While the majority of the worlds best tennis players have already, or are about to, arrive Down Under ahead of the Australian summer of tennis, some are choosing to begin their preparations for the Australian Open elsewhere.
In part one, I covered the Hopman Cup, Brisbane International and the Shenzhen Open; here, in part two, I will cover the Mahashtra Open, Qatar ExxonMobil Open and ASB Classic, held in India, Qatar and New Zealand respectively.
December 31, 2018 – January 5, 2019
Defending champion: Gilles Simon (FRA)
Drawcards: Kevin Anderson (RSA), Marin Cilic (CRO), Chung Hyeon (KOR), Gilles Simon (FRA)
The only premier tennis event to be held in India will not be without its star power, with Wimbledon runner-up Kevin Anderson and former US Open winner Marin Cilic headlining the field.
French veteran Gilles Simon will also return to defend his title, while last year’s Australian Open semi-finalist Chung Hyeon will also be present as they continue to ramp up their preparations for the first Grand Slam tournament of 2019.
Fresh off reaching his first Grand Slam final at the US Open in 2017, Anderson enjoyed a season of consolidation in 2018, winning two titles, upsetting Roger Federer en route to reaching the Wimbledon final and peaking at a career-high number five in the world rankings.
Cilic, meantime, reached the final of the Australian Open before being defeated in five sets by Federer.
He was, however, the only man to win any sets against him throughout the tournament, winning two in the championship match.
He also peaked at number three in the world rankings, won the prestigious Queen’s tournament for a second time and helped his country to win the Davis Cup for the second time (after 2005).
Thus, Indian tennis fans will have a lot to be excited about when two of the worlds top ten come to town next week.
December 31, 2018 – January 5, 2019
Defending champion: Gael Monfils (FRA)
Drawcards: Novak Djokovic (SRB), Dominic Thiem (AUT), Marco Cecchinato (ITA), Roberto Bautista-Agut (ESP), Fernando Verdasco (ESP)
After a phenomenal second half of last year saw him claim his 13th and 14th Grand Slam titles at Wimbledon and the US Open (as well as return to number one in the world rankings) Novak Djokovic will return to the tennis court in Doha looking to continue his preparations for the Australian Open – where he could win a record seventh title.
A hip injury suffered at Wimbledon in 2017 saw him take some time off the court, during which he dropped out of the top ten for the first time since 2006.
The Serbian’s first half of last year was less than impressive, as he was beaten early at Indian Wells and later dropped out of the top 20 following a shock loss to unheralded Italian Marco Cecchinato at Roland Garros.
However, a fourth Wimbledon title would provide the springboard for his surge back up the rankings and, after a third US Open title and a runner-up showing at the ATP Finals, the 31-year-old would end the year back at world number one, a position he last held in November 2016.
Joining him in Doha will be French Open finalist Dominic Thiem.
He showed he is more than just a clay court specialist when he pushed Rafael Nadal to his absolute limits in the quarter-finals of the US Open, going down in a final set tiebreak in the early hours of the morning.
Cecchinato will also feature, as will the Spanish pair of Roberto Bautista-Agut and Fernando Verdasco.
December 31, 2018 – January 5, 2019 (women)
January 7-12 2019 (men)
Defending champions: Roberto Bautista-Agut (ESP) and Julia Goerges (GER)
Drawcards – Men: John Isner (USA), Fabio Fognini (ITA), Roberto Bautista-Agut (ESP), Chung Hyeon (KOR), Denis Shapovalov (CAN), Gael Monfils (FRA), Tomas Berdych (CZE), David Ferrer (ESP)
Drawcards – Women: Caroline Wozniacki (DEN), Julia Goerges (GER), Venus Williams (USA)
New Zealand’s premier tennis event sees another big line-up, with the women’s field led by reigning Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki, as well as reigning champion Julia Goerges and the ageless Venus Williams.
With the event running over two weeks, it is the women who will take centre stage first, as 28-year-old Wozniacki prepares for the first major test of her career – the defence of her Australian Open title, which she won in arguably one of the greatest women’s Grand Slam finals in recent history.
In Auckland, she will be tested by the likes of Julia Goerges, who made the semi-finals at Wimbledon last year, as well as Venus Williams, whose age matches the ranking she has dropped to (38) after an inconsistent 2018 season.
A week later, Roberto Bautista-Agut returns to defend his title, while he will also be joined in good company by top seed John Isner, as well as Italian showman Fabio Fognini, Australian Open semi-finalist Chung Hyeon, rising Canadian Denis Shapovalov and French veteran Gael Monfils.
Former Grand Slam finalists Tomas Berdych and David Ferrer have both accepted wildcards into the event as they head toward the twilight of their careers, both men’s past few years having been plagued by injury.
In Part III: the Sydney International, Hobart International, and the big one – the Australian Open.