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2022 Australian Open: Preview

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Roar Guru
10th January, 2022
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The countdown is on to next week’s Australian Open, with all eyes on the sport’s biggest names to see if they can create contrasting pieces of history at Melbourne Park.

In the men’s draw, all eyes will be on heavyweights Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal to see if any of them can break a tie they hold with Roger Federer for the most Grand Slam men’s singles titles, each holding 20 titles.

For Djokovic, whose participation remains in doubt even though he was successful in his appeal against having his visa to enter Australia cancelled, a tenth title at Melbourne Park is at stake, while Nadal is attempting to win his second title here, 13 years after his last triumph in 2009.

BREAKING: Novak Djokovic wins battle to stay in Australia

This year’s tournament also marks a decade since their epic duel in the 2012 final, which Djokovic won in five sets in a match that lasted just seven minutes short of six hours.

Meantime, on the women’s draw, Ashleigh Barty will carry the hopes of a nation on her shoulders as she attempts to become the first local in 44 years to win the Australian Open.

The Queenslander will enter her national championships in impressive form, claiming her second Adelaide title in three years, where she notched up some strong wins against former major champions Sofia Kenin and Iga Swiatek before defeating Elena Rybakina in the final.

However, she will face some strong opposition including reigning champion Naomi Osaka, who has never lost after reaching the quarter-finals of any major, world number two Aryna Sabalenka and reigning WTA Finals champion Garbine Muguruza.

As always, we start by previewing the men, starting with Novak Djokovic.

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Novak Djokovic (SRB)
Australian Open history
Best result: Won nine times (2008, 2011-13, 15, 16, 2019-21)
Last year’s result: Won (defeated Daniil Medvedev in the final)

Other Grand Slam results in 2021
French Open: Won (defeated Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final)
Wimbledon: Won (defeated Matteo Berrettini in the final)
US Open: Runner-up (lost to Daniil Medvedev in the final)

Titles won in 2021
Australian Open, Belgrade, French Open, Wimbledon, Paris Masters.

One man who will enter the Australian Open seeking history under a shroud of controversy is world number one Novak Djokovic.

The Serb received a medical exemption from Tennis Australia to enter the country, only for the 34-year-old’s visa to be cancelled within hours of his arrival after it was deemed that his medical exemption from Australia’s vaccine laws were not sufficient enough.

He was however successful in winning an appeal against a potential deportation from the country, which would’ve possibly meant being banned from entering Australia for a period of up to three years.

Now that he has won his appeal, his focus will turn to the blue courts of Melbourne Park where he is undefeated while ranked world number one.

Six of the nine titles he has won at the Australian Open have come while he was the world’s top-ranked male tennis player, including in that epic 2012 final in which he defeated Rafael Nadal in a five-set cliffhanger that did not finish until after 1:30am in the morning.

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Last year, at the age of 33, the Djoker enjoyed another phenomenal season, matching his 2015 efforts in reaching all four major finals and becoming the first man since Nadal in 2010 to win majors on hard, clay and grass courts in the same calendar year.

He however fell short of becoming the first man to complete a calendar Golden Slam, when he lost to Alexander Zverev in the semi-finals at the Tokyo Olympics before losing to Daniil Medvedev in the final of the US Open in September.

Despite the recent controversies surrounding his arrival into Australia, it is at Melbourne Park where he has always played his best tennis, and I expect him to put all the drama behind him to make it ten titles on Rod Laver Arena.

Prediction: Champion

DECEMBER 03: Novak Djokovic of Serbia in action against Marin Cilic (not seen) of Croatia during 2021 Davis Cup Tennis Tournament semi-final match at Madrid Arena on December 03, 2021 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Burak Akbulut/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

(Photo by Burak Akbulut/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

[6] Rafael Nadal (ESP)

Australian Open history
Best result: Won (2009)
Last year’s result: Quarter-finals (lost to Stefanos Tsitsipas)

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Other Grand Slam results in 2021
French Open: Semi-finals (lost to Novak Djokovic)
Wimbledon: Did not play
US Open: Did not play

Titles won in 2021/22
Barcelona, Rome, Melbourne (2022)

Could this be Rafael Nadal’s last chance to win a second Australian Open title?

It has been thirteen years since the Spaniard last triumphed on the blue courts of Melbourne Park, where he defeated Roger Federer in a five-set classic and denied his Swiss rival a then-record-equalling 14th major singles title.

Since then he has suffered as much misfortune than you could ever imagine, losing four finals (two of them to Djokovic) and twice being forced to retire in quarter-final matches against Andy Murray and Marin Cilic in 2010 and 2018 respectively.

As if that wasn’t enough, in the quarter-final against Stefanos Tsitsipas, the 35-year-old led by two sets to love only to then lose in five sets, marking the second time he had been run down from two sets up at a major (the other time being at the 2015 US Open).

The King of Clay ended up winning only two titles in an injury-riddled year, both on his favoured surface in Barcelona and Rome, before he lost to Djokovic in the semi-finals of the French Open, denying him a shot at a 14th Roland Garros crown and 21st major title overall.

Nadal would not play again for the rest of the year, sitting out Wimbledon, the Tokyo Olympics and the US Open due to a foot injury, but he couldn’t have been any more impressive in his first tournament back for over six months.

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Last week, the Spaniard claimed his first non-clay court title since February 2020 with a triumph in the Melbourne Summer Set, held on Rod Laver Arena, also winning his first title anywhere in Australia since the aforementioned Australian Open title in 2009.

Though he may be nearing the age of 36, and while the Australian Open has brought more bad luck than glory in recent years, Nadal still remains up there among the contenders for the title and it would not be surprising if he again features at the business end of the tournament.

Prediction: Quarter-finals

Rafael Nadal receives a serve

(Photo by Kelly Defina/Getty Images)

[2] Daniil Medvedev (RUS)
Australian Open history
Best result: Runner-up (2021)
Last year’s result: Runner-up (lost to Novak Djokovic in the final)

Other Grand Slam results in 2021
French Open: Quarter-finals (lost to Stefanos Tsitsipas)
Wimbledon: Fourth round (lost to Hubert Hurkacz)
US Open: Won (defeated Novak Djokovic in the final)

Titles won in 2021
Marseille, Mallorca, Toronto, US Open

One man hoping to break through for a maiden Australian Open title in 2022 is reigning US Open champion Daniil Medvedev.

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The 25-year-old enters the new season on the back of an impressive four-title season including his maiden major breakthrough in New York, where he defeated Novak Djokovic in straight sets in the final and denied the Serb a calendar Grand Slam, which would’ve been the first in 52 years.

It saw him become the first Russian man to win a major title since Marat Safin triumphed at the 2005 Australian Open, in which he broke local hearts by defeating Lleyton Hewitt in the final in four sets.

Only the older tennis fans would also remember that he defeated a then-17-year-old kid called Novak Djokovic in the first round, and then-world number one Roger Federer (who hadn’t lost since before the US Open the previous year) in an epic semi-final lasting five sets.

17 years on, and Medvedev will be hoping to rewrite his own history, and go one better than last year’s result where he lost to the Djoker in straight sets in the final.

He also reached the quarter-finals at the French Open for the first time, where he lost to Stefanos Tsitsipas, while he was stopped in the fourth round by Hubert Hurkacz at Wimbledon a month later.

The Russian began his season by featuring in the Russian team that lost to Canada in the semi-finals of the ATP Cup played in Sydney; during round robin play, he won two of his three singles ties, including beating Italy’s Matteo Berrettini.

And while all the attention may centre around Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal in their chase for a record-breaking 21st major singles title, Medvedev, despite being ranked world number two, might fly under the radar at Melbourne Park.

Prediction: Final

Daniil Medvedev of Russia celebrates with the championship trophy

(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Other contenders: Alexander Zverev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Matteo Berrettini.

Missing: Roger Federer, Dominic Thiem.

We now swing over to the women’s side of things, where, as has been the case in the past couple of years, all the focus will be on Ashleigh Barty as she bids to end Australia’s 44-year drought at the Australian Open.

The Australian world number one is coming off a phenomenal 2021 season which included winning the most prestigious tournament in tennis – Wimbledon – and finishing as world number one for a third consecutive year.

There is added motivation for the 26-year-old to triumph at Melbourne Park for the first time, having lost a controversial quarter-final clash against Karolina Muchova last year after she had led by a set and a break, as well as losing to Sofia Kenin in the semi-final the previous year.

Defending champion Naomi Osaka headlines a list of contenders to Barty for the title, and after a rather mediocre 2021 season following her win here last February, perhaps a return to Melbourne might provide a springboard for her to win a third Australian Open title in four years.

This will be the first Australian Open without either Serena or Venus Williams since 1997, with both opting not to travel Down Under due to injuries, while this will be the singles swansong for Australian veteran Samantha Stosur, who will continue playing in doubles this year.

It will also remain to be seen how Emma Raducanu, last year’s surprise US Open champion in only her second major appearance, fares in her first major tournament since stunning the tennis world with her victory run from qualifying at Flushing Meadows last September.

Let’s now take a look at the women’s contenders, starting with Barty.

[1] Ashleigh Barty (AUS)

Australian Open history
Best result: Semi-finals (2020)
Last year’s result: Quarter-finals (lost to Karolina Muchova)

Other Grand Slam results in 2021
French Open: Second round (retired hurt vs Magda Linette)
Wimbledon: Won (defeated Karolina Pliskova in the final)
US Open: Third round (lost to Shelby Rogers)

Titles won in 2021/22
Yarra Valley Classic, Miami, Stuttgart, Wimbledon, Cincinnati, Adelaide (2022)

Coming off the back of an impressive 2021 season which saw her claim five titles from six matches, as well as a bronze medal in mixed doubles at the Tokyo Olympics, this surely shapes as Ashleigh Barty’s best chance to claim homegrown glory at the Australian Open.

Ash Barty congratulates Shelby Rogers after her US Open defeat.

Ash Barty congratulates Shelby Rogers after her US Open defeat. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Having entered the year on the back of some criticism surrounding her legitimacy as the world’s top-ranked player after missing most of the 2020 season due to the impact of COVID-19, Barty made a huge statement by successfully defending her title at Miami from 2019.

But her season could’ve totally produced a different outcome, had she not saved a match point in her second round match against Kristina Kucova in the Florida capital last March.

She proceeded to win that match in three sets and many could argue that eventually going on to win the title confirmed her status as the world’s top-ranked female player, which she reinforced with a win at the All England Club in July.

There, she defeated Karolina Pliskova in the final to become the first Australian woman to salute at SW19 since Evonne Goolagong Cawley in 1980, and the third woman, after Ann Jones, Martina Hingis and Amelie Mauresmo, to win both the juniors’ and seniors’ title.

The Queenslander then captured the title in Cincinnati before calling time on her season following a shock third round loss to Shelby Rogers – the same player she beat in the fourth round of last year’s Australian Open – at Flushing Meadows.

Fresh off a break of nearly four months, Barty returned to action in Adelaide and captured her second title in the City of Churches, but not before digging her way out of trouble in her first match of the season against rising American star Coco Gauff in the second round.

In that match she trailed by a set and a break, before the home crowd support willed her way out of the deficit and onto subsequent wins against former major champions Sofia Kenin and Iga Swiatek, followed by a win in the final against Elena Rybakina.

The newly-engaged Barty has withdrawn from this week’s Sydney Tennis Classic so as not to wear herself out ahead of another attempt to bring homegrown glory to Melbourne Park after over four decades.

In the past two years she has suffered arguably two of her most frustrating defeats, first losing to Kenin in the semi-finals in straight sets despite holding a set point in each set in 2020, then throwing away a set and break lead against Karolina Muchova in the quarters last year.

She was in cruise control and well on her way to another semi-final at Melbourne Park before a controversial medical time-out destroyed the Ipswich native’s momentum, leaving her to wallow in a disappointing defeat.

The question is – will this year be the year she goes all the way? Well, let’s hope for the sake of Australia it is.

Prediction: Champion

[2] Aryna Sabalenka (BLR)
Australian Open history
Best result: Fourth round (2021)
Last year’s result: Fourth round (lost to Serena Williams)

Other Grand Slam results in 2021
French Open: Third round (lost to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova)
Wimbledon: Semi-finals (lost to Karolina Pliskova)
US Open: Semi-finals (lost to Leylah Fernandez)

Titles won in 2021
Abu Dhabi, Madrid.

A decade after her countrywoman Victoria Azarenka won the first of her two major titles at the Australian Open, women’s second seed Aryna Sabalenka has the chance to break her major duck at Melbourne Park, and like Azarenka before her, possibly ascend to the top of the rankings as well.

The 23-year-old Belarussian enjoyed one of her best seasons on tour last year, reaching her first two Grand Slam semi-finals at Wimbledon and the US Open, going down to eventual runners-up Karolina Pliskova and Leylah Fernandez, respectively.

She also won two titles, including in Madrid where she defeated Ashleigh Barty in the final in three sets having lost to her in the final of the Stuttgart Open a week or two earlier.

Frustratingly, however, each of her last five defeats at Grand Slam level have come in three sets, including in the fourth round of the Australian Open to Serena Williams last year, while she was also the only player to take a set off eventual champion Naomi Osaka at the 2018 US Open.

Sabalenka started the season in Adelaide last week, losing her first match to little-known Slovenian Kaja Juvan, however she has been given a second chance in the City of Churches, entering the Adelaide International 2 on a wildcard entry.

This will give her valuable match practice ahead of the Australian Open, where she could take the world number one ranking off Barty should she go all the way, and potentially set a springboard for a season of dominance.

Despite her (so far) poor record at Melbourne Park, I think she will feature in the business end for the first time in the tournament.

Prediction: Finalist

[13] Naomi Osaka (JPN)
Australian Open history
Best result: Won twice (2019, 2021)
Last year’s result: Won (defeated Jennifer Brady in the final)

Other Grand Slam results in 2021
French Open: Second round (withdrew mid-tournament due to mental health concerns)
Wimbledon: Did not play
US Open: Third round (lost to Leylah Fernandez)

Titles won in 2021
Australian Open

Perhaps a return to Melbourne Park might provide a springboard for Naomi Osaka to rediscover her winning ways following a dismal 2021 season that followed her winning the Australian Open for a second time in three years.

In the three other major tournaments that she contested after leaving Melbourne with the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Trophy, the 24-year-old withdrew after one match at the French Open, sat out Wimbledon then lost a three-set thriller against eventual finalist Leylah Fernandez at the US Open.

She was then given the honour of lighting the flame at the Tokyo Olympics and despite high expectations, the Japanese start lost her third round match to eventual silver medalist Marketa Vondrousova, the result seeing her Olympic gold medal dreams on home soil extinguished.

Naomi Osaka plays a backhand

Naomi Osaka (Photo by Fred Lee/Getty Images)

As a result of her poor results in most tournaments last year, the Japanese star has dropped to 13th in the world, and with maximum points to defend over the fortnight could face the prospect of further dropping down the rankings with an early loss at Melbourne Park.

However, it’s here where she has produced some of her best tennis, winning on her Grand Slam debut in 2016 and defeating home favourite Ashleigh Barty in the third round in 2018, along with her two victories in 2019 and 2021.

Last year, en route to the title, she saved a few match points in her fourth round match against Garbine Muguruza to progress to the quarter-finals; ominously, each time she has gone this far at a major, each time she has gone on to win all the way.

Despite her recent poor results, Osaka enters the first major of the year among the title favourites, and it would not surprise if she were to go all the way once again; if she does so, she will become the first player since Monica Seles to win their first five major finals without fail.

Prediction: Semi-finals

Other contenders: Emma Raducanu, Garbine Muguruza, Simona Halep.

Missing: the Williams sisters, Karolina Pliskova, Jennifer Brady, Karolina Muchova.

The Australian Open gets underway on Monday January 17, with coverage on the Nine Network and Stan Sport.

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