Sport Tennis

The race for the Open

Written by Ben Blaschke

It’s that time of year when the eyes of the tennis world focus firmly on Melbourne, Australia and the first grand slam of the year at the Australian Open.

Starting today, 128 men and 128 women will brave the Melbourne heat as they vie to be crowned the next Australian Open champions. Most will fail – many falling at the first or second hurdle – and of course for a large percentage of them the very thought of actually winning a grand slam is little more than an idealistic dream.

But, as always, there are those who do have the ability to go all the way and while Serena Williams is clearly the one to beat in the women’s draw, the men’s event is already promising to throw up a number of contenders.

First cab off the rank, of course, is Novak Djokovic. The Serb loves it in Melbourne, having won this event four times including the past three years running and he clearly deserves pre-tournament favoritism. Djokovic has taken a slightly different path to the Australian Open this year, choosing not to play any lead-up events in order to ensure he is as fresh as possible for this grand slam. The risk is a lack of match practice coming back to bite him, but a great draw means he should be fit and firing by the time he arrives at a likely quarter-final meeting against Stanislas Wawrinka. We said before Christmas that Djokovic was the man to put your money on and nothing has changed in our eyes.

The jury is out, however, on world number one Rafael Nadal and reigning Wimbledon champion Andy Murray. Neither has been in great form in the lead-up to the Australian Open with both suffering a couple of shock losses. It is also worth noting that tournament organizers have made the courts faster this year which could potentially suit Murray well but not so much Nadal, who is at his best on slower surfaces. Being the superb player that he is, it would be silly to write him off but we’ll steer clear of him for now in the futures betting.

Another prediction we made before Christmas was that Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro could prove the dark horse. We also picked him to start the year on a high by winning the Sydney International last week which he duly did in fine style. Del Potro is one player with the weapons to match it with the best and we’ll be putting some cash on him too.

Could 2014 be Juan Martin del Potro's time to shine?

Could 2014 be Juan Martin del Potro’s time to shine?

There are some other contenders, too. At 32, Roger Federer appears to be on a slow decline but it would be silly to ever write the great one off while Wawrinka, Tomas Berdych and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga are three players yet to win a grand slam but with the games to do so soon.

In the women’s draw it’s all about Serena Williams. If she brings her A-game, it’s hard to see anyone beating her. Her main rivals are world number two Victoria Azarenka and number three Maria Sharapova, but Williams beat both of them on her way to winning the Brisbane title last week and looks to be tuning up well as she aims to win her sixth Australian Open title and 18th career grand slam.

Let’s see if anyone can stop her.