After a year which featured eight Grand Slam singles champions, there’s been plenty of talk ahead of the Australian Open about the new guard vs. the old guard in both men’s and women’s tennis. The champions recently have been, well, just different.
Stan Wawrinka claimed his first career major last year in Australia. Strike one for the new. Then Rafael Nadal won the French Open, his ninth at Roland Garros, and Novak Djokovic won Wimbledon for his seventh major. The next generation struck back when Marin Cilic won the U.S. Open.
Four women shared the Grand Slams, too, the now-retired Li Na at Melbourne last year, Maria Sharapova at Roland Garros, Petra Kvitova at Wimbledon and Serena Williams at the U.S. Open.
So what can we expect in 2015? At the Australian Open, at least, the top-ranked players who also have nine Australian titles between them are reliable options. That would be Djokovic with four titles in Melbourne and Williams with five.
Still holding court for the men’s side is 33-year-old Roger Federer, aiming to add to his 17 Grand Slam titles, four of them also at Melbourne, and who just notched his 1,000th career match win to capture the Brisbane International with a victory over Milos Raonic on January 11.
“Clearly I do believe I have a shot in Melbourne, otherwise I would go home,” Federer said in Brisbane. Federer received good news in that department Friday during the tournament draw, he will play Lu Yen-hsun of Taiwan in the first round, a player he has beaten all three times they’ve played.
Nadal’s appendix surgery in early November has left him uncertain of his match fitness ahead of Monday’s start of the tournament. He’ll have a tough first-round match against former top-10 player Mikhail Youzhny of Russia.
Murray in Federer’s Quarter
Then there’s Andy Murray, who seems to have recovered from back surgery late last year and a minor left shoulder complaint at the start of this one. A three-time Australian Open finalist, Murray drew a qualifier in the first round and could play Federer in the quarterfinals.
Add Wawrinka, along with the so-called “young guns”, among them Grigor Dimitrov, U.S. Open finalist Kei Nishikori, Raonic and Australian Nick Kyrgios, who beat Nadal at Wimbledon last year, to the potential trophy winners. Djokovic and Raonic, who both open against qualifiers, are in the same quarter of the draw.
Serena Williams hasn’t been back to the Australian Open final since her last title here in 2010, but can never be ruled out of contention, even with the kind of indifferent preparation she’s had. No. 2 Sharapova warmed up with a win at the Brisbane International last weekend, beating Ana Ivanovic in the final. Sharapova drew a qualifier in the first round here and could meet 20-year-old Eugenie Bouchard, who reached the Wimbledon final and the semis in Australia and France last year, in the quarterfinals.
Two-time winner Victoria Azarenka, unseeded after an injury-hit 2014, faces Sloane Stephens in the first round in a rematch of their acrimonious semifinal two years ago when Azarenka left the court for a medical timeout and Stephens questioned her reasons for doing so. Stephens was coming off a big upset win over Serena Williams at the time.