Greetings and welcome to the 2016 Australian Open Championships and the beginning of 2 weeks of coverage of the year’s first Grand Slam, courtesy of The Satellite Serve.
Coming to you daily during this year’s tournament, The Satellite Serve is back with predictions, opinions and analysis in relation to all of the action from Melbourne Park. In anticipation of the start of the tournament tomorrow, today’s serve sets out my tournament predictions for the men’s and women’s singles and also provides my views on the biggest matches taking place on Day 1.
Tournament predictions – Men’s Singles
Can anybody stop Novak Djokovic? That’s the question heading into the men’s tournament, after the Serb was just one win away from completing the Grand Slam in 2015. The world number one showed in Doha earlier this year that he has no intention of relinquishing his place at the top of men’s tennis, crushing great rival Rafael Nadal in the final to get his 2016 season off to an ideal beginning.
Stan Wawrinka was the man who ruined Djokovic’s perfect record in the majors in 2015, but it did require one of the Swiss star’s best ever performances. I can foresee only a couple of circumstances in which Djokovic will surrender his Australian Open crown – either injury or illness gets the better of him (which seems unlikely, given his awe-inspiring health and fitness regime) or one of the other top players (such as Wawrinka, Federer or Murray) performs at the very top of his game and also catches the top seed on an off day (again, that seems unlikely, given the Serb’s propensity to raise his game at the biggest moments).
Murray is a four-time finalist in Melbourne and will again be a major threat, although the impending arrival of his first child may cause complications for the Scot (who has said he will leave the tournament, if necessary, in order to return home for the birth). Similarly, Federer and Wawrinka are former Australian Open champions and will be looking to claim another title. Nadal enjoyed a positive start to the season in Abu Dhabi and Doha but, judging from the final in Doha, simply isn’t at Djokovic’s level right now.
Winner: Novak Djokovic
Finalist: Andy Murray
Semi-finalists: Federer, Nadal
Outside Chance: Wawrinka, Nishikori, Berdych
Like Djokovic, Serena Williams dominated the majors in 2015, winning three out of four titles and coming extremely close to completing the Grand Slam. But unlike Djokovic, who continued his dominance after last year’s US Open, Williams has barely competed since her surprise loss to Roberta Vinci at Flushing Meadows.
Williams’ experience and playing record demand that she be the favourite in any tournament which she enters and, whilst I have tipped the American to claim major title number 22, I do have some doubts over both her fitness and her match fitness. Williams withdrew from the Hopman Cup, which would have given her some much-needed match practice heading into Melbourne Park, but as the American herself notes, she has an abundance of experience to draw on.
Unlike most players, Williams is probably at her most vulnerable in the first week as she attempts to get back into her groove. In other words, if she can get through the first week, I think Williams will gain confidence and match fitness and become very difficult to beat.
In the bottom half of the draw, I think Kerber and Azarenka could do some damage, with Kerber being very consistent of late and Azarenka being a two-time former champion in Melbourne. Venus Williams could also make one last deep run in a Grand Slam, whilst Garbine Muguruza will be keen to build on her strong performance at Wimbledon last year.
Winner: Serena Williams
Finalist: Angelique Kerber
Semi-finalists: Radwanska, Venus Williams
Outside Chance: Halep, Azarenka, Muguruza
Matches of the Day – Day 6
1. Novak Djokovic vs. Hyeon Chung
Chung is one of the rising stars on the ATP Tour, the South Korean awarded the Most Improved Player in 2015 after rocketing up the rankings to world number 51. Chung was an accomplished junior player and performed creditably in going down to Stan Wawrinka at the US Open last year in a trio of tiebreaks.
Playing Djokovic on Rod Laver Arena will be an enormous occasion for Chung and one that he will learn a lot from. I expect him to show glimpses of his undoubted potential, but I don’t think he will seriously threaten the world number one during the match. Djokovic in 3.
2. Kei Nishikori vs. Philipp Kohlschreiber
Kei Nishikori is a former US Open finalist and is usually bracketed as one of the next generation of players who will eventually replace the Big Four of Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray at the summit of men’s tennis. But the Japanese player can be susceptible to early round defeats, as he showed in losing to Benoit Paire in New York last year.
Kohlschreiber is a veteran of the ATP Tour and the German has enjoyed success in Australia in years gone by. I think he will push Nishikori all the way in this one, but the seventh seed should be too consistent in the end. Nishikori in 4.
3. Serena Williams vs. Camila Giorgi
As noted above, Serena Williams might be the dominant player in women’s tennis, but she is also underdone and under an injury cloud coming into this year’s Australian Open. The American couldn’t have drawn a tougher first round opponent, with Giorgi the highest ranked player not to be awarded a seeding at the tournament.
The Italian is also a proven big match performer, having made the round of 16 in New York and at Wimbledon in the past, and with high profile scalps to her name including Caroline Wozniacki, Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka. Look for Giorgi to create plenty of anxious moments for Williams but for the 21-time major winner to somehow grind her way to victory. Williams in 3.
4. Nick Kyrgios vs. Pablo Carreno Busta
In typically enigmatic fashion, young Australian star Nick Kyrgios spearheaded his team’s victory at the Hopman Cup in Perth, winning all of his singles matches as he collected the title alongside Daria Gavrilova, before pulling out of his match against David Goffin at the Kooyong Classic with an apparent Achilles concern.
Kyrgios has an abundance of talent and will have plenty of support in Melbourne, but Carreno Busta represents a stern test for the youngster. The Spaniard has the support of none other than his illustrious compatriot Rafael Nadal, and there is no doubt that Kyrgios will feel some pressure after his run to the quarter-finals at Melbourne Park last year. I think the crowd will get Kyrgios home, but this one will be close. Kyrgios in 5.
5. Daniela Hantuchova vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova
This match pits two veterans of the WTA Tour against one another. Hantuchova is a former Australian Open semi-finalist, whilst Kuznetsova is a two-time Grand Slam champion. The Russian showed that her best form is still world-class, capturing the title in Sydney in the lead-up to the Australian Open.
I’m not sure whether Kuznetsova has the ability to capture any more Grand Slams, but on her day she is definitely capable of upsetting anyone and could be a dark horse at the first major of the year. Hantuchova, on the other hand, has drifted to 89 in the world rankings, and I can’t see her pushing Kuznetsova in this clash. Kuznetsova in 2.
Put your house on: Roger Federer. The Swiss superstar doesn’t do first round exits at Grand Slams and I don’t see that approach changing in 2016.
Upset alert: Sam Stosur has a miserable record at Melbourne Park in recent years and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Aussie get ousted by Czech Kristyna Pliskova.
Likely to go the distance: Pencil in a five-setter between former finalist Marcos Baghdatis and French ninth seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. I’ll back Tsonga to eke out a narrow victory.
That’s it for today. Enjoy the tennis and I’ll be back with another serve tomorrow. In the meantime, you can follow all of the action on Twitter: @satellitserve.