Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon previews the 2017 Australian Open.
With apologies to The Masters, the real tradition unlike any other occurs every January when, for the beginning of the new tennis season, those of us in Western and Northern parts of the world get to wake up and watch tennis all night.
Or is that when we’ve stayed up all night?
Well whichever it is, the point is that the Australian Open is always damn fun. And we’re not just saying this because we’re huge Novak Djokovic fans and that the year’s first Grand Slam event has been the Serb’s de facto favourite tournament throughout his career.
Because fast forward to two weeks from now, and it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see Djokovic add another title down under to his belt; it’s happened a good five times already since 2011.
But that’s not why we’re here, not to identify which favourite in Melbourne may perform well at the event. Instead, let’s identify six potential dark horse players, three men and three women outside of the top 10, who might surprise everyone and reach the second week of the year’s first major.
Alright, we’re probably cheating the spirit of this exercise in picking Roger Federer here but it’s technically true. The former foremost Swiss Guy on Tour hasn’t been the same in a very long time and enters as the 17-seed of this Grand Slam title. And while you complain that we shouldn’t be picking Federer, the facts remain that he hasn’t won a major tournament since 2012; him winning in Melbourne would be surprising at this point. For what it’s worth, diehard fans of Fed’ can hang their hats to this.
 Pete Sampras won 2002 @USOpen — only No. 17 seed to win a Slam since seeds expanded from 16 to 32 in 2001. Will @RogerFederer follow?
— ATP Media Info (@ATPMediaInfo) January 12, 2017
If not Fed’ himself, then maybe Baby Fed? Ok ok, we know we’re not supposed to use the «Baby Fed» nickname, and that’s been the case for a while now, but whatever. More importantly, Grigor Dimitrov has been playing better and become a fair bit more consistent—and he’s already won one title this year, in Brisbane. It’s just too bad he’s stuck in Djokovic’s quarter in Melbourne.
For our third and final choice on the men’s side, let’s pick a true and classic dark horse. Alexandr Dolgopolov has lost the two matches he’s played in 2017, and his 2016 season wasn’t much of anything, and he’s slated for a second-round match against Gael Monfils should he even beat Borna Coric, himself no slouch, in his first match. So yeah, major dark horse.
Eugenie Bouchard, still just 22 years old, arrives in Australia at the place where she first took the tennis world by storm at a very low No. 47 in the world. Already this year, she’s played in two tournaments: she lost her first match in Brisbane and reached the Sydney semifinals. The Canadian was put in the same section as favourite Angelique Kerber but her draw is otherwise fairly favourable—though we’ll be happy with just a third round match. Maybe 2017 is the year she becomes a bit more regular and stops going through high highs and low lows?
We’ll go ahead and pick Monica Puig over here, and maybe there’s quite a bit of our wishing for this more than anything else behind this choice, but whatever. Puig winning the 2016 Rio Olympics gold medal was probably our favourite story of last season, and we would love to see a repeat of it so soon. She’s stuck with a likely match against Simona Halep in the third round, but one can dream.
The Australian has quite a few things going for her. In so much that this is a thing that exists—it isn’t but whatever, let’s continue—Samantha Stosur has been there before and has the experience. Not last year mind you, as she lost in the first round against a qualifier, but Stosur, she of the career-high No. 4 ranking and one-time Grand Slam winner, has been there before. She has also received quite a nice draw in her home country, with only a possible match against Agnieszka Radwanska standing between her and a spot in the quarterfinals. That doesn’t mean she’ll get there… but she might!
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG