Novak Djokovic is aiming for his fourth straight Australian crown. Image courtesy of tennispanorama.com/Ryan Pierse/Getty Images
NOVAK DJOKOVIC - The winner at Melbourne Park the past three years and four of the past six, including a six-hour stunner against Rafael Nadal in 2012. Couldn’t seal the deal in any of the other three majors last year and has lost four of his last five finals in Slams. Went down to main rival, Nadal, at the French and US Opens in 2013, but finished the year in stellar form and goes in to this on a 22-match winning streak. Now coached by former champion Boris Becker.
RAFAEL NADAL - Came back from a serious knee injury and a seven-month layoff to produce an amazing season of tennis in 2013. Won 75 of his 82 matches and triumphed at his second home, Roland Garros, and also Flushing Meadows. Went down to Djokovic in the season-ending tournament in London and has only made the final here twice, winning his sole Australian Open back in 2009.
ANDY MURRAY - Finally managed to get the monkey off his back in 2013 becoming the first Brit to win Wimbledon since Fred Perry back in the 1930s. His year went downhill after that, failing to defend his US Open crown when he went down to Stanislas Wawrinka in the quarters. Went in for season-ending back surgery after the issue flared up in New York. Lost early in Doha to German Florian Mayer, who then went down to Aussie Marinko Matosevic in Sydney, which doesn’t auger well for where Murray’s at right now on the comeback trail.
ROGER FEDERER - Losses to Sergiy Stakhovsky at Wimbledon and Tommy Robredo at Flushing Meadows sum up Fed’s last 12 months. Parted ways with coach Paul Annacone late last year before bringing another stylist, Stefan Edberg on board as co-coach. Prior to those defeats he had made 36 straight quarter-finals in Slams, but he has just one victory in his last 15 majors. Looked good in Brisbane before a surprise loss to in-form Lleyton Hewitt in the decider. Has reached the semis in Melbourne the past four years. Has won just three of his 13 clashes with Djokovic and Nadal over the last two years.
BEST OF THE REST
JUAN MARTIN DEL POTRO - Has often looked the man most likely to break the stranglehold of the big four on the majors, but has failed to build on his maiden US Open win from 2009. Has only made it as far as the quarters (twice) at Melbourne Park, but showed he can be dangerous when he gets on a run, as he did at Wimbledon last year making the semis before going down to Djokovic in an epic five-setter.
STANISLAS WAWRINKA - Pushed Djokovic to the brink in the fourth round of the Oz and the semis in New York last year, but just couldn’t finish the job. Also made the quarters of the French and seems close to a massive breakthrough. Lifted the trophy in Chennai to start his season, albeit against a pretty average field. Has won just three of 45 matches against the ‘Djoker’, Nadal and Federer, though.
JO-WILFRIED TSONGA - Has threatened a few times at Slam level but hasn’t made a final since his one-off appearance in the decider at Melbourne Park in 2008 when Djokovic collected his first major. Good record in Melbourne with another two quarter-final appearances and a slot in the final four in 2010. Missed the US Open with a knee injury but looked in very good nick in Perth at the Hopman Cup.
BERNARD TOMIC - If only Bernard Tomic could be known purely for his on-court efforts (when he puts them in). Dad John re-appeared at the Sydney International, taking some of the focus off his son’s attempts at defending his ATP title. Has made the third round the past three years here and advanced to the fourth in 2012. Has run in to Federer (twice) and Nadal during that period, so it’s taking quality opponents to knock him out, and that looks set to happen again after drawing the Spaniard in the first round. Seems to revel under the spotlight of playing in his home Slam, though, and looked good before getting spanked by del Potro in the Sydney final.
LLEYTON HEWITT - Couldn’t have been more impressive in winning in Brisbane with victory over Federer in the final. After playing in energy-sapping heat, he pulled out of Kooyong to focus on his Australian Open preparation. Produced a brilliant run at the US Open last year and fell 7-5 in the fifth to Mikhail Youzhny in the round of 16. Has alternated making the fourth round followed by a first round loss since 2008 at the Australian Open; is due to make the last 16 going on that sequence.
MARINKO MATOSEVIC - His record in Grand Slams is 0-11 and his record in Masters tournaments is an identical 0-11. He somehow made it to 39 in the world early last year, but his most promising results on his adopted home soil have come at the start of 2014 where he has impressed in both Brisbane and Sydney. Would be nice to see him win a match at Melbourne Park but hard to see him going too deep in the tournament.
SERENA WILLIAMS - Has been the dominant player on the women’s tour and, like Djokovic, comes in to this unbeaten in her past 22 matches. Hasn’t won the Australian Open since 2010, but ankle injuries have hampered her in the past two years. Went down to rising American Sloane Stephens last year but showed she is in prime form in 2014 by beating Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova to take out a stellar women’s event in Brisbane.
VICTORIA AZARENKA - The new darling of Melbourne Park after collecting the women’s title the past two years, but she hasn’t had to beat Serena Williams along the way in either victory. Hasn’t lost on hardcourt in a Slam to any opponent, other than Williams, since the 2011 Oz Open. Pushed her nemesis in a tough two-setter in Brisbane but has lost both major finals in which she has faced the American superstar.
MARIA SHARAPOVA – Was light on for matches in the second half of 2013 after succumbing to shoulder problems. Played only three matches after the French Open but looked in good touch in Brisbane before going down to Williams for the 14th straight time in the semis. Won this event in 2008 and made the final and semis the last two years. Has won her last two against Azarenka, but the Belarussian has won six straight in battles on an outdoor hardcourt.
BEST OF THE REST
SAMANTHA STOSUR - Has had another horrible start to an Australian summer with some poor performances at the Hopman Cup, and only just managed to avoid being bundled out in the opening round in Hobart. Has the weapons to beat anyone in the draw, and if the courts at Melbourne Park play as fast as they did in Brisbane and Sydney, then it will suit her, especially given her success in 2011 on the slick surface at Flushing Meadows. Has never gone beyond the fourth round in her home Slam.
LI NA - Started 2014 in fine form defending her Shenzhen Open title before heading straight on to the Victorian capital. One of the few players who has had the better of Azarenka at Grand Slam level and her record in Melbourne is outstanding; finalist in 2011 and 2013 and semi-finalist in 2010. Made Azarenka work hard in a three-setter in last year’s final. Made the semis in New York also in 2013, so she’s showing that at almost 32 years of age, she can still compete in the big events.
AGNIESZKA RADWANSKA - Beautiful touch player to watch, but does she have the game to offset the power hitters at the business end of majors? Has made the quarters at Melbourne Park the past three years without taking the next step. Super-consistent and reached the fourth round or better at every Slam last year. Looked in good shape at the Hopman Cup but a surprise early loss defending her Sydney title has hampered her preparation.
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