The Australian Open kicks off later tonight with play beginning at 7 ET on ESPN 2 and Tennis Channel. Be sure to at least flip over during breaks in the football action, There are all kinds of online streams available as well. Here are the biggest storylines to track down under and my picks.
Hewitt’s swansong- 34 year old Llyeton Hewitt will end his career by playing his home slam. Hewitt has been a mainstay on tour since the late 90s. Despite not having a ton of natural talent or power, the Aussie grinded his way to the number one ranking. He also snagged three majors (two singles one doubles). He is living proof that consistency and tenacity count for a lot in any walk of life. Thus, he is one of the most respected competitors in the sport. He was runner up at his home slam in 2005. Ranked outside the top 300 and playing here as a wildcard, one last Cinderella run into the 2nd week is unlikely. However, a lot of folks will be pulling for it, myself included.
Top women walking wounded- Serena Williams has not played an official match since her Calendar Grand Slam were dashed by Roberta Vinci in New York this past fall. She is dealing with ongoing knee issues. She says she is ready to go, and she better be. Talented Italian ball basher Camila Giorgi will be a stern test tonight. Even if she is rusty, it is hard to pick against Serena. 5th seed Maria Sharapova, 2nd seed Simona Halep, 3rd seed Garbine Muguruza, and 6th seed Petra Kvitova all missed season opening events due to injuries. Serena may be favorite to defend her crown, but this draw does not lack intrigue. The door is open for folks like 4th seed Aga Radwanska to claim her first major or a resurgent 14th seed Victoria Azarenka to finally be a factor on a big stage again.
Dangerous unseeded and under seeded players on both sides- I am just going to give names here. Men: 27th seed Grigor Dimitrov, 29th seed Nick Kyrgios, and qualifier Daniel Brands. Women: Dominika Cibulkova, 14th seed Victoria Azarenka, 21st seed Ekaterina Makarova Eugenie Bouchard, and Yaroslava Shvedova.
Novak or the field? What was once the “Big 4” of Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, and Murray is no more. It is Novak Djokovic and everyone else. The machine like Serb won three of the four majors last year, including this one, which he has won five times. He is not human and the other three guys are still great. Combine that with the emergence of 4th seeded Stan Wawrinka over the last two years and there is not much room for new faces to breakthrough. This will show in my picks.
QFs- (1) Djokovic d. (9) Tsonga
(3) Federer d. (6) Berdych
(4) Wawrinka d. (8) Nadal
(2) Murray d. (7) Ferrer
SFs- Djokovic d. Federer
Wawrinka d. Murray
Final: Djokovic d. Wawrinka for his 6th Aussie Open and 11th major overall
(1) S. Williams d. (5) Sharapova
(4) Radwanska d. Cibulkova
(14) Azarenka d. (7) Kerber
(21) Makarova d. (2) Halep
SFs: Radwanska d. S. Williams
Azarenka d. Makarova
Final: Radwanska d. Azarenka for her first major