Infotainment Factory: This man could rock the Australian Open

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Sunday, 13 January 2019

This man could rock the Australian Open


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Tennis writer Linda Pearce has covered 30 Australian Opens. She has seen John McEnroe disqualified, Pete Sampras cry (and Roger Federer, too, multiple times), seen Aussies Pat Cash and Lleyton Hewitt fall just short, Monica Seles cap one of the more remarkable comebacks with a brave final bow, fashions come and go, but the likes of Serena Williams, Federer and Novak Djokovic win and win and win.

The Yarra-side venue, too, has been transformed in the three decades since the tournament-saving move from Kooyong to what is now Melbourne Park, with covered stadium courts named for Rod Laver and Margaret Court (and Melbourne, in case you’d forgotten where we are), a brave new Australian generation headed by Ashleigh Barty and Alex De Minaur and a couple of rebels named Nick and Bernie who may yet do justice to their rare collective talent. Or not.

Last week’s tears were Andy Murray’s, with the five-time runner-up to be driven into a premature retirement - at Wimbledon, if not sooner - by intolerable hip pain. If this is indeed his last tournament, and a farewell return to his home slam proves beyond what the Scot’s wounded body can manage, we salute a player and person who achieved so much, and did so under a level of media and public scrutiny our lads Nick and Bernie could well have suffocated beneath.

Some predictions, then, given that what we do know is that there will be heat, upsets, drama… and (not just Roger’s) waterworks over the fortnight to come.

Men’s champion: Novak Djokovic

Yes, OK, this is hardly going out on a limb, considering the resurgent Serb’s remarkable second half of a season he started in such downbeat fashion with a fourth round loss to Hyeon Chung before checking in for more elbow surgery.

Mark him down for a record seventh title - as well as a couple of Brazilian-fig-tree-climbing escapades at the Botanical Gardens - and a 15th major. Only Federer (20) and Rafael Nadal (17) would then lie ahead.

Dark horse: Karen Khachanov

World No.4 Alexander Zverev may be the standout colt in the #NextGen stable, but Russian Khachanov upset both Zverev junior and Djokovic to claim his first Masters 1000 title in Paris in November. Big forehand, powerful game and a top 10 seeding, but also a crazy-hard draw for the 22-year-old in Marin Cilic’s third, Federer’s quarter and Nadal’s half.

Would need to do it the hard way, but, at a Slam, is there an easy one?

Women’s champion: Angelique Kerber 

This is hard. Really hard. Eight women have shared the past eight singles majors, and there are probably a dozen or so contenders for this one. Sure, given her extraordinary effort in reaching the finals of her previous two majors after returning from maternity leave, it’s tempting to tip Serena Williams for an eighth Australian (and the 24th major that would draw her level with Court on the all-time list, but ahead, morally, given how many of Court’s titles were won when the Australian championship was nowhere near as hotly-contested as it is now).

But. Despite a blip against Petra Kvitova in the Sydney semi-finals, Kerber has twice beaten Williams in slam deciders, including at Wimbledon in 2018 and here in 2016, and launched her recovery from that annus horribilis in 2017 with a semi-final appearance in Melbourne 12 months ago. Even if the case for Kerber in an open Open is far from open-and-shut, she will take some beating.

Dark horse (except she really isn’t, just an emerging star shooting for her first major, which surely counts?): Aryna Sabalenka

The powerhouse from Belarus is No.11 with a bullet, coming off a breakout season and into another with the Shenzhen title already secured and rave review/previews from many respected pundits, who think Sabalenka’s time may even be now.

Again, a tough draw, (potentially Kvitova in the third round and Our Ash or defending champion Wozniacki in the quarters of the Kerber half), but see hard/easy way, above.

Tennis writer Linda Pearce has covered 30 Australian Opens. She has seen John McEnroe disqualified, Pete Sampras cry (and Roger Federer, too, multiple times), seen Aussies Pat Cash and Lleyton Hewitt fall just short, Monica Seles cap one of the more remarkable comebacks with a brave final bow, fashions come and go, but the likes of Serena Williams, Federer and Novak Djokovic win and win and win.

The Yarra-side venue, too, has been transformed in the three decades since the tournament-saving move from Kooyong to what is now Melbourne Park, with covered stadium courts named for Rod Laver and Margaret Court (and Melbourne, in case you’d forgotten where we are), a brave new Australian generation headed by Ashleigh Barty and Alex De Minaur and a couple of rebels named Nick and Bernie who may yet do justice to their rare collective talent. Or not.

Last week’s tears were Andy Murray’s, with the five-time runner-up to be driven into a premature retirement - at Wimbledon, if not sooner - by intolerable hip pain. If this is indeed his last tournament, and a farewell return to his home slam proves beyond what the Scot’s wounded body can manage, we salute a player and person who achieved so much, and did so under a level of media and public scrutiny our lads Nick and Bernie could well have suffocated beneath.

Some predictions, then, given that what we do know is that there will be heat, upsets, drama… and (not just Roger’s) waterworks over the fortnight to come.

Men’s champion: Novak Djokovic

Yes, OK, this is hardly going out on a limb, considering the resurgent Serb’s remarkable second half of a season he started in such downbeat fashion with a fourth round loss to Hyeon Chung before checking in for more elbow surgery.

Mark him down for a record seventh title - as well as a couple of Brazilian-fig-tree-climbing escapades at the Botanical Gardens - and a 15th major. Only Federer (20) and Rafael Nadal (17) would then lie ahead.

Dark horse: Karen Khachanov

World No.4 Alexander Zverev may be the standout colt in the #NextGen stable, but Russian Khachanov upset both Zverev junior and Djokovic to claim his first Masters 1000 title in Paris in November. Big forehand, powerful game and a top 10 seeding, but also a crazy-hard draw for the 22-year-old in Marin Cilic’s third, Federer’s quarter and Nadal’s half.

Would need to do it the hard way, but, at a Slam, is there an easy one?

Women’s champion: Angelique Kerber 

This is hard. Really hard. Eight women have shared the past eight singles majors, and there are probably a dozen or so contenders for this one. Sure, given her extraordinary effort in reaching the finals of her previous two majors after returning from maternity leave, it’s tempting to tip Serena Williams for an eighth Australian (and the 24th major that would draw her level with Court on the all-time list, but ahead, morally, given how many of Court’s titles were won when the Australian championship was nowhere near as hotly-contested as it is now).

But. Despite a blip against Petra Kvitova in the Sydney semi-finals, Kerber has twice beaten Williams in slam deciders, including at Wimbledon in 2018 and here in 2016, and launched her recovery from that annus horribilis in 2017 with a semi-final appearance in Melbourne 12 months ago. Even if the case for Kerber in an open Open is far from open-and-shut, she will take some beating.

Dark horse (except she really isn’t, just an emerging star shooting for her first major, which surely counts?): Aryna Sabalenka

The powerhouse from Belarus is No.11 with a bullet, coming off a breakout season and into another with the Shenzhen title already secured and rave review/previews from many respected pundits, who think Sabalenka’s time may even be now.

Again, a tough draw, (potentially Kvitova in the third round and Our Ash or defending champion Wozniacki in the quarters of the Kerber half), but see hard/easy way, above.

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