| By Andrew Eichenholz




Heading into the 2015 Australian Open, there are many storylines with a great deal of unpredictable endings in store for the upcoming year. One great of the game proved to the world that age is no barrier in 2014, while another raised questions on just how many times he could get up from a knockout punch. In the women’s game, young stars are reaching the horizon, with the superstar looking to maintain her reign.







The men’s side of the Aussie Open draw
The contenders

Would Roger Federer ever be at the top of the sport again? If 73 match wins in 2014 did not answer that question, it is hard to say what will. Federer not only showed the world that he was not done yet, but he shoved it in everybody’s face, nearly overtaking Novak Djokovic for the world number one ranking towards the season’s end. Furthermore, it is never fair to think that the man who has won more majors and held the top spot in the world rankings more than anybody else does not have a shot at the Grand Slam. Expect Federer to be challenging Djokovic.

Not enough could be said about the fall season that Novak Djokovic had in 2014. The new father went 19-1, winning the World Tour Finals to cap it off. When a semifinal performance at the U.S. Open is considered an extreme disappointment, it is safe to say that this man will be the favorite down under. Nobody has been more consistent at the majors in recent years, and there are no signs that he will slow down.


Up and down. After winning the Australian Open last season, that is exactly what the new Swiss Superstar Stanislas Wawrinka was. He had a tournament here and there where he would show the groundstrokes that can compete and overpower anybody in the world, and others where it was the Stan of a few years ago who showed up. Nevertheless, Wawrinka closed his season strongly in London, looking like his Australian Open-winning self, something everybody should be scared of come the first Grand Slam of the season.


The pretenders
There is nobody who questions or will ever say anything about Rafael Nadal’s toughness. Injury after injury has popped up over the years, leaving fans and players alike wondering if the man who grew to become the Roger Federer slayer would ever be “himself” again. Every time, he proved those questions silly, coming back better than ever. After quite some time off of the court, however, a hard court at that, it is hard to see Nadal challenging the likes of Djokovic and Federer in Australia.

Nobody will ever take Marin Cilic’s 2014 U.S. Open title away. Nobody. But, it seems like that run in Flushing Meadows may have been a flash in the pan, because his results have not backed up his major championship. Lower-ranked players who the Croatian encounters early on will look at Cilic as a marked man, and will want that “upset match” that much more. He could still win the matches in which he is favored, but do not expect another Cinderella story for Cilic Down Under.

There is no doubt that Kei Nishikori will be around the top tier of men’s tennis for a long, long time. Perhaps one of the very best pound for pound players in the world, his pure groundstroke game is extraordinary. However, with size does come limitations. He caught Djokovic on one of his worst days in years with the best tennis he had ever played to win their U.S. Open semifinal match, but what are the chances that it happens again? Nishikori has been playing at such a high level in the last year or even two, that he is bound for a hiccup.



The sleepers
As hard as it is to call the world number six a sleeper, Andy Murray is this year in Melbourne. Ever since his Wimbledon title, Murray has been in a sort of slump. At the end of this past season, he started to hit out more on the ball, moving his feet into more aggressive positions on the court, leading to success. Murray can be a very good tennis player while constantly on the defense, but he can only be great playing offense first. Look for him to do so Down Under.

There are very few, if any, who have the same raw power as the big Czech. Tomas Berdych can hit both a forehand and backhand from anywhere on the court for a winner. The question is, could he build a point effectively against the top guys and not be afraid to make the first move in a rally? Berdych can beat anybody on his given day, so why not the Australian Open

Toughness is not something that can simply be taught. David Ferrer is perhaps the toughest on the ATP Tour, and he certainly plays like it. Nobody, from the lowest-seeded entry to Novak Djokovic, will get a free point against the Spanish speedster. Ferrer has sneakily aggressive groundstrokes, and if any of the top guys are off of their game when they meet in the back end of a tournament, there is no other person out there who will be happier to grind them down.


The women’s side of the Aussie Open draw
The contenders
Regardless of how anybody in the world plays on a given day, they will not be able to beat Serena Williams at her best. With the best serve in the game by leaps and bounds, her opponents are on their back foot in a point right off of the return. From there, few players in tennis history have been better at keeping the foot on the gas, with deep groundstrokes that push anybody and everybody around. If Serena has a good serving tournament, she may not even need her best game off of the ground to win. That is how impacting it is.

Maria Sharapova may possibly be the most focused and mentally tough individual on either the men’s or women’s tour. There are very few players in the sport right now who are quite as professional as Sharapova. By the way, she can hit the ball too. Her serving may be a bit too inconsistent to truly give Serena a run for her money, but her blistering groundstrokes will mow down the rest of the field.

The ending of Caroline Wozniacki’s engagement must have done the trick, as the Danish marathon-running star has been nothing but successful on the tennis court since her well-known break up early on in 2014 with golfer Rory McIlroy. For a period of time, she tried to win matches against the better players on the WTA Tour solely with her defensive skills, which are very good. However, as she showed with her play towards the end of last season, she can do so much more when she controls points and dictates play, which will lead to a successful Australian Open campaign.


The pretenders
Without a doubt, the consistency award for 2014 should go to Simona Halep. Nobody on the WTA Tour was as daunting to those ranked below her, and even above her. At the year-end championships, Halep bludgeoned Serena, which almost nobody has ever done. The thing is, Halep’s game had been a new commodity to everybody, and now that she is at the top, everybody will be going after her. She had lost more of the matches she should win towards the end of the season, so look out at the Australian Open.

Nobody in professional women’s tennis has as large of a playing range as Petra Kvitova. On her best day, her serve and suffocating forehand is almost impossible to beat, especially on a faster surface in the heat, like one would find down under. But, the first major of the year comes almost straight off of the offseason, leaving very little time to get into top gear. Kvitova has lost in the second round or earlier four times at the Australian Open, and it is very possible that that number will tick up again.

Very few expected Ana Ivanovic to bring back her glory days in 2014, yet she proved that she can still play. At just 27 years of age, the still-young Serbian star feels like she has been on the WTA Tour forever, but she still has time left. She has proven in her career, she cannot serve consistently enough to stay at the top of the game, and after a break is the most convenient time for that serve to fall off track.


The sleepers
Not many players have tested Serena while she was at her best. Victoria Azarenka is one of them, and she is coming off of a foot injury that severely limited her last season. People seem to have forgotten about her while she has been out, but look for the Belarusian sensation to hit the ground running with a big performance at the first Grand Slam of the year.

Through battling with Sjogren’s Syndrome and all, Venus Williams has scratched and clawed her way back into the top 20 in the world. Many may think that with her age she will be unable to go any further, but as Roger Federer has shown, you can never count out a champion. Venus knocked at the door of a major upset at a couple of Grand Slams last season. If she manages to string together a few matches with the serve that the world grew to be in awe of years ago, look out.

What would an Australian Open preview be without any Australians? People seem to have totally forgotten with her underwhelming results of late that Samantha Stosur is a Grand Slam champion. No, she did not make it past the fourth round at a major last season, but her fall campaign showed the potential that the big server has. For somebody who has possibly the best non-Serena Williams serve, especially second serve in women’s tennis, there is no reason to count the home favorite out.

Andrew Eichenholz

<p>Andrew Eichenholz is a journalism student at Stony Brook University, where he currently is a staff writer for The Statesman, covering tennis amongst many sports. He grew up playing tennis at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, where he learned to love the game, eventually becoming a part time tennis instructor, working for the most part with the QuickStart 10 &amp; Under Program. Andrew has also served as a ballperson at the U.S. Open. He may be reached by e-mail at <a href="mailto:andrew.eichenholz@stonybrook.edu">andrew.eichenholz@stonybrook.edu</a>.</p>