sports gazette

Australian Open Preview

© globalite: Australian Open are ready to kick off: world's best all ready for the fight
Published: 12 Jan 2014

The Sports Gazette team for the Australian Open is ready to offer the best coverage ever for the first Slam of the season, including live blogging, live tweeting, match reports and more.
But before it all gets underway we got them together and asked them a few questions about their predictions for the Aussie Slam.

Who is the favourite in both draws?

Simon Collings: In the women's side it has to be Serena Williams. She was the stand out player in 2013 and I cannot see it being any different this year. As for the men's draw, I would go for Novak Dkokovic. The Serbian often starts the season well and I think this will give him the edge over Rafael Nadal.

Giulio Gasparin: I give Novak Djokovic the edge on everyone else in the men’s draw, he loves the surface and does not suffer in the hot conditions of the Australian Summer. Let us not forget he is the three time, and current reigning champion in Melbourne. Serena Williams is surely the woman to beat in the ladies’ event.

Beth Shine: It’s hard to look past Djokovic or Nadal in the men’s draw and Serena Williams in the women’s. I think Djokovic just edges Nadal as the favorite in the men’s, he clearly loves the Australian Open given his success here and I think he has a slight advantage over Nadal on the hard courts. In the women’s draw Serena Williams is the outstanding favorite, she’s looking unstoppable having recently won Brisbane without dropping a set.

Richard Jude: It’s hard to look past Serena Williams for the women’s title, when she’s fit and focused she is on another level to her opponents. In the men’s draw you’ve got to look at Djokovic and Nadal as being a cut above the rest. Whilst Nadal had a stunning 6 months in 2013, Djokovic ended the season well and he has a love affair with this tournament.

Will it be likely that the World no.1 and no.2 meet again in the finals like at the US Open?

Simon: I think it is almost a certainty. The only threat to Djokovic and Nadal is Murray, and he is only just returning from injury. A full-fit Murray is capable of toppling the top two, but I think it is just too soon for him to be making a grand slam final.

Giulio: I think it is very likely, Nadal did not look unbeatable in his last appearance, but he still won the title in Qatar. Djokovic has won the Australian slam for the past three years. It definitely is the most likely final. The same can be said for the women’s. Azarenka comes in as the two-time-reigning champion, while Williams as world’s best and one to beat.

Beth: I think so. I don’t think there’s anyone in the draw who can beat Nadal and Djokovic if they are fit and on song-the one man that would normally have the chance is Murray and I think the Australian Open is too soon for him to be back to his peak. Of course you never know and there can always be upsets but on the hard courts I think a Nadal-Djokovic final is very likely.

Richard: In the men’s draw, the semi-finals have been made up of the top four seeds in the majority of Grand Slams for the last few years, highlighting the strength of those at the very top of the game. With Federer’s ability to put 3 to 5 sets of consistent tennis together, and his ranking having slipped, combined with Murray’s fitness issues, it points to Djokovic and Nadal setting up another epic showdown in the final.

Whilst Serena is a cut above, Victoria Azarenka is a clear second. The Belarusian has proven herself the closest challenger to the World No. 1, and, like Djokovic has had her best Grand Slam results in Australia. The consistency of Williams and Azarenka is not as high as Nadal and Djokovic’s though, so while I would expect to see one of them in the final, they have both proven beatable.

How far can Andy Murray go?

Simon: Given lack of match practice I think quarter-finals will be Murray's limit. He has prepared for Melbourne by playing a few three set matches in the Middle East, but five setters are a different ball game. Fitness could be his downfall.

Giulio: We cannot have massive expectations on Murray, but he did look quite competitive in his first appearances this season and his first few rounds are quite comfortable. He could find his rhythm by the time he may faces his first true test in the fourth round, where he might find John Isner. If he survives I do not think he will go further that the quarter finals as Tsonga and Federer are a cut above at the moment, especially physically.

Beth: It’s going to be an interesting one for Murray- British hopes as ever will be high but I think the Australian open is too soon for him to be back at his best. He is lacking match-practice which once you get further into slams is absolutely key. He’s got an okay draw for the first few rounds and despite his lack of competitive matches I would expect him to make it to the second week. Potentially meeting John Isner could be a difficult one in the fourth round. I think Murray could make the quarters but a lack of match play and fitness will prove a step too far to go deep into the second week.

Richard: Murray’s quality is undoubted, and he is now a multiple Grand Slam winner in arguably the most competitive generation ever. However, his back operation has left him with little or no competitive build up going into this tournament. There are no expectations because of this, and he has appeared relaxed in the run up to his first game. Even with rustiness, he would be expected to get through to the second week, but by this point his lack of match practice should catch up with him.

Can Victoria Azarenka win 3 in a row?

Simon: Of course she has a chance, especially given her track record in Melbourne. However, I fancy Serena Williams to claim the crown. She's the best player in the women's game and I think she will have too much for the competition.

Giulio: Yes, she can, but will she? I do not think she will raise the trophy for the third time. She is a great fighter and always finds her best tennis against Williams, but she is yet to beat her in a slam and in any case she has to make it to the final first.

Beth: It is possible, at the minute she is looking like the only possible challenger to Serena Williams but I just can’t see past Williams so I think Azarenka could be collecting the runners-up trophy.

Richard: If Serena falters, she will become the favourite. Her ability to turn a game on its head and come from behind is a quality that Grand Slam winners need, as you can’t play really well, in every set, for two weeks. Because of this, and the fact she knows how to win this tournament, you can’t rule her out.

Which quarter of both draws is most likely to fall apart and who can take advantage?

Simon: The top quarter of the men's side looks like it could be full of surprises. There are plenty of big severs and erratic players who can cause upsets. Keep an eye on the big-hitter Milos Raonic, who could go far. In the women's draw I would plump for the second quarter. Once again there are some big servers, in particular Sabine Lisicki could cause some upsets. Angelique Kerber and Venus Williams make this section even tougher for 4th seed Li Na - an upset is probable.

Giulio: Obviously Murray is the top 4 player who is in biggest danger given his situation and he has got quite a tough draw. Isner, Tsonga and Federer are all in it and will take advantage of a bad day from any of the others.
Sharapova’s quarter looks to be the most open one in the women’s draw. She is coming back from a long break due to injury, but all the other big names in it have not looked great either –Halep and Jankovic on top of it.

Beth: With question marks over Murray and Federer I would say that second quarter of the men’s draw is the most vulnerable. If Murray is lacking match practice he could come a cropper early against John Isner who himself could go on a run. You can never rule out Tsonga either, he knows how to beat the top players, its just whether he decides he wants to do it over 5 sets.
In the women’s draw the second quarter is the most open. Li Na is the 4th seed but she is sometimes unpredictable. Who knows what form or shape Venus Williams will be in but she is a threat and if those around her stumble and she can keep her head, Sabine Lisicki could take advantage.

Richard: The fact that Federer’s consistency has dropped, and Murray’s fitness and form is an unknown would suggest that the second quarter is the one to be in. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga would be the obvious man to profit from this, but the Spanish left-handers Verdasco and Lopez are both capable of putting runs together at Slams too.
I found answering this on the women’s side tougher, I think the third quarter looks weakest but I can’t call who would take advantage if Sharapova or one of the other seeds were to go.

Which up and coming player could go the furthest?

Simon: I must confess my knowledge isn't great in the women's side. But for the men I would say Grigor Dimitrov. His game has it all, you can see why he is dubbed 'the new Roger Federer'.

Giulio: Eugenie Bouchard has got everything it takes to make it all the way to a fourth round clash against Serena Williams, but I expect that is the furthest she can get. I would still go with her though, I do not see any other boy or girl going any further.

Beth: Grigor Dimitrov could finally live up the his billing as the next Federer especially with Roger Rasheed in his box as head coach. I’m going for a bit of an unknown in the women’s side with the American 18 year old Madison Keys. Her ranking is up to 36 and she recently picked up a win over world No. 11 Simona Halep in Sydney. She has one of the biggest serves in the tour and could do some damage.

Richard: I’m looking forward to seeing if Sloane Stephens can back up her impressive run in last year’s event. The thirteenth seed is in Azarenka’s quarter, but she beat Serena Williams last year so don’t rule anything out…

Earliest big upset in both draws?

Simon: In the men's side it has to be Nadal vs Tomic, what a first round match that is! Tomic is capable of beating anyone on his day and, add to that he will have the backing of a home crowd, Nadal is in for a difficult encounter. As for the women's draw, well take your pick! We all know that the women's game is fiercely competitive, making upsets highly likely. I am going to be bold and predict we could see Maria Sharapova crash out at the first hurdle. The No3 seed faces Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who could spring a surprise if she catches the Russian on an off day.

Giulio: Samantha Stosur has been the last player to beat Serena Williams in a slam final, but her record in Australia is pretty poor and she is facing a player that recently defeated her in the warm up tournaments, Klara Zakopalova. I think she may be the first one to fall much to the despair of the Aussie crowd.

Beth: I’m going to be patriotic and go for Robson knocking out 18th seed Kirsten Flipkins in the first round. Robson can beat anyone on her day if she wants to. Andreas Seppi, the 24th seed, could come a cropper against Lleyton Hewitt. Whilst it wouldn’t be a huge shock due to Hewitt’s current form it is still a seed who could tumble in the first round.

Richard: I’m going to be patriotic and suggest that and in-form Heather Watson has the game to beat Daniela Hantuchova. She gets a lot of balls back and Hantuchova can be let down by her inconsistency, another name that often threatens an early exit, despite her seeding is Ana Ivanovic. In the men’s draw I’d love to see Lleyton Hewitt come through his game with Andreas Seppi because then his draw would open up a bit and the Australian crowd will really get into the tournament.

Who will go furthest between Watson and Robson?

Simon: I fancy Heather Watson to go the furthest. She has looked really impressive in the build up to Melbourne and I expect to have a strong showing. Ideally both players will go far; it would certainly be a huge boost for women's tennis.

Giulio: Both the British players have got a seed in the first round, but they equally have the game to beat their opponents, even though they clearly step on court as the underdogs. If either of them does win their opener, Robson has more chances to go deep given the draw.

Beth: If her wrist injury is as minor as she says then I think Robson. She has a tough first round but has more firepower than Watson which is key on hard courts.

Richard: If Robson’s wrist holds up, she’s the more effective player at the moment. She hits it harder, and despite inconsistency her big serve is a weapon when it’s firing, so I’ll go for Laura.

With many unexpected runs in the weeks ahead of AO, do you think there will be unseeded players going deep in Melbourne?

Simon: What with it being the first grand slam of the year there are certainly chances for unseeded players to go on a run. Competitors will be rusty and maybe lacking match sharpness. I would keep an eye on Venus Williams. She still has the game to win a grand slam.

Giulio: I honestly expect the big names to be all there when it most counts, so I don’t expect we will see major upsets in the men’s draw, but maybe Hewitt will make a Hollywood-esque run.
That cannot be said for the women’s draw where someone unknown might reach the quarters as seeds start to fall. There are several unseeded players to keep an eye on: Venus Williams has shown good form recently, same for Alison Riske –who upset Kvitova in New York last year, and the always entertaining Monica Niculescu, whose unique game has often caused problems on hard courts to big hitters.

Beth: I think Lleyton Hewitt, following his heroics against Federer in Brisbane, could go deep in front of his home crowd. She’s the 6th seed so it may not be classed as unexpected, but Petra Kvitova has been so inconsistent in 2013 that is she went on a run in Australia it would be a surprise. She was undefeated in singles at the Hopman Cup and reached the semi-finals in Sydney so she is showing signs of a return to her 2011 Wimbledon form.

Richard: I’ll stick with Hewitt to defeat Seppi, once you put a seed out early on, you take their draw and that could see him win a couple more matches, he’s finding form with his run of fitness, and he’s a great player to watch too.

In the end who do you think will raise the trophies?

Simon: I fancy Djokovic and Serena Williams to lift the trophies. Serena is just unstoppable on her day and she could easily blast her way to the title. Nadal will push Djokovic close but I fancy the Serb to come out on top.

Giulio: Two names: Djokovic and Serena Williams.

Beth: Nothing controversial from me, I’m going for Djokovic and Serena Williams.

Richard: Serena Williams & Novak Djokovic.

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