The first Grand Slam of the 2015 tennis season, the Australian Open, is almost upon us. The players have returned to competitive action during the early weeks of January and preparation for the tournament, at Melbourne Park, is well underway. This year’s tournament takes place between the 19th of January and the 1st of February.
The men’s defending champion, Stanislas Wawrinka, is looking to follow in the footsteps of Andre Agassi, Roger Federer, and Novak Djokovic, in becoming the fourth man in the last 15 years to successfully defend the men’s title. The fact that three players have been able to win the men’s title back-to-back shows that it can done but is Wawrinka in the same class now as the previous three players were when they managed the feat? The short answer is no, and it will be a big surprise if the Swiss player is able to win outright once again this year. Suffering early exits in tournaments towards the end of 2014, Wawrinka will need to overcome any early round nerves if he is to reach the latter stages of the event.
One man who is determined to do better this year is world number one Novak Djokovic. The Serb had two records in his sights at the Australian Open in 2014, a record fourth title in a row and also a record fifth Aussie Open title overall, which would be a record for the open era. Djokovic recovered from his quarterfinal defeat to Wawrinka last year by going on to win Wimbledon and finish the year as the number one ranked men’s player in the world.
Although number one, last year’s defeat to Wawrinka will still be fresh in his memory and will provide an extra incentive, if any was needed, to go on and triumph at Melbourne in 2015. Despite stumbling to a defeat against Ivo Karlovic in Doha recently, Djokovic is still the favorite to win the 2015 Australian Open at 10/11 with British bookmaker「Coral」.
If Djokovic, having to wait at least two years for his next potential Australian Open victory, feels frustrated then Roger Federer must be chomping at the bit in anticipation of winning another Australian Open title. The Swiss legend has failed to win the event since 2010 and by Federer’s standards that constitutes a long drought. Federer, the current world number two, defeated Andy Murray in the final of 2010 and comes in to this year’s tournament in good form. Ending the 2014 season with a number of tournament wins, Federer kicked off 2015 in style by winning the Brisbane International and defeating one of the up and coming stars of men’s tennis, Milos Raonic, in the process.
Federer has reached the semi-final stage in each of the last four Australian Open tournaments but has failed to progress beyond that stage. Available at 5/1 with bookie「Coral」, Federer will have to overcome any psychological issues if he expects to make it the semi-final once again in 2015.
Currently sitting at 8/1 with「Coral」to win the men’s title, the Australian Open may come just a little bit too soon for Rafael Nadal. A difficult end to 2014, resulting in an operation to cure appendicitis, the Spaniard struggled in his first official match of 2015 and a run to the final, as in 2014, looks unlikely this time around. Andy Murray, who has reached three finals out of the last five at the Australian Open, finished 2014 strongly and seems to have fully recovered from back surgery. However, due to the Scot’s world ranking, currently sixth, a tough draw could prove to be his downfall. In addition to Murray, the likes of Milos Raonic, Grigor Dimitrov and Kei Nishikori will be aiming to carry good form over from 2014 in to this event. Having said that, only Nishikori made it to a Grand Slam final in 2014 and this is reflected in the odds for the tournament with Nishikori priced as the most likely of the three at 14/1.
Unfortunately the ladies defending champion, Li Na, will not be able to defend her Australian Open title in 2015 having been forced to retire from the game due to a knee injury. The retirement of Li Na, who has appeared in three of the last four Australian Open finals, will be a big blow to the competition and means that Serena Williams will start as the favorite.
Despite being the favorite to lift the title at 5/2 with「Coral」, Williams has not played an Australian Open final since winning the event in 2010. Furthermore, Williams has failed to progress beyond the quarterfinal stage since and the American’s form coming in to the event is questionable at best. The world number one is facing increased competition in the WTA Tour rankings and this will show during the 2015 Australian Open.
Maria Sharapova will see the decline in Serena Williams’s game as an opportunity to win more major titles in 2015 starting with Australian Open. Sharapova has already claimed the Brisbane International title this year and comes in to the tournament full of confidence. Available at 4/1 with sportsbook「Coral」to win the event, Sharapova’s chances could hinge of the progress of Williams. The Russian has failed to defeat Williams in any of their last 15 meetings, which suggests that if they are to meet in the tournament, there can only be one outcome. The last time the players faced-off at a hard court tournament was in Miami last year with Sharapova being overwhelmed by the serving power of Williams.
Serena may be imposing but she is definitely not unbeatable. One player who can call on recent memories of defeating Serena Williams is Eugenie Bouchard. The young Canadian, who will be seeded seventh for the tournament, enjoyed a fantastic season in 2014. Despite tailing off towards the end of the year, Bouchard has started well in 2015 including a comprehensive victory over Williams at the Hopman Cup. Having reached one final and two semi-finals at Grand Slam events in 2014, Bouchard knows what it takes to progress to the latter stages of major tournaments and is on offer at 14/1 with「Coral」to win the 2015 Australian Open.
Bouchard is one of a number of players on the WTA Tour who are in good form at the moment. World number three, Simona Halep, broke through the ranks in 2014 and played well in losing the French Open final to Maria Sharapova. The Romanian leads a group of players including Petra Kvitova and Ana Ivanovic who could challenge in this tournament although the latter two players will have to improve on previous Grand Slam performances if they are to seriously challenge.
One player who has the potential to eliminate some big names early on in the tournament is Victoria Azarenka. The Belarusian, who suffered in 2014 due to injury, will be unseeded for the event, yet, has won the Australian Open title in two of the last three years. The victory in 2012 was an especially impressive display of tennis as she dominated Maria Sharapova to win 6-3, 6-0.
If Azarenka can reproduce anything close to the form shown in that final, the former world number one could cause severe problems for the seeded players.
With the excitement building ahead of the first Grand Slam tournament of the year, there seems to be little difference to 2014 when looking at the favorites in both the men’s and women’s section of the draw. Both Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams are at the top but with so many young and upcoming players entering in to the tournament now a year wiser, both should be strongly challenged.
If Williams is eliminated from the tournament in the early stages, which is a possibility given her current form, look for Maria Sharapova to kick things into high gear as she looks to take the crown. In the men’s draw, it’s difficult to look beyond Djokovic. But if any one has a chance of knocking him off, I’d put my money on Japanese journeyman Kei Nishikori.
In terms of the two finals, despite the emergence of new, young talent in the men’s game, a Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer final looks promising especially considering the recent form of Federer. Once in the final however, the Swiss will find it one match too far.
In the ladies section, Serena Williams has been struggling of late and with the dangerous Victoria Azarenka floating in the draw, the American could struggle to make the final. If Maria Sharapova can continue her consistent level of play, expect her to be there come the final day. As for another player capable of ascending through the draw, watch out for Canadian Eugenie Bouchard. Having said that, if the final does end up being Bouchard versus Sharapova, I think Sharapova’s experience wins out as the world number two looks to make an early statement in 2015.