovic since the Spaniard will be one of the contenders for the title. Having had a rather dismal year from his usual high standards in 2015 marred by poor form and recurring injuries, Nadal would surely love to begin 2016 with a Grand Slam win. He wants to prove that he is back in full form and is not finished as yet.
Nadal may not be everyone’s favourite but the player to watch out for is Swiss star Stanislas Wawrinka. He has often proved the critics wrong by playing some fantastic tennis over the years. This hard working Swiss in the shadow of his illustrious countryman, the legendary Roger Federer, has surprised all by winning two Grand Slams (Australian Open 2014 and French Open 2015). He knows how to play in Australia and there is no reason if big seeds take a tumble, Wawrinka could be the dark horse. He is keen to make his mark in Australia and he started 2016 by winning the Chennai Open for the third straight time.