The imminent 103rd edition of the Australian Open tournament signals the arrival of the first major grand slam of the 2015 season and will be hosted on 19th January- 1st February at Melbourne Park in, Melbourne, Australia.
Stakes have never been higher for the world elite tennis players who are set to benefit from an increase in prize money to an all-time high of $40 million. The victorious singles winners will receive $3.1m while a first round loser will receive $34,500. There should certainly be plenty of financial incentive for some of the lower ranked players to put their best foot forward.
World no.1, Novak Djokovic, is just so well suited to the two-toned Plexicushion surface at the Rod Laver Arena and surrounding hard courts. It seems the perfect surface for the Serbian’s mechanical style of tennis. This is a fact backed up by his exceptional record at the Australian Open. He has four Australian titles to his name and has won in Melbourne in three of the last four years making him one of the most successful players to compete there in the Open Era (since 1968) along with Federer and Andre Agassi. He will surely have half an eye on Roy Emerson’s all time record of six title wins down under.
He ended 2014 on a high note as the ATP’s world number one after winning the Paris Masters and his third consecutive World Tour Finals championship. To kick off 2015, Djokovic impressively dominated Stanislas Wawrinka in a straight sets win at the Mubadala Championship in Abu Dhabi, but he avoided an early season battle with Andy Murray in the final of that event after withdrawing with a virus. Next he headed to the Qatar Open. However, Djokovic suffered a surprise loss against huge serving, 6ft 11”Croatian, Ivo Karlovic in the quarter-finals in Doha. That defeat may have tinged his form but Djokovic will be there in the latter stages without a doubt.
World no.2 Roger Federer has also won this tournament four times in his illustrious trophy laden career but he has bowed out in the semi-finals for the last four consecutive years. Federer enjoyed a resurgent 2014 after previously looking like being on the decline. However it now looks as though he just had priorities elsewhere with his four newly born children and now he has come back into the fore invigorated. He secured the 1,000th victory of his career as he beat Milos Raonic to win the Brisbane International title last weekend. It was a feat which meant he became the third man, after Jimmy Connors and Ivan Lendl, to secure 1,000 ATP wins. He has enjoyed good form and first class preparation for the Australian Open meaning he is a serious contender to it for a fifth time.
World No.6, Andy Murray won his first title of 2015 at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi as Djokovic aborted the final due to illness. It has always been a case of close but no cigar for Murray thus far in Melbourne. He has finished runner up on three occasions; 2010, 2011, 2013 and in the last five tournaments he’s progressed to at least the quarter finals. The Scotsman will be looking to win the third of the four big slams having won the US Open and Wimbledon already. He spent much of last year climbing back up the world rankings to 6th spot after falling out of the top ten after being out and recovering from a serious back injury which required surgery. However despite not being anywhere near his best he achieved three quarter final finishes along with a semi-final at Roland Garros.
Murray has been preparing for the Australian Open by playing in the Hopman Cup which is now played on an outdoor venue similar to the Open. He reached the final of the Australian Open on both previous occasions when he prepared for it by playing at the Hopman Cup. Murray looks set to have a much improved season in 2015 with better physical conditioning and preparation and is a real threat this year.
World No.3, Rafael Nadal endured an injury and illness blighted second half of 2014 and hasn’t started 2015 well at all. He lost in the first round of the Qatar Open in his first official match of the year, to a German Michael Berrer; a qualifier with a world ranking of 127. It came after a (6-2, 6-0) defeat to Andy Murray in Abu Dhabi last week.
Punters will continue to back Nadal just because he is Nadal. His world ranking is probably too high at the moment and he is clearly miles short of his best. He has already expressed a lot of self-doubt in the build-up; it’s as if he knows that it’s just not there at the moment. Only a few weeks back he was casting some doubt as to whether he would be able to compete. He is as short as 6/1 to win with some bookmakers and on the exchanges. He may be worth laying and trading out in play at some point during the tournament. He’s just not on the level he once was at the moment and needs time to find his form.
World no.4, Stan Wawrinka is the defending champion and will surely not relinquish his title without a fight. His recent form isn’t great though and a thumping at the hands of Djokovic in Abu Dhabi won’t do his confidence any good. Nevertheless he’s proved he can win it before so has to be well respected.
World no.5, Kei Nishikori finished runner up in the US Open elevating himself up the rankings. Standing at just 5ft 10”, he can be dominated on the hard court by big tall servers so despite his high ATP ranking he doesn’t represent the greatest value and money may be best laid elsewhere. He was crushed in that US Open final in straight sets by Marin Cilic however the 2014 US Open champion is out injured as is Frenchman Joe-Wilfried Tsonga who will also not compete.
19 year old Nick Kyrgios from Canberra will have plenty of home support. He only turned pro in 2013, and last season reached the Wimbledon Quarter finals before reaching the 3rd round of the US Open to underline his genuine potential. Keep an eye out for his progress in the warm up tournament, the Sydney International alongside former US Open champion Juan Martin Del Potro who is on the comeback trail. 22-year old fellow Australian, Bernard Tomic, may lift his game but hasn’t done anything in the last two seasons to suggest that will be the case.
Borna Coric is the youngest competitor at just age 17. He won the ATP Star of Tomorrow Award for being the youngest player ranked in the Top 100. He reached the second round at the US Open but is creating headlines for being talented as such a young age. He looks way too green to advance into the latter stages but is worth monitoring for the future. 26-year-old Bautista Agut was voted by fellow players as the Most Improved Player of the Year. The Spaniard climbed from a year-end No. 59 ATP Ranking last season to a career-high No. 14 in 2014. He will be looking to build on a consistent 2014 where he reached the 4th round at the Australian and US Open hard court slams. He may be worth backing at a big price on the exchanges and trading out in the second week presuming he can make it that far.
Whilst there are always good trades to be found amongst the outsiders it looks likely that the winner of the 2015 Australian Open will be either Djokovic, Federer or Murray.