I like to think that the Australian Open is the most difficult of the four slams. Players are exposed to some extreme, scorching conditions over an excruciating long period of two weeks. Only the fittest survive down in Melbourne and even then they are left battered and bruised for weeks after. With that said, the standard of tennis that we witness during these two weeks is of the most entertaining quality, we don’t really see this type of tennis played throughout the rest of the season.
The Australian Open is the only tournament in the world where a heat rule is enforced, meaning if the temperature reaches a certain point, players must stop play for 10 minutes to cool down and rehydrate, it’s crazy and I love it. All the top players will flock down to Melbourne to begin their quest for grand slam glory. A solid performance here can pave the way for success throughout the long grueling season ahead. With five Aussies ranked in the top 100, and a further six ranked in the top 200, we have a lot of players to cheer for.
Wawrinka shocked the tennis world last year when he captured his maiden grand slam title, defeating the heavily favored Nadal in four sets of brutal tennis. He will arrive as the defending champion with an immense amount of pressure to repeat this triumph; Djokovic and Federer are the strong favorites to claim another title in Melbourne. The tournament will be played between the 19th Jan – 1st Feb.
Name – Jordan Thompson, DOB - 20/4/94, Country - Australia (Sydney) , Current ranking (highest) - 273 (218), Titles – 0, Results this summer - Kooyong exhibition, No. of Aus Opens - 1, Best Aus Open result – 1st round 2014.
The winner of his second Australian Open wildcard playoffs; 20 year old Jordan Thompson rightfully deserves his place amongst the tennis elites in this year’s Australian Open. With some solid results on the challenger and future tour, Thompson has built his ranking up to an admirable 273 in the world. During the 2014 Australian summer of tennis, Thompson beat former top ten player Juan Monaco, and held match points against Richard Gasquet at the Kooyong Classic, before succumbing to Jerzy Janowicz in the first round in Melbourne in what can best be described as an inconsistent match by both respective players.
Thompson held a two sets to love lead before capitulating in front of the Hisense arena crowd, losing the remaining sets quite easily. But this impressive showing proved that the young Sydney sider could perform with the very best players on tour, and with this confident showing, he built his ranking up to a career high 218. Thompson’s style of play wears down his opponents, he is an excellent scrambler of the ball, always putting balls back into play and remaining consistent in his weight of shots, but due to his constant defense, at times opponents can step into the court, and his court position may suffer as a result.
He is still relatively young so over time he will build muscle but his supreme fitness is what stands out for me the most. He himself declared that he loves playing in Australia, the conditions suits his game. After a few matches in Kooyong, I’m sure he’ll be rearing to go in Melbourne.
Name – Nick Kyrgios, DOB - 27/4/95, Country - Australia (Canberra) , Current ranking (highest) - 50 (50), Titles – 0, Results this summer – early loss in Sydney, pulled out of Hopman Cup, No. of Aus Opens - 1, Best Aus Open result – 2nd round 2014.
Kyrgios burst onto the scene with an astonishing quarterfinal result at Wimbledon, where he sensationally knocked out World No. 1 Rafael Nadal. He backed this up with an impressive showing at the US Open in September, making the third round before losing to Tommy Robredo in front of the Arthur Ashe crowd. His charismatic demeanor and constant energy has won the hearts of the tennis public, but it must be said that all eyes will be on him this Australian Open.
With great results come great expectations, and Kyrgios fits the bill perfectly as our current Australian hope. He has a big booming serve, his obvious weapon of choice, and a forehand to match. What he needs to work on is his transition into the net, an issue that most young players seem to have. He has a very well placed serve; he could follow that up by closing down the net, finishing the point off quicker. I do like how far he has come in terms of fitness, but there is always room for improvement. His injuries can be of concern, especially after his troublesome back cut his season short last year.
He pulled out of the Hopman Cup because of that, and lost early in Sydney, losing to Janowicz. A player that thrives off a pulsating crowd atmosphere, Kyrgios will be looking to use the home court crowd to his benefit in Melbourne, here’s hoping to a strong showing from the Canberra prodigy.
Name – Lleyton Hewitt, DOB - 24/2/81, Country - Australia (Adelaide) , Current ranking (highest) – 86(1), Titles – 30, Results this summer - early loss in Brisbane, No. of Aus Opens - 18, Best Aus Open result – finalist 2005.
What can I say about this man that hasn’t already been said, Lleyton is an absolute champion in all aspects of the game, and will always compete with the ambitious aim of beating any player on his day, he proved this by wowing Federer in the 2014 Brisbane International final. There hasn’t been much said in the media about Lleyton this year compared to previous summers, mainly because of all our promising juniors making a charge on the tour, but I still believe he can perform at the highest level against the top players.
A veteran of the game these days, he is well respected by everyone on tour, and deservedly so, he is the youngest ever World No. 1 and is the third active player to have more than 600 career wins, behind Federer and Nadal. There is continuous speculation that this year’s Aussie Open will be his last but the media love to speculate and push the idea of retirement every year, and you know what, every year our Lleyton battles on. He had his best season ending ranking for 5 years in 2014, finishing at 50.
He put in a rather disappointing performance against fellow Aussie Sam Groth in the first round of Brisbane so he’ll be short on match practice. Hopefully he can arrive in Melbourne early, get accustomed to the harsh conditions, be given a favorable draw and do us proud like he has all these years. Obviously no bias intended by c’mon mate, big tournament for you.
Name – Bernard Tomic, DOB - 21/10/92, Country - Australia (Gold Coast) , Current ranking (highest) - 71 (27), Titles – 2, Results this summer - Quarterfinal showings in Brisbane and Sydney, No. of Aus Opens - 5, Best Aus Open result - 4th round 2012.
Remember when Tomic won his first round match in Melbourne as a 17 year old wildcard becoming the youngest ever male tennis player to win a senior Australian Open Grand Slam tournament match, remember when he reached the Wimbledon quarterfinals in 2011, becoming the youngest man to do so since Boris ‘Boom Boom’ Becker in 1986. I remember watching those matches and being utterly impressed with Tomic and his meteoric rise that year, but many have since forgotten his unbelievable potential and ability.
It just so happens that Tomic has experienced the controversial side of sport, which can sometimes be the unfortunate case for rising talent in any sport. Despite calling it quits against Nadal last year in Melbourne, and having numerous surgeries as a result, Tomic has climbed back well inside the top 100, claiming a second career title in Bogota. His father’s ban from the ATP has been lifted and he seems to be reaping the benefits of having a familiar face back in his entourage. He put in a reasonable effort in Brisbane, making the quarterfinals against Nishikori, and performed well in Sydney, but for Tomic to thrive in Melbourne, he has to remain focused and try to be the aggressor. He has an impressive serve and a great feel for the ball, reminiscent of Federer, but can often be caught out by his opponents for being too passive and safe.
Much like Hewitt, Tomic is also flying low under the radar, with the media choosing to focus more on Kyrgios and Kokkinakis, this could work to his advantage. Too many times in the past, he has been an easy target for critics and media alike, but if he can string a couple of decent performances together, he has the potential and the game to make it to the second week of a grand slam and win back the tennis public. Good luck Bernie.
Name – Thanassi Kokkinakis, DOB - 10/4/96, Country - Australia (Adelaide) , Current ranking (highest) - 147 (147), Titles – 0, Results this summer - 2nd round in Brisbane, No. of Aus Opens - 1, Best Aus Open result – 2nd round 2014.
This South Australian youngster is an exciting prospect for the growth of Australian tennis. His easy flowing serve and natural aggressive game is a beautiful site to witness, he certainly has the game to succeed in our sport. As is the case with most new players on tour, Kokkinakis’ inexperience could hinder his progression in Melbourne but he is definitely no stranger to the big stage. He performed admirably against Nadal in last year’s Open in front of a packed Rod Laver crowd, earning the respect of many. After that he mainly competed on the challengers circuit, reaching a ranking of 147 in the world.
He had a marvelous victory in Brisbane where he beat the eighth seed Julian Benneteau before losing to Tomic in the next round, he needs to take that confidence going into the years first slam; he has some points to defend as well so he could be under some pressure, but I think we can all agree that the Australian public is looking forward to seeing Kokkinakis just compete, I don’t think there are any real expectations for him to go deep into the tournament. We don’t need to brand him as the savior of Australian tennis just yet, give him some time on the tour before we start pressuring him. I’m excited to see how he fairs this year.
Name – Sam Groth, DOB - 19/10/87, Country - Australia (Narrandera) , Current ranking (highest) - 81 (75), Titles – 0, Results this summer - quarterfinal in Brisbane, No. of Aus Opens - 2, Best Aus Open result – 1st round 2014.
With an unparalleled serve and humbling country background, Sam Groth’s story is an interesting one. He tried his luck on the tour in his early twenties, had limited success, and then turned his attention to AFL. He married Jarmilla Gaidsjova, even coached her for a bit before divorcing, and then came back to the tour. His 2014 season was a standout, cementing his place in the top 100 with some solid results both in singles and doubles. He is perhaps best known as having the fastest recorded serve ever, 263.1km, set in a challengers event some years ago.
His serve is obviously his greatest asset, almost unstoppable at times, he backs this up with heavy aggressive ground strokes and tactical net approaches which, for opponents, can make for a tough outing on the tennis court. Inconsistency and poor shot selection can be a major factor in Groth’s game, but with serves consistently reaching 225km+, the Melbourne faithful will be in for a treat.
Name – Novak Djokovic, DOB - 22/5/87, Country - Serbia , Current ranking (highest) - 1 (1), Titles – 48, Results this summer - early loss in Qatar, No. of Aus Opens - 10, Best Aus Open result – Champion – 08, 11,12,13.
This man has been at the pinnacle of tennis for the last 6 years, his rise to the top started with success down under when he captured his maiden grand slam title in 2008, beating an exuberated Tsonga. Since then he has captured an additional three Australian Opens, two Wimbledon crowns and one US Open, finishing the year as World No. 1 on two separate occasions and he even had a child with his wife this past year; it’s safe to say that Novak Djokovic is the man that everyone will be chasing in Melbourne.
Conditions here suit his all court game tremendously well, he is painfully fit and is not affected by the scorching Melbourne heat in the slightest. His backhand is a pure work of art, so solid; it would take years to break it down. Djokovic is a smart tennis player; he’ll use all corners of the court, breaking down his opponent both mentally and physically. Sometimes it looks like he’s toying with opponents the way he constructs points and defends his side of the net, that’s how dominant he can be. Our current World No. 1 finished 2014 by capturing his fourth ATP World Tour Finals crown after Federer withdrew with a back complaint.
He lost in Melbourne at the quarterfinals to eventual champion Stanislas Wawrinka in 2014; a poor result for him, so he’ll be looking to exact some revenge next week. He had a hiccup in Qatar with an early exit but he will come down to Melbourne as the firm favorite.
Name – Roger Federer, DOB - 8/8/81, Country - Switzerland , Current ranking (highest) - 2 (1), Titles – 83, Results this summer - Winner in Brisbane, No. of Aus Opens - 15, Best Aus Open result – Champion – 04, 06, 07, 10.
Welcome to the 1000 match win club Fed’s. In capturing his maiden Brisbane title last week, Federer joined an illustrious group of players to have registered over 1000 career match wins on the ATP tour, the others being Jimmy Connors and Ivan Lendl. Many we’re writing him off at the start of the 2014 season, myself included, but with final showings at Wimbledon and the ATP World Tour Finals as well as handful of Masters Series crowns, Federer rose above everyone else in terms of match wins, posting an unprecedented 74 triumphs, the most of any player in 2014.
He rose back to No. 2 in the rankings, and just missed out on the year end number one crown. Two main reasons as to why Federer attained so much success in 2014; he switched to a bigger racquet frame, and he appointed Stefan Edberg as his coach, a hero and idol for Federer growing up. Edberg instilled in the mind of Federer that he can and should be making finals and winning them. He wanted Federer to be consistently aggressively, to defend when necessary, and to always be in control. I think this mindset, combined with the aid of a bigger racquet frame really propelled Federer’s game last season.
He had an entertaining rivalry with Djokovic throughout the year that propelled both of their games. He is a lead contender at this year’s Australian Open; I would love to see him capture an 18th grand slam title.
Name – Stanislas Wawrinka, DOB - 28/3/85, Country - Switzerland , Current ranking (highest) - 4 (3), Titles – 8, Results this summer - Winner in Chennai, No. of Aus Opens - 9, Best Aus Open result – Champion 2014.
Who would’ve picked Stan the Man to break the ‘Big Four’s’ overall dominance in grand slams and win the 2014 Australian Open title, the first man outside the ‘Big Four’ to win a major since Del Potro at the 2009 US Open. I felt he had an inconsistent year following that title, but he regathered himself to make the semifinals at the ATP World Tour Finals, and help his beloved Switzerland to Davis Cup glory just a couple of days later.
His obvious weapon is the backhand – the amount of pace and weight of shot generated is staggering, alot of opponents struggle under the sheer force. Stan has flawless technique as well which always makes for entertaining shot making. He triumphed in Chennai for the third time earlier this year, so he has plenty of match practice and confidence. Based on his overall results last year, I wouldn’t normally tout him as a favorite but he performed expertly well at the backend of last season, and he is the defending champion, so I think he should be respected as a strong favorite.
Name – Kei Nishikori, DOB - 29/12/89, Country - Japan , Current ranking (highest) - 5 (5), Titles – 7, Results this summer - semi final in Brisbane, No. of Aus Opens - 5, Best Aus Open result - quarterfinal 2012.
The Asian sensation was the first Japanese man to reach a grand slam final when he came second best to Cilic in New York last year, and finished 2014 as the fifth best player in the world. Much has been spoken about Nishikori; his incredible movement on court, shot making abilities and his calmness under pressure.
He is consistently putting the ball back into play, frustrating his opponents with his precision and stubbornness, reminding me a lot of Hewitt in his prime. His game went to a whole different level in 2014, winning titles in Memphis, Barcelona, Kuala Lumpur and his beloved Tokyo and making the final of the Madrid Masters and the US Open – much credit is due to his coach, Michael Chang. As a 17 year old, Chang beat the likes of Lendl and Edberg to win the French Open.
Chang’s influence has been apparent in Nishikori’s results, with the Japanese man winning Barcelona and reaching the final of Madrid, both high level tournaments played on clay. Much is expected of Nishikori in 2015, I’m not too sure how he’ll fair in Melbourne; conditions haven’t seemed to suit his game in the past.
Name – Andy Murray, DOB - 15/5/87, Country - Australia (Sydney) , Current ranking (highest) - 6 (2), Titles – 31, Results this summer - no tournaments entered, No. of Aus Opens - 9, Best Aus Open result – finalist – 10,11,13.
Up until a couple of years ago, tennis was dominated by the ‘Big Four’, consisting of Djokovic, Federer, Nadal and Murray. Between them, they had won 36 of the last 39 grand slams, a strong indication of their overwhelming, ‘big’ status. Murray, despite his two grand slam titles, has dropped off from his compatriots, falling to outside the top ten at one stage last year, but like most top players, he collected himself at the backend of the year, winning 22 of 23 matches, as well as qualifying for the ATP World Tour Finals in London.
He is three times a beaten finalist in Melbourne so he can definitely play well, but what deters me about Murray is his on court demeanor. He is his own worst enemy at times, constantly talking to himself and yelling at his box. I saw him play in London last year, I was impressed with his level of play but his attitude in between points was appalling for me. He ended up winning the match in straight sets against Raonic in an impressive display of all court tennis, but his attitude throughout did not convince me that he could or would be a strong favorite in future grand slams anymore, but because of his previous success, and the high level of play he has shown in the last few months, I’m touting him as a player to watch out for.
Juan Martin Del Potro
Name – Juan Martin Del Potro, DOB - 23/9/88, Country - Argentina , Current ranking (highest) - 338 (4), Titles – 18, Results this summer - cameback to make the Sydney quarterfinals, No. of Aus Opens - 8, Best Aus Open result – quarterfinals 09, 12.
It was this time last year that Del Potro sensationally crashed out of the second round in Melbourne, from there he would miss the rest of the season due to his troublesome left wrist. Only recently in Sydney has the 6.6ft Argentinean made his comeback, reaching the quarterfinals, where he showed an all too familiar power house game that we’ve come to expect and enjoy over the years.
The former World No. 4 is no stranger to grand slam glory, having triumphed in flushing meadows, stunning Federer in five tight sets in the 2009 final. For such a big guy, Del Potro moves extremely well, and with such overwhelming ground strokes, he’s made for a less than ideal opponent over the years. His only downfall that I can think of is his time spent off the court with injury, his left wrist to be precise.
This will be his third comeback in his short, successful career which is a worrying statistic, but his promising form in Sydney suggests that he is back to full fitness after nearly a year out from the game. I’ve always been a fan of Del Potro, he has played with a protected ranking this summer as his current ranking is too low for direct entry, but he has the potential to soundly beat any opponent on his day.
Draw (32 seeds in total, 8 wildcards)
Big names – (1) Djokovic, (13) Bautista Agut, Del Potro, Hewitt, (8) Raonic
Novak Djokovic opens his campaign against a qualifier, sounds easy enough but after his early loss in Qatar, he may be down on confidence. It’s vital that Novak strings a couple of decent performances together in the first week to find his game. A possible match against Verdasco in the third round could test him. Bautista Agut was awarded the ATP Most Improved Award in 2014, he will be brimming with confidence, remember, he knocked out Del Potro last year. Speaking of Del Potro, the big man could face Monfils in the second round, a mouthwatering prospect; that match would surely be on Centre court. Hewitt and Raonic look set to collide in the third round.
Big names – (4) Wawrinka, (9) Ferrer, (5) Nishikori
Wawrinka, the defending champion, headlines this quarter of the draw. He will face Ilhan with a potential match up against Golubev in the third round, a player he has struggled against before. At the bottom part of this section, Nishikori has been dealt quite an easy draw; he faces Almagro first round with the possibility of facing an out of form Ferrer in the fourth. No real other standout players, but a quarterfinal clash between Wawrinka and Nishikori would be an entertaining contest to watch.
Big names – (7) Berdych, (3) Nadal
Nadal comes into this year’s first major with little to no match fitness. He lost in the first round of Qatar, fueling speculations that he isn’t back to full fitness. I didn’t pick him as a favorite or a dark horse because of this reason. He opens against Youzhny, and could face stiff tests from players like Gasquet and Anderson later on. Berdych occupies the top part of the quarter, he has a relatively safe passage into the quarterfinals – perhaps Tomic or Gulbis can trouble him. There are a flurry of Aussies in this quarter, with the pick of the bunch being the Kokkinakis – Gulbis match, the young Aussie lost to Nadal in the second round last year. Tomic has much to prove after his disappointing effort last year where he also lost to Nadal.
Big names (6) Murray, (10) Dimitrov, (2) Federer
This is my favorite part of the draw, there are so many potential matches worthy of a final. At the top we have Murray, he opens his account against a qualifier, and is a strong chance to meet Dimitrov in the fourth round. Federer should have a safe passage into the quarterfinals, where a Murray match would delight fans. Some young guns are floating around as well; we have Kyrgios and Coric at the bottom of this quarter. They both had standout seasons last year, each one of them could face Federer early on.
Djokovic v Del Potro
Wawrinka v Nishikori
Berdych v Nadal
Murray v Federer
Semi final picks
Djokovic v Wawrinka
Berdych v Federer
Djokovic v Federer
This is one of my favorite tournaments. I’m eagerly awaiting the potential upsets, breakout performances and history being made. The Australian Open always delivers – good luck to all players and our Aussies, rip in boys.