The New Year signals a kind of reboot in most people’s lives. The same holds true for tennis professionals. Resolutions are strengthened. Minds are reset. Tennis being one sport where the off-season is barely over a month long, this break is the all-important rejuvenator. Regardless of the previous year’s results or lack thereof, a renewed sense of hope leads players to the Australian Open. The opening Major is a favourite with players because of its friendly atmosphere, leading it to be rechristened as the ‘Happy Slam’. The slow-paced hard courts provide a welcome change from the faster ones that are used during year-end tournaments.
World No 1 Novak Djokovic has tremendous belief in himself and his game suffocates even the most gifted opponents. The two-time defending champion finished as No 1 for the second successive year, cementing his status as ‘Mr Consistent’. Winning the World Tour Finals has also given the Serb a much-needed boost. World No 2 Roger Federer, the 31-year old Master, is still shining brightly. After a brilliant 2012, in which he reclaimed the Wimbledon title, the Swiss is looking to add another great year to his burgeoning resume. Andy Murray, who finally broke his Grand Slam jinx in New York is now bound to play with newfound freedom. The Scot, ranked third, belongs in the Big 4 now.
One glaring absentee Down Under will be French Open champ Rafael Nadal. Now ranked No 4 and guaranteed to fall at least one spot after the tourney, the 2012 finalist is yet to fully recover from a knee ailment. Although the Aussie Open used to be famous for relative unknowns scorching the field, chances of that happening look remote because of the amazing consistency of the top eight. David Ferrer, Tomas Berdych, Juan Martin del Potro and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga are all hungry for that one major breakthrough and have the weapons to achieve it, but need that ‘something extra’ – strength of mind that could carry them past the top three.
On the women’s side, the Express Train that is world No 3 Serena Williams promises once again to batter the opposition. The American, winner of Wimbledon and the US Open, is the best player in the world and everyone knows it. No 1 ranked Victoria Azarenka is a fighter and boasts a powerful game, but has a poor record against Serena. Being the defending champion, the Belarusian would like to prove otherwise. World No 2 Maria Sharapova completed her Career Slam by winning the French Open last year and will back herself to bag at least a few more big ones. The rest of the top 10 that consists of Agnieszka Radwanska, Samantha Stosur & Petra Kvitova among others don’t seem mentally able to bring in that unwavering focus day-in day-out to match the main contenders. The Oz Open is also known for its extreme heat, making it both a mental and a physical battle, where Skill and Will go hand in hand. That really spices things up for the next two weeks!