Since tennis is by a long way the best sport on the face of the earth, and since the Grand Slams are some of the world's biggest sports events, I am thinking that it would be fitting to write a preview article to the Australian Open here. Because over the next two weeks, the tennis world is all about this one tournament happening at Melbourne Park. It is known as "The Happy Slam", and was coined as such by Roger Federer a few years ago. Because of the high temperatures the players will likely face, that title is somewhat misleading. On center court, the temperature can easily get up to 40 degrees Celsius. The temperature can indeed become quite nauseating and can provide an extra challenge for the players that the other Slams don't give. As it always is in the tennis world, we find ourselves at quite a critical moment in the game's history. On the men's side, we find ourselves asking; will Djokovic continue his dominance? Can he win "The Grand Slam"? Can Federer win another? What will happen to Stan Wawrinka? Will Nadal come back? Can anyone outside the top five come through? On the women's side, we find ourselves asking; is Serena in the twilight of her career now? Can Sharapova win one more? And what about the rest? Is Petra Kvitova good enough to win another? Will the women's game ever find stability? The questions to ask about both tennis tours are endless. The next two weeks will go some way to answering these lingering questions.
Beginning with the men's tour, I think the question which is foremost in people's minds this year is whether anyone can stop Novak Djokovic. Last year there was one man who ultimately stopped Novak's quest for tennis immortality. His name was Stanislas Wawrinka, and he was successful in halting Djokovic in the French Open final. I have written about this match previously, and believe that the reason Djokovic lost was a combination of Stan's outstanding play, and his unfortunate ability of making unforced errors on important points. Still the question for the rest of the men's tour in this Grand Slam year is whether they can stop the Djokovic steam train.
There is a strong argument to be made that Djokovic's 2015 was the greatest season in tennis history. While it is true that he didn't have the best year-end win percentage (Mcenroe 1984), the most wins (Vilas 1977), or win the "Grand Slam" (Laver 1969); he did win the most Master's events (6), and have the most top-10 wins (32). The fact that he solidly beat all of his top competitors throughout the year makes a strong case for the greatness of his year. In Doha last week, it was shown that a rejuvenated Rafael Nadal can't yet beat him. The Wimbledon final, the U.S. Open final and the WTF finals in 2015, all showed that Federer at age 34 doesn't have what it takes in the big matches. And Djokovic doesn't get injured, so that is not a possibility. The only thing that I believe will halt Djokovic from taking the title is running into an on-form Stan Wawrinka, who we know from previous years can perform well on the Aussie Open's Plexicushion surface.
In the women's competition, Serena Williams is less of a favorite for the title than Novak Djokovic. ESPN picked Victoria Azarenka to lift the title. I don't think that there will really be anyone that will be saying that she is in the twilight of her career though. I think that the dominance on both tour's of 30-year old's at the top of the rankings demonstrates that the 2000s and 2010s have actually been quite a strong era. The fact that many players (like Wawrinka) have taken so long to get to the top demonstrates this. First off, addressing the big failing of the top players in the opening round, former No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki was bundled out of the tournament by a young Russian upstart, which certainly doesn't bode well for her season ahead. Serena has had a knee injury plaguing her since the end of last year, but has said that it is not troubling her anymore, and her opening round performances demonstrate this. Sloane Stephens, the winner of the ASB Classic in NZ, was beaten in the opening round. The player who will perhaps pose the greatest challenge to Williams could be Garbine Muguruza, who reached the Wimbledon final in 2015, and currently sits at No. 3 in the world rankings. At 6-foot, she is a tall player, with powerful groundstrokes. Considering Maria Sharapova's historical record against Serena in the big matches it is not likely that she will stop her.
At the end of the day, it is obviously impossible to make definite predictions for how a tournament will play out. But what we can be certain over the next two weeks at the Australian Open, will be that the performances by various players will go a long way towards outlining out how the year will play out.