2013 Australian Open preview
Maria Sharapova has reached her third consecutive French Open final, with Simona Halep this year's opponent. (AAP Image/Martin Philbey)
Well it’s that time of the season again when we have just ushered in the new year and that means the world’s best tennis players come down to Australia to showcase their best talents to the world.
The 2013 Australian Open has just gotten underway and as I have only joined The Roar today, I am a little bit belated in writing this article to start off.
THE Men: With Rafael Nadal out due to injury and Roger Federer starting to enter the twilight of his career, I really feel that the men’s tournament is wide open.
Novak Djokovic is going for an unprecedented hat-trick of Australian Open titles which has not been achieved in the Open Era.
Success in Melbourne would also see him equal Andre Agassi and Roger Federer as the most successful men at the Australian Open, with both men having won four titles.
Andy Murray had his big breakthrough last year, reaching the final at Wimbledon where he lost to Roger Federer in four sets before turning the tables on him at the very same venue four weeks later at the Olympics to win the Gold Medal. Murray also captured his first Grand Slam title (after five years of trying) at the US Open, defeating Novak Djokovic in a five-set final.
Perhaps Murray can carry that momentum from New York to Melbourne, where he is the third seed. He has previously reached the final twice, both times unsuccessful (to Roger Federer in 2010 and Novak Djokovic in 2011, both in straight sets). He was also a semi-finalist in 2012, losing to Djokovic in five sets. My opinion is that he wouldn’t be where he is right now if it wasn’t for Lukas Rosol at Wimbledon last year.
Some of the few men to look out for include David Ferrer, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Tomas Berdych and Juan Martin del Potro.
Ferrer may have turned 30 last year but he is still playing brilliant tennis. He was a semi-finalist at the French and US Opens, losing to Nadal and Djokovic respectively. He also reached the quarter-finals at the Australian Open and Wimbledon last year, losing to Djokovic and Murray respectively. A strong run in Melbourne, where he has quarter-final points to defend, could see him become the Spanish No. 1 for the first time after Rafael Nadal’s withdrawal.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga first came onto the tennis scene at the 2008 Australian Open by reaching the final which he lost to Novak Djokovic.
We all remember his famous victory over Rafael Nadal in the semis but what we don’t know is that he beat the then World No. 9 Andy Murray in the first round (Tsonga has not beaten Murray since). This catapulted him into the World’s Top 20 where he has remained since. He has had a few quiet years on the tour but last year saw him reach a career high of World No. 5.
He also pushed Novak Djokovic to five sets in the quarter-finals of the French Open and reached the semis at Wimbledon for the second consecutive year. However his finish to the year was derailed by a second round loss at the US Open, additionally he went winless at the ATP World Tour Finals. Expect Tsonga to at least reach the quarter-finals of the Australian Open, where Roger Federer looms.
Tomas Berdych deserves his position in the World’s Top 10, but he can be very inconsistent at times. He reached the quarter-finals of the Australian Open (losing to Rafael Nadal), the fourth round at the French Open (losing to Juan Martin del Potro) and the semis at the US Open (beating Roger Federer en route before losing to the eventual champion Andy Murray) but he also lost in the first rounds at Wimbledon and the Olympics to Ernests Gulbis and Steve Darcis respectively. Berdych has landed in Djokovic’s quarter of the draw so again expect him to at least get to the final eight in Melbourne.
Juan Martin del Potro enjoyed a very impressive 2012 season, cracking the World’s Top 10 and finishing the season ranked World No. 7. This time two years ago his ranking dropped to World No. 485 after being wiped out for almost all of 2010 with a wrist problem.
His downfall was about three or four times as worse as Maria Sharapova’s (whose ranking dropped to World No. 126 after shoulder surgery in late 2008). But like Sharapova, del Potro came back from nowhere and finished 2011 as the world’s 11th best player, and was awarded the title of ATP Comeback Player of the Year. He has reached the quarter-finals at every Grand Slam tournament except Wimbledon, where he fell in the fourth round.
His 2012 highlights also included a Bronze Medal (where he beat Novak Djokovic) and a title in Basel, beating Roger Federer in the final. He also reached the final four at the ATP World Tour Finals in London, only losing to Novak Djokovic. As for his Australian Open chances, he has landed in Andy Murray’s quarter and if both of them get through the early rounds there is a chance that they could meet in the quarter-finals, with the winner to potentially face Roger Federer in the final four.
I can see this Australian Open being the most open in a very long while. To be honest I can’t even pick a winner with real confidence.
The women: It’s obvious to everyone’s minds who will win this tournament: Serena Williams. The 31-year-old American has only lost once since a first round disaster in Paris last May.
During this period, she captured her fifth Wimbledon title, two Olympic Gold Medals (one in singles and one in doubles), a fourth US Open title and the year-end championships in Istanbul, Turkey.
She started 2013 where she left off last year, picking up the Brisbane International title not dropping a set along the way.
But Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova should not be counted out. Azarenka is coming off a phenomenal 2012 season which netted six titles (nearly doubling her tally pre-2012) including her first Grand Slam title at the Australian Open, where she crushed Sharapova 6-3, 6-0 in the final. Being a defending champion, not just at the Australian Open but at five other tournaments this year, Azarenka will have the weight of pressure as she tries to protect her top ranking, especially with Serena Williams looming in her half of the draw.
Maria Sharapova last year had her best season since 2006, reaching the aforementioned Australian Open final, winning the French Open to complete a Career Grand Slam and capturing Silver at the Olympic Games in London. But her only titles in 2012 came on clay: at Stuttgart, Rome and the French Open. Also she ended the season with a loss to Serena Williams (who defeated her in three meetings last year) at the year-end championships in Istanbul after defeating Azarenka in the semi-finals.
As for their chances in Australia, I don’t think either of them will reach the final, as Victoria Azarenka has Serena in her half and Maria Sharapova has Venus Williams in only the third round. Venus Williams has defeated her in two Grand Slam meetings, both at Wimbledon (2005 and 2007).
Some of the women to watch out for this year: Agnieszka Radwanska, Angelique Kerber, Li Na.
Agnieszka Radwanska enjoyed a stellar 2012, apart from a first round loss at the Olympics last year. She reached her first Grand Slam final at Wimbledon and really gave Serena Williams a run for her money before the experience of the American told. She still needs to rectify her French Open form, where she was ousted in the third round by Svetlana Kuznetsova.
No surprise really, given Kuznetsova was a former champion and former World No. 2. Radwanska also needs to fix her US Open game, where she was beaten by Roberta Vinci in the Round of 16.
As for her chances in Australia, she has a tricky hurdle in the fourth round where either Ana Ivanovic or Jelena Jankovic await. Ivanovic won their only Grand Slam meeting at the 2007 Australian Open whilst Radwanska is 1-1 against Jankovic in Grand Slam meetings.
If Radwanska can rise from the early rounds, Angelique Kerber, who famously beat her at the US Open in 2011 looms in the quarter-finals and Maria Sharapova will await in the semis. Radwanska is 1-1 against Sharapova in Grand Slam meetings.
Angelique Kerber’s rise to stardom started at the 2011 US Open where she reached the semi-finals, losing to the eventual champion Samantha Stosur. She enjoyed an impressive 2012 season, capturing two titles in Paris and Copenhagen, reaching the semi-finals at Wimbledon and rising to a career high World No. 5 in the rankings. She has never gotten past the third round in Melbourne but expect that to change this year.
Li Na had a really inconsistent year last year, failing to make the quarter-finals at any of the Grand Slams. But her results were consistent enough to keep her in the Top 10 for a third consecutive year. You may remember she had four match points to beat Kim Clijsters in the fourth round in Melbourne last year, but lost the second set tiebreak and the match and left the subsequent press conference in tears. Li will want to ensure this doesn’t happen again. She has Samantha Stosur as a projected fourth round opponent.
My tips for the 2013 Australian Open titles are Novak Djokovic (over Roger Federer) and Serena Williams (over Maria Sharapova).