The first major of the new tennis season will of course be the Australian Open, held annually throughout the month of January, and current champion, Serbia’s Novac Djokovic, is looking to extend his winning run at the event, having won four of the last five competitions.
As current holder of all four Grand Slams, and having only lost once in Melbourne since claiming his 2011 title, he will surely start the tournament as the overriding favourite to retain his crown – but as is often the case in this age of tennis, he will face stiff competition from his usual rivals.
Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray must all be ruing Djokovic’s parents’ timing – all three of these players would stand every chance of being considered the greatest player of their generation, were the giant Serb not also within that same age bracket. In Federer’s case, the pill will be slightly easier to swallow – after all, he had already notched-up twelve Grand Slam titles before Djokovic won his first, but only one of those have come in Melbourne.
Only five more – including just one at the Australian Open – have come Federer’s way in the seven years since that fateful day, and when one considers those first twelve Gland Slams came in the space of just five years, this certainly indicates a gradual but undeniable changing of the guard.
Nadal has always found that his injury issues to be a far bigger hurdle to overcome than any one player, but the fact that he has only been crowned Australian Open once (he is of course eight-time champion at the French Open) again points to a saturation of talent at the very top of the game on hard courts. Feel too for Great Britain’s Andy Murray, who has reached the final of the Australian Open on no fewer than four occasions, missing out to Djokovic three times, and has never lifted the trophy.
As such, it is hard to look past Djokovic for the title; he enjoys the same level of success in Melbourne that Nadal does at Roland Garros. But injuries happen in sport, along with temporary dips in form, so it is worth considering what may happen if the current title-holder isn’t firing on all cylinders.
Of course, only a fool would rule Roger Federer out, although given Rafael Nadal’s recent troubles (he twice lost to Fabio Fognini in 2015) the Spaniard might be considered something of a romantic long-shot. Stan Wawrinka too will be keen to show that lightening can indeed strike twice, but it is Andy Murray – complete with his new coaching set-up – who looks fit, hungry and ready to take advantage of any slip-ups by the rest of the field.
Now aged 28, he is entering his prime as an athlete, and he can now call on over ten years’ experience at the very top of the game. Past the age of thirty, even he will begin to doubt that an Australian Open title will ever be attainable, so you can rest assured that he will be giving everything to make sure he wins this tournament sooner rather than later – and if he makes the final, it might just be a case of fifth time lucky for the Scot.