Australian Open: Young blood ready to make life difficult for senior pros
With high hopes, new challenges, renewed vigour and huge expectations, the New Year is all set to welcome the first Grand Slam of the year -- Australian Open.
In men’s tennis, 2014 was a roller-coaster year, where we saw two new Grand Slam champions in Stanislas Wawrinka (Australian Open) and Marin Cilic (US Open); with Rafael Nadal, running away with French Open and top ranked Novak Djokovic stealing the show at Wimbledon.
With two new champions and other youngsters pushing themselves hard to take their game to next level, it seems, this season is going to be full of surprises.
While the young guns are looking upbeat to take up any challenge, 2015 is going to be a crucial year for the senior pros, in more than one way.
Let’s find out what all challenges players have to face, in their bid to achieve more success at the highest level -- as the seasons’ first Major starts from January 19.
Novak Djokovic: Very much like Roger Federer, Novak too is emerging as a complete player, who has the game and fitness to conquer the tennis world. Last season, we saw him struggling to maintain his top ATP ranking to FedEx, though, a late surge in form helped Nole to hold on to it. But the real issue with the Serb is his inability to win Majors consistently. The 27-year-old, managed to hold on to the top ranking three times in four years, but added just three Grand Slams in those years. In 2014, he added a mere one Slam (Wimbledon) to his tally. Even after having such a high reputation, he has remained an underachiever, thus far. Australian soil would be a perfect place for him to start off the season on a high. If, this time around, he manages to win Down Under, it would be his fifth Australian Open title and eighth Major overall. To enhance his reputation, he certainly needs to win at least two or three Slams this year.
Rafael Nadal: His last season was marred with multiple injuries. For the Spaniard, it was no less than a nightmare season, where he struggled throughout the year -- to nurse his injuries. Now, the master of top-spin is becoming a synonym for injuries in tennis. But at the same time, we all know that he is a comeback king. The master of red clay is back in action, after skipping the last Slam – US Open. However, he failed to start the new season on a positive note, after losing in the first round of Doha Open to Michael Berrer. The 28-year-old seems physically at risk, but stakes would be at an all time high, when the season heads towards second Slam of the year – French Open – where Rafa will bid to win his tenth title in 11 years – a rare achievement. Having said that, if the 28-year-old manages to add more Slams to his tally, it would be a bonus for the injury prone left-hander.
Roger Federer: Age is certainly not on his side. His reflexes have slowed down, but you still can’t write him off. And that’s exactly what the legend proved last season. When most of the tennis pundits had started talking about his retirement, the Swiss Maestro took everyone by surprise. He reinvented himself and went on to win most number of ATP matches, last year, than any other player. He not only challenged Novak for the top spot but also reached to the finals of Wimbledon – where he failed to cross the final hurdle and missed out on a golden opportunity to win his much-awaited 18th Grand Slam title. Resurgent Federer is still class apart, but to win a Slam is no more a cake walk for him now. So, at 33, the pursuit for an elusive Major would be the biggest challenge for the legendary player.
Andy Murray: He hasn’t done anything noteworthy since his record breaking Wimbledon title in 2013. Last year too, he looked out of sorts -- either struggling with his fitness or form. After parting ways with coach Ivan Lendl, he looked like an ordinary player. He lost 20 matches last season, most by him since 2006, when he was 19. However, he pushed himself hard to qualify for the year-end tournament. He still isn’t looking like a compact player to take the tennis world by surprise. Murray, 27, needs to regroup himself and show some hunger and depth in his game, as it’s definitely a high time for the Briton to win his third Major.
Other players: The young guns were sort of a revelation in 2014. Players like Marin Cilic, Milos Raonic, Kei Nishikori and Grigor Dimitrov are looking upright and have certainly raised their games. These are the players we need to have a close look at, as we enter the new season. But among all the youngsters, it seems Dimitrov has more formidable and fluent game to excel at the big stage.
At the same time, we can’t write off another Swiss -- Wawrinka. ‘Stanimal’ has the experience, game and potential to add few more Slams to his name. Last year, he pulled off a surprise by crushing Nadal in the Australian Open. With Oz set to host another edition of the coveted event, it would be interesting to see the approach of the 28-year-old, who will be defending his title.