The 2014 Australian Open will take place at Melbourne Park in Melbourne, Australia from Jan. 13-26. ATP top-ranked Rafael Nadal will look to unseat reigning champion Novak Djokovic on the men’s side of the draw, while world number one Serena Williams looks to take the title from Victoria Azarenka, 2013’s defending women’s champ. Here is a look at this year’s contenders, pretenders and sleepers as well as an overview of what's new this year in the land Down Under.
The men’s side of the draw
The contenders …
As a record-breaking three-time defending champion of the Australian Open men’s singles title, Novak Djokovic is motivated to preserve his streak. Djokovic had his career breakthrough in 2011, winning three Grand Slam titles (U.S. Open, Wimbledon and Australian Open) and having an extraordinary record of 70 wins and just six losses. Having a winning record against the current top five players of the world, Djokovic remains a favorite going into the Aussie Open.
Currently holding the number one ranking in the world and coming off the 2013 U.S Open championship, Rafael Nadal is Djokovic’s biggest threat at the Aussie Open this year. Nadal was a finalist in 2012, losing a heartbreaking final to Djokovic in five sets. Rafa is filled with confidence and is healthy heading into 2014 and looks to avenge his 2012 finals loss to Djokovic.
Juan Martin Del Potro is one of only a handful of players in the draw with a major title (U.S. Open) and an Olympic Medal (Bronze Medal). After his 2013 Aussie Open quarterfinal loss, Del Potro will be one to look out for in this upcoming Grand Slam as he has the weapons to compete with anyone.
Tomas Berydch is currently ranked seventh in the world and holds eight career titles. He has reached the quarterfinals of the Australian Open for the past three years, and is ready to surpass his previous results and take the next step this January.
The pretenders …
After losing five Grand Slam finals, Andy Murray got the proverbial monkey off his back at the 2012 U.S. Open. Last year, he finished runner-up in his third Australian Open final, beating Roger Federer in five sets in the semis and losing to Djokovic in a four-set finals match. This year, however, Murray is a pretender, coming off an injury and not yet in top form. He will be hard-pressed to win seven matches and an Aussie title with the rust he will inevitably have to shake off.
David Ferrer is currently ranked third in the world. He is a tough player and fights in every match. Ferrer historically beats the guys below him, but cannot defeat the Big Four. He simply doesn't have the major weapons needed to defeat them. He has a losing record against Djokovic, Murray, Nadal and Federer. This won't be the major he breaks through for his first Grand Slam.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has been one to keep an eye on in this tournament in the past as he has played well Down Under. He lost to Roger Federer in the quarterfinals of the 2013 Australian Open. However, Tsonga has recently returned from injury, and that's not his only obstacle. He must also make sure his conditioning has returned as the Aussie heat will offer little sanctity.
The sleepers …
In 2013, Jerzy Janowicz reached his highest ranking of 14th in the world and has shown he can play with the big boys. After dropping many disappointing early round losses in majors, Janowicz was able to get to the semifinals of Wimbledon and showed everyone what he was capable of. At the upcoming Aussie Open, the 6’8” Pole will have the chance to continue his breakthrough. A good draw could mean we see Janowicz deep into Week Two.
Being one of the tallest tennis players and known for his blistering serve, American John Isner is currently ranked 14th in the world. He hasn't broken through at a major yet, but despite his inconsistent result, Isner has what it takes to win any match he plays. Maybe this is his year. American tennis could use it.
Currently ranked 20th in the world, Kevin Anderson is looking to take the next step in his career development. With no Grand Slam results passed the fourth round, the next step is clear … a quarterfinal or better in a major. Anderson is bound to break through in one of the 2014 Grand Slams, and this could be the one.
Being the youngest tennis player inside the top 20, Milos Raonic is currently ranked 11th in the world, and continues to prove his strength and skill in every match he competes in. With his incredible height and strength, the 2014 Australian Open is the ideal setting for Raonic to be able to have the results he is looking for.
The women’s side of the draw
The contenders …
The world’s number one player Serena Williams is the clear Aussie Open favorite, as she looks for her sixth Australian Open title. The 32-year-old, five-time Australian Open champion was crowned the 2013 U.S. Open Champion. Serena will also be motivated and looking to avenge her 2013 Australian Open quarterfinal loss to 19-year-old Sloane Stephens 6-3, 5-7, 4-6
Victoria Azarenka is the two-time defending Aussie Open champion, and is back looking for a three-peat. Azarenka defeated American Sloane Stephens, and ultimately battled through yet another tough match against Na Li to win last year’s title in Melbourne. Azarenka is clearly the biggest challenge to Serena, and as the two-time champion, can be considered a co-favorite.
Na Li had quite a successful 2013 and became the first Chinese player to reach the U.S. Open semifinals. Earlier in the year, Li also reached the finals at the Aussie Open, as she lost to Azarenka in a grueling match 6-4, 4-6, 3-6. A two-time Australian Open finalist, Li, has great potential to take the next step this year.
Currently ranked number four in the world, Russian Maria Sharapova had an impressive run during last year’s Australian Open. En route to the semifinals against Li Na, Sharapova gave up only nine games during her preceding five matches. Sharapova dominated in straight-set wins over Russian Ekaterina Makarova at 6-2, 6-2; Venus Williams at 6-1, 6-3; and Belgian Kristen Flipkens at 6-0, 6-1. She was upset by Li in the semis, but as a semifinalist in 2013, Aussie Open finalist in 2012, and a champion in 2008, she is a strong contender for the 2014 title.
The pretenders …
With the crowd on her side, Australian Samantha Stosur looks to pose a serious threat to pocketing the Open’s trophy for the first time. However, she frequently tends to play poorly on home soil. Last year’s Aussie Open saw Stosur throw away a lead in an upset loss to China’s Zheng Jie in the second round. Stosur tends to melt in the Australian heat and this year may be more of the same.
Jelena Jankovic has only once reached the semis at the Australian Open and that was in 2008. Last year’s results saw a third round 5-7, 3-6 loss to Ana Ivanovic. Jankovic is playing well, but isn't in the form that once had her at number one in the world. A deep run at the Aussie Open isn't on the menu in 2014.
Roberta Vinci had fought her way to the quarters of the 2012 and 2013 U.S. Open Championships, so she has proven some hard court success at a major in singles action. However, she cannot seem to push her way past the third round of the Aussie Open, and while she may do so this year for the first time in her career, a jump to the semis or finals seems unlikely.
The sleepers …
The year 2013 was an eventful and successful one for the rising Canadian star Eugenie Bouchard, as the 19-year-old already pushed through the first few rounds of each of the four Grand Slams. Martina Navratilova describes Bouchard as “a potential Grand Slam champion.” Watch out for the talented star to move deep into the 2014 Australian Open.
Twenty-year-old American Sloane Stephens may be the future of American women’s tennis. Last year in Australia, she pulled the tournament’s biggest upset, knocking off Serena Williams in the quarters and almost knocked off Azarenka in the semis as well. She also reached the Wimbledon quarters before losing to eventual champion Marion Bartoli. You can expect to see good things from Sloane in Melbourne.
Twenty-three-year-old Jamie Hampton looks to be a prime candidate to make a good run at this year’s Australian Open. Last year’s Aussie Open saw the young rising star take her deepest run in a Grand Slam, advancing to the third round before falling to eventual champion Victoria Azarenka in three sets. The close loss and her rise in the rankings since make her a "sleeper" in Melbourne this year.
People are raving about 18-year-old American Madison Keys’ potential. Keys pushed hard to reach the third round of the 2013 Australian Open and Wimbledon. Keys is famously known for her stunning win against Serena Williams in a World TeamTennis match when she was just 14. Keys is expected to set career records this year, so keep on the lookout for the American. A breakthrough at a major is coming, is this the one?
New at the 2014 Australian Open
The most visible change to the event in 2014 will be the new look Margaret Court Arena (MCA). The scene of many stunning Australian Open battles, MCA is undergoing a massive transformation as part of the Victorian Government’s $366 million redevelopment and will sport a dramatic new look including:
►A distinctive new roof that will be fixed in an open position for Australian Open and fully retractable for the event in 2015.
►More than 3,200-square meters of shade, 360-degrees around the MCA concourse level.
Also new for the Australian Open in 2014:
►Roger Federer signs up as Ambassador for Kids’ Tennis Day and will join fellow players and Nickelodeon characters at a special Rod Laver Arena show on Jan. 11.
►Expanded Australian Open Trophy Tour through Asia, with first-time visits to Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong.
►The launch of Australia’s largest ever tennis participation drive, the AO Blitz.
►A special recognition of Brad Drewett and his contribution to the sport.
►Kerry Melville Reid to be inducted into the Australian Tennis Hall of Fame.
►A Legends Lunch on the final Saturday of the event to honor Mervyn Rose and celebrate members of the 1957 Australian Davis Cup team.
►A new public steakhouse-style restaurant, Grass ‘N’ Grain on the River Terrace.
►An elegant new contemporary Australian dining option, Zest, overlooking Garden Square.
►Major sponsor Kia Motors has extended its long-running sponsorship until 2018, while associate sponsor Jacob’s Creek has signed on for another five years.
►International electronics brand Hisense joins the Australian Open as official supplier of TVs, providing more than 1,000 on-site during the 2014 Australian Open.
►Pete Sampras to return to Melbourne 20 years after winning the first of his two Australian Open men’s singles championships.