Several of the world’s best tennis players are about to touch Down Under ahead of the Australian summer of tennis, the highlight of which is the Australian Open in which Roger Federer and Caroline Wozniacki are the defending champions.
A significant change to the tennis landscape is that the Nine Network will be the host broadcaster of the Australian summer of tennis, televising the Hopman Cup, Brisbane International, Sydney International and the Australian Open, the latter marking an end to the Seven Network’s long association with the year’s first Grand Slam event after 45 years.
As always, I will divide this preview into three parts: here, I will cover the Hopman Cup, the Brisbane International and the Shenzhen Open, while in part II I will cover the Maharashtra Open, the Qatar ExxonMobil Open and the ASB Classic and in Part III I will cover the Sydney and Hobart Internationals, as well as the big one – the Australian Open.
Let’s take a look at some of the events that tennis fans will be treated to as the countdown begins to the start of the Australian Open on January 14.
December 29, 2018 – January 5, 2019
Defending champions: Switzerland
Germany: Angelique Kerber and Alexander Zverev (A)
Switzerland: Belinda Bencic and Roger Federer (B)
United States: Serena Williams and Frances Tiafoe (B)
Greece: Maria Sakkari and Stefanos Tsitsipas (B)
Australia: Ashleigh Barty and Matt Ebden (A)
France: Alize Cornet and Lucas Pouille (A)
Spain: Garbine Muguruza and David Ferrer (A)
Great Britain: Katie Boulter and Cameron Norrie (B)
A or B in parentheses indicates which group they have been drawn in.
The 2019 tennis season unofficially kicks off this Saturday with what is likely to be the last ever Hopman Cup before it makes way for the ATP World Team Cup event in 2020.
Defending champions Switzerland will return to defend their crown, and again they will be led by crowd favourite Roger Federer as well as former top ten women’s player Belinda Bencic, who is continuing to work her way back up the rankings after injury plagued most of her last three years.
They will face some stiff competition from the likes of Germany, who are represented by reigning Wimbledon champion Angelique Kerber and reigning ATP Finals champion Alexander Zverev, the United States, led by Serena Williams and Frances Tiafoe, and Spain, anchored by two-time Major champion Garbine Muguruza and former French Open finalist David Ferrer, among others.
Local hopes will rest on reigning WTA Elite Trophy winner Ashleigh Barty, as well as former Commonwealth Games bronze medallist Matt Ebden, who broke into the world’s top 40 in October.
Williams will return to the tennis court for the first time since her infamous outburst in September’s US Open final, in which she was pinged for alleged coaching from her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, which she repeatedly denied. What happened next would go down as one of the most controversial moments seen on a tennis court in recent history.
Barty will have her work cut out taking on the past two Wimbledon champions in Garbine Muguruza and Angelique Kerber, while the highlight will be the New Year’s Day clash between Switzerland and the USA, in which Roger Federer and Serena Williams, with 43 Major singles titles between them, will face each other in a blockbuster mixed doubles clash.
It is believed that this will be the first time the two tennis giants will face each other on a tennis court in a professional match.
Federer will also be up against reigning ATP Next Gen Finals champion Stefanos Tsitsipas, who defeated Alex de Minaur to win the biggest title of his fledgling career in Milan last month.
December 31, 2018 – January 6, 2019
Defending champions: Nick Kyrgios (AUS) and Elina Svitolina (UKR)
Men: Rafael Nadal (ESP), Kei Nishikori (JPN), Milos Raonic (CAN), Grigor Dimitrov (BUL), Alex de Minaur (AUS), Nick Kyrgios (AUS), Andy Murray (GBR), Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA)
Women: Elina Svitolina (UKR), Naomi Osaka (JPN), Sloane Stephens (USA), Petra Kvitova (CZE), Karolina Pliskova (CZE), Victoria Azarenka (BLR)
The Brisbane International will mark its tenth anniversary with arguably one of the best line-ups the tournament has ever seen.
Headlining the men’s field is eleven-times French Open champion Rafael Nadal, who will be returning to the court for the first time since he was forced to retire from his US Open semi-final against Juan Martin del Potro due to injury.
The Spaniard has not hit another ball in anger since then and as a result he relinquished the world number one ranking to Novak Djokovic, and so the 32-year-old’s mission to regain top spot in the rankings will begin in earnest in the Sunshine capital.
He is joined in the field by reigning champion Nick Kyrgios, who risks dropping out of the world’s top 40 with an early loss, as well as two-time Wimbledon champion Andy Murray, former Australian Open semi-finalist Grigor Dimitrov and French showman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who will be returning after a long injury lay-off which has seen his ranking drop out of the world’s top 200.
The women’s field is led by reigning champion Elina Svitolina, as well as current US Open champion Naomi Osaka, her predecessor Sloane Stephens, two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova and two-time Australian Open titleist Victoria Azarenka.
Osaka is without doubt the player to watch in 2019 after defeating Serena Williams in one of the most talked-about tennis matches in recent history in the US Open final last September. While it was marred by controversy, the 21-year-old Japanese overcame the pro-Williams crowd to claim her first Grand Slam title in rather bittersweet circumstances.
World number four Svitolina returns to defend her title, while Azarenka will attempt to become the first three-time champion of the event, the Belarussian having won her first career title at the inaugural event in 2009.
December 31, 2018 – January 5, 2019
Defending champion: Simona Halep (ROU)
Drawcards: Aryna Sabalenka (BLR), Caroline Garcia (FRA), Jelena Ostapenko (LAT), Maria Sharapova (RUS), Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (RUS)
While most of the world’s top ten will be in either Auckland, Brisbane or Perth ramping up their preparations for the Australian Open, the Shenzhen line-up isn’t without its star power, with rising star Aryna Sabalenka and former Grand Slam champions Jelena Ostapenko and Maria Sharapova among the players fans in Shenzhen can look forward to watching.
Named the WTA Newcomer of the Year this year, Sabalenka has scored huge victories against the likes of Svetlana Kuznetsova, Karolina Pliskova, Caroline Wozniacki and Petra Kvitova; in addition, she also reached the fourth round of the US Open where she was the only player to steal a set from eventual champion Naomi Osaka.
Ostapenko arrives in Shenzhen off the back of an inconsistent 2018 season which saw her peak at world number five before relinquishing her French Open title defence in the first round and eventually finishing the year outside the top 20, while Sharapova will be out to ensure she is not yet a spent force as she continues to rebuild her career following a fifteen-month doping suspension.
World number one Simona Halep has chosen to forgo the defence of her title in Shenzhen, instead heading straight to Australia where she will kick-start her 2019 season at the Sydney International, which will be covered in the third part of my preview of the Australian summer of tennis.
In Part II: the Maharashtra Open, Qatar ExxonMobil Open and ASB Classic.