Preparations for the Australian Open will continue in the second week of January when eight of the world’s top ten women converge onto Sydney Olympic Park for the Sydney International.
The Hobart International will provide some lower-ranked players with some valuable match practice as well.
That all leads up to the first Grand Slam tournament of 2019, in which Roger Federer and Caroline Wozniacki are the defending champions.
January 6 – 12 2019
Defending champions: Daniil Medvedev (RUS) and Angelique Kerber (GER)
Drawcards – men: Kyle Edmund (GBR), Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE), Daniil Medvedev (RUS), Alex de Minaur (AUS), Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA)
Drawcards – women: Simona Halep (ROU), Angelique Kerber (GER), Naomi Osaka (JPN), Sloane Stephens (USA), Petra Kvitova (CZE), Karolina Pliskova (CZE), Ashleigh Barty (AUS)
Sydney will play host to its biggest line-up in recent years, with reigning Next generation Finals champion Stefanos Tsitsipas leading a men’s field which also includes reigning Sydney titlist Daniil Medvedev and Australia’s highest-ranked male player, Alex de Minaur.
20-year-old Tsitsipas made a name for himself in 2018, reaching four finals and winning two of them, including defeating de Minaur in the final of the Next generation ATP Finals in Milan.
In addition to reaching a career-high ranking of world number fifteen, he was also named the ATP’s Most Improved Player.
It was at Sydney Olympic Park last year where de Minaur, displaying maturity beyond his age, made his career breakthrough when he reached the final, only to go down to Medvedev in three sets.
The Spanish-based Aussie went on to reach the third round at Wimbledon, going down to Rafael Nadal, as well as at the US Open where he won the first two sets against Marin Cilic before losing in five hard-fought sets.
He also reached two further finals in Washington and Milan where he lost to Alexander Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipas, respectively. These impressive results led to him being recognised as the ATP’s Newcomer of the Year.
French showman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has accepted a wildcard into the event, as he looks to rebuild his ranking following an injury-plagued 2018 season which saw him drop out of the worlds top 200.
Meantime, the women’s field is the strongest it has ever been, with eight of the worlds top ten in action including world number one Simona Halep, defending champion Angelique Kerber and reigning US Open champion Naomi Osaka.
Two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova will also be in action after accepting a wildcard into the event, as will Australia’s Ashleigh Barty, who took out the WTA Elite Trophy last month.
January 7 – 12 2019
Defending champion: Elise Mertens (BEL)
Drawcards: Zhang Shuai (CHN), Maria Sakkari (GRE), Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (RUS)
With no top 20 players participating in Hobart, organisers will be facing a massive challenge in getting crowds to its event. Even so, they can still expect to be treated to some good quality tennis from the field.
Just about the only big names in the field are former Australian Open quarter-finalists Zhang Shuai and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
The latter won her 12th career title in Strasbourg in dramatic circumstances, defeating Dominika Cibulkova in a championship match that lasted over three-and-a-half hours.
The Russian described it as being “one of the most dramatic matches [she] has ever played” as she was forced to save several match points before landing the title in one of the longest non-Grand Slam matches of the 2018 WTA season.
Belgian Elise Mertens will not return to defend her title.
January 14 – 27 2019
Defending champions: Roger Federer (SUI) and Caroline Wozniacki (DEN)
Men: Novak Djokovic (SRB), Rafael Nadal (ESP), Roger Federer (SUI), Alexander Zverev (GER), Juan Martin del Potro (ARG)
Women: Simona Halep (ROU), Angelique Kerber (GER), Caroline Wozniacki (DEN), Naomi Osaka (JPN), Serena Williams (USA)
Finally, two weeks of intense preparation will culminate in the first Grand Slam tournament of 2019, the Australian Open, which will have a different feel to it.
It was announced in June last year that the Nine Network’s original deal to televise the event between 2020-24 had been brought forward by twelve months, bringing an end to the Seven Network’s 45-year association with the tournament.
A new rule change was also brought into effect recently, with a tiebreak to be played in the final set when the score reaches six-all, but unlike in other sets, it will be the first to ten.
This sadly means no more marathon matches, such as those we saw between Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka in 2013 and 2014, as well as that between Simona Halep and Lauren Davis (15-13 in the final set), and between Halep and Angelique Kerber this year.
With Wimbledon also introducing a tiebreak at 12-all in the final set of matches, it means the French Open is the only major tournament in which play can continue indefinitely past 6-all until a player establishes a two-game advantage, though you get the feeling they may soon introduce a similar rule in the not-too-distant future.
Anyway, let’s get into the preview of the tournament, where Roger Federer and Caroline Wozniacki are the defending champions in the men’s and women’s fields respectively.
The Swiss Maestro’s chase for a milestone 100th title will continue in Melbourne, having fallen agonisingly short several times in the past six or so months, including losing to Borna Coric and Novak Djokovic in the finals at Halle and Cincinnati, respectively.
The 37-year-old had to be stretched to his limits in order to win his past two Australian Open titles, edging past Rafael Nadal and Marin Cilic in 2017 and 2018, respectively.
He will face some genuine challenges from the likes of Djokovic, whose win in Cincinnati saw him complete a Golden Masters Slam, as well as Rafael Nadal, who will be attempting to complete a double career Grand Slam, and reigning ATP Finals champion Alexander Zverev.
Nadal, in particular, will be hoping to put an end to a curse Down Under which has plagued him since defeating Federer in the 2009 final to win his only Australian Open title.
Since then, the Spaniard has been forced to retire from two quarter-final matches (in 2010 and 2018) due to injury, lost three finals (to Djokovic in 2012, Stan Wawrinka in 2014 and Roger Federer last year), missed 2013 altogether due to injury and got knocked out in the first round in 2016.
— #7TENNIS ???? (@7tennis) January 23, 2018
In the women’s field, all eyes will be on super mum Serena Williams, who will attempt, once again, to equal Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles, having fallen agonisingly short at Wimbledon and the US Open, where she lost the championship matches to Angelique Kerber and Naomi Osaka, respectively.
This will be Osaka’s first tournament as a Major champion, having won her maiden title in rather bittersweet circumstances in September while, for Caroline Wozniacki, defending the title she won last year will be the first major challenge of her career.
World number one Simona Halep will also be hoping to claim her second Grand Slam title and first at the Australian Open, while Angelique Kerber, who will turn 31 during the first week of the tournament, will also be looking to land her fourth Major title and second in Melbourne.
A full preview of the Australian Open will be provided closer to the tournament starting.