The first tennis Grand Slam of 2013 is here.
Australian Open 2013 will begin amidst much fanfare at Melbourne Park, with the players bracing themselves with the first and toughest challenge of their calendar year. The sizzling summer conditions Down Under brings with it the maximum amount of retirements, dehydration cases and injuries- with most of the athletes kickstarting their seasons on hospital beds at the end of 2 weeks of tennis action.
Those who survive , suffer their way to the final few days at the fag end of a summer that put most Indian cities to shame- where skill takes a backseat, and the very limit of human endurance is tested.
The Australian Open 2012, last year, will be etched in the memories of tennis fans forever. It will be remembered for much, especially the fact that the top 4 reached the semi-finals, and gave the world the matches they deserved. After Nadal trumped Federer again, and Djokovic outlasted a stubborn Andy Murray (who was to turn the tables later in the year), this tournament will be remembered for the final- played between Novak Djokovic (coming off a record-breaking 2011), and Rafael Nadal- for whom the weather was a mere number.
In an epic that lasted close to 6 hours, Djokovic outNadal-ed Nadal, winning in 5 sets after coming back time and again to shock the Spaniard into submission. It was arguably the match of the year, in only its first month- with the US Open final coming mighty close in terms of excitement, but nowhere close in spirit.
The Australian Open winners in the past decade just saw the bar being raised- with it being declared a Slam that has to be earned, not received.
2013 brings with it many expectations- with the top 4 still the top 4- and Djokovic remaining favorite for the first Slam of the year. This time, of course, there will be the regular contenders, along with a few dark horses:
Novak Djokovic (1)
He will start every tournament as the favorite even in 2013, as he bids to become the only active player other than Federer to win 3 Australian Opens in a row. Despite his early loss to Bernard Tomic at Brisbane, he often begins the year in top shape- adjusting to the inhuman conditions faster than anyone else, knowing exactly what he needs to reach the final without burning out. This is a far cry from the years past, where he’d often be no. 1 on the retirements list.
Andy Murray (3)
You can count on another Murray-Djokovic final- a fine rivalry that has taken over from Federer-Nadal, Nadal-Djokovic and Djokovic-Federer. Andy Murray, fresh from an OBE and his most successful year in tennis, will begin as joint-favorite with Murray- especially after winning at Brisbane and starting every hardcourt season as the man to beat. This could be his 2nd consecutive Slam.
Roger Federer (2)
Looking for a record-breaking 5th title here. Over the years, he has won only 5 Slams (out of his 17) in the first half of a tennis season (till Wimbledon)- and dominates the 2nd half of the season like nobody else. Always one of the top names, you can count on him atleast reaching the final 4- the most consistent out of all. But that is where things start to get tough for the 31 year old, but with 2012 season being derailed after a QF loss at the US Open to Berdych. In order to beat the younger Murray and Djokovic, Federer will have to play his absolute best on a surface that favours long rallies and quick movers. Can’t put it past the old man, though. No. 18? Maybe not. Not yet, atleast.
Juan Martin Del Potro (6)
My favorite to win the title this year. He should be fit and raring to go, after a meek end to the 2012 season. On his day, he is a more consistent Marat Safin on steroids. Still to find consistency, but often plays his best against the best.
Rafael Nadal (4)
Coming back from the longest layoff in his career, he will not begin as the top 3 favorites for the first time in his career. You can never put it past the Spaniard though, to pull off a physical miracle. His mind doesn’t lack the motivation, after not having hit a ball on court since June last year. He could be stuck on 11 Slams till Roland Garros again.
David Ferrer (5)
Ending 2012 with a bang, Ferrer will still never be a favorite to win a Slam. For that, he always must beat atleast 2 of the top 4 over 7 matches in a best-of-5 match, which is tough to do considering the fact that he possesses no special weapon except dogged determination and consistency.
Jo Wilfred Tsonga (7)
Never short of brilliance, but never short of flaws either. Back to the tournament where he shocked the world back in 2008. Still to win 7 in a row at any Slam, with time running out fast before he will soon be known as the best player never to have won a Slam. Del Potro, if not for his 2009 dream US Open, would top this list otherwise.
The new bad boy of Australian Tennis is fresh from a morale-boosting victory against World No. 1 Djokovic a week ago- proving that he has the talent yet again, but lacks any sort of temperament. He can take solace from the fact that a talented kid like him beat Sampras at the US Open 12 years ago and won another Slam after that, beating Federer and Hewitt on the way. He should be meeting Safin on a regular basis, for lessons in attitude and anger management.
The French kid who never quite made it, despite having the best backhand Men’s tennis has ever seen. A thing of beauty as it is, Gasquet has never quite lived up to his early potential- where he was the best juinior in the world for a long time. He is fresh off a tournament victory though, and will hope that the speedy courts at Melbourne suit him more than ever.
Other dark horses include Berdych (Davis Cup Winner now), Cilic, Wawrinka (all of whom failed to win at Chennai last week), Tipsarevic (winner at Chennai) and, of course, Raonic.