Your liver has been marinating in booze over Christmas and the Ash Barty hype has started to ramp up, which means the Australian Open is just days away and the draw was released only hours ago, so lets deep dive into the first Slam of the year.
As always we’ll start with the Ladies. The last two years we’ve had 8 different Slam winners, the days of Serena winning three majors a year are over. Last season Caroline Wozniacki outlasted Simona Halep in a thriller in Melbourne, Halep defeated Sloane Stephens at Roland Garros, Angelique Kerber won in straight sets over Serena at Wimbledon and the Japanese star Naomi Osaka won in New York in a controversial match over Serena.
To wrap up the big events last year Elina Svitolina defeated Sloane Stephens in a three set comeback at the WTA Finals. The defending Australian Open champion Wozniacki won Beijing late in the year, and on the grass at Eastbourne, but under performed at the other Slams, not making it into the second week.
To kick off 2019 the Danish player lost in Auckland to a qualifier; I don’t like her chance in defend her Australian Open title, watch out for a potential 3rdround against Maria Sharapova.
World number 1 Simona Halep after winning the French did poorly in the Slams after that, going out in the 3rdround at Wimbledon and 1stround at the US Open, the Romanian also lost this week to Ash Barty in Sydney and has also split with longtime coach Darren Cahill, look for her to do well on the clay later in the year, not in Melbourne, she’ll struggle to manage the flat hitting Kaia Kanepi in the first round, the player who beat her at the US Open.
Last year’s Wimbledon Champion Kerber didn’t win another tournament after that victory but reversed her ranking from the previous season from 21 to 2, the German is back in form and a real danger in Melbourne, could play the recent Auckland winner, her countrywoman the hard hitting Julia Goerges in the 4thround.
The US Open Champion Naomi Osaka stunned everybody with her stellar play in New York last year, forget all the drama during the final with Serena regarding the umpire, Osaka plain and simple played great tennis for those two weeks.
She actually did well during the rest of the season afterwards, making the final in Tokyo and semi’s in Beijing. Last week she made the semi’s in Brisbane but went out in a poor straight set loss to Lesia Tsurenko, has a tough potential 3rdrounder in Melbourne against Azarenka, tricky to pick how she’ll go, could easily go out to Azarenka or win the whole thing.
Serena Williams comes in as the 16thseed and is in the top half, her 4thround opponent could be either world number 1 Halep, her sister Venus or even the unseeded Sam Stosur. Also looming in that section is last week’s Brisbane Champion Karolina Pliskova.
Look out for Aryna Sabalenka who won the Shenzhen event in China last week, she could play Petra Kvitova the 8thseed in a 4thround, I feel the winner of that will make it deep into the second week.
On the local front it’s all about Ash Barty, after defeating Halep in Sydney the media is going bezerk, the pressure on her next week will be enormous. She’ll come in as the 15thseed and if the seed’s hold up will play Wozniacki in a 4thround, the good thing about Barty is she won’t get caught up in the hype, I’m not saying she could win the whole thing but a run into the second week is a real possibility.
Ok, time to pick the Champion. I went close last year after picking Halep to win.
After 8 different winners the last 8 Slams I’m going a first time winner, Aryna Sabalenka has the game and the power to win, she won 2 tournaments last season but hasn’t done much in the Slams, that will change and the 20 year old from Belarus will win her first Slam.
Lets go to the Men. Last season was all about the comeback of Novak Djokovic who won Wimbledon and the US Open, he finished with a 53-12 record and two other titles, he also got the old band back together, reuniting with coach Marian Vajda. The Serb has an interesting draw, a possible 2ndround against Tsonga, a 4thround against the blonde lefty Shapovalov, a QF against Nishikori and a Semi against last seasons’ ATP Finals winner Zverev, all very winnable for Novak.
Last year’s Australian Open Champion Federer had a very good first half of the season but tailed off during the second half with surprise losses at Wimbledon (Kevin Andrerson) and the US Open (John Millman). Expect the Swiss to play mainly night matches in Melbourne, the tournament will want him in and won’t subject him to the summer heat, make of that what you will. The Swiss has a good draw; potential hurdles are Monfils (3rdround), Tsitsipas (4thround) Murray/Cilic (QF), Nadal (SF). He also looked good at the Hopman Cup.
Rafa Nadal hasn’t played a real match since retiring in last years US Open semi’s against Del Potro, he pulled out of last week’s Brisbane event with at thigh strain, the hardcourts are proving too much for his body, his draw looks pretty good though, but an intriguing 3rdround against the Aussie Alex De Minaur will say a lot about his fitness.
Don’t exepct much from the other Aussies Kyrgios or Tomic, they have tough first rounds and will be lucky to make it to the 2ndround, Kyrios vs Raonic, and Tomic vs Cilic.
Ok, time for a winner. I can’t see anybody winning outside Federer, Nadal or Novak. Unlike the Ladies Draw I’m going for the hot favorite here, Novak Djokovic will win his 7thAustralian Open and 15thGrand Slam.