Three major tales to follow at the Australian Open 2018
Fast forward a few days from now when Australia will be ushering in the new year, lit up with those signature fireworks bedazzling the continent. It will be that time of the year when tennis fans from all over the world will have their eyes fixed on the opening Grand Slam of the season -- the Australian Open.
The 106th edition of this tournament at the Melbourne Park that will be held from 15th to 28th January, 2018 looks to be a sizzling stage set for newer stories. The unpredictability of the sport makes it a thrilling spectacle year after year.
With the minds of fans clouded with myriad questions like, 'Will Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray make remarkable comebacks?', 'Can Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer do an encore? or "Can Serena Williams step on the court and take the tennis world by storm after becoming a mother?, the tennis fraternity certainly cannot wait for the new season to unveil and get their answers.
While there are many plots to watch out for at the opening Grand Slam of the year, namely two-time champion Victoria Azarenka making a comeback after a tough year with an ongoing child custody battle, Grigor Dimitrov riding his 2017 form into the next season or Alexander Zverev finally capturing a Major, we bring it down to the three most significant stories that promise to make an impact.
Let us look at the three major star tales to watch for out at the Australian Open 2018:
#1 Serena Williams' blockbuster comeback
Defending champion Serena Williams is already in the entry list of the tournament and is supposedly set for a blockbuster return to Melbourne Park. A seven-time champion, Serena will make the most of her comeback and we all know that without a hint of doubt.
Having spent a year on the sidelines and with her newfound status as a mom, will Williams be able to defend her crown with as much finesse as is her forte?
After winning the 2017 Australian Open title (which she did while two months pregnant), the 36-year-old gave birth to her first child, Alexis Olympia in September. Williams also married Alexis Ohanian in November.
After a fairy tale wedding, replete with some breath taking pictures that swept fans off their feet, the newly married couple has been a beautiful frame of an adorably blessed family. Serena has not played since her triumph at the Australian Open last January and that is what makes her comeback so intriuging.
Serena, arguably the greatest tennis player ever, has been very much making her presence felt on social media and even shared pictures of her training sessions, hinting her return at Melbourne Park. Australian Open tournament director, Craig Tiley has declared "there’s no question" that she will be ready and competing in Melbourne in January.
Her first appearance at Melbourne Park was in 1998 where she succumbed to sister Venus in the second round. From there on, Wiliams boasts of a record seven Australian Open titles. No one in the Open Era other than Margaret Court, has secured more titles than Serena both overall and at the Australian Open.
By conquering the 2016 Wimbledon Championships where she upended Angelique Kerber in the final, Williams equalled the record of Steffi Graf's 22 Major singles titles and amassed her 23rd title overall this year by defeating Venus in Melbourne.
What is more significant is, Serena's fabulous record Down Under. She has reached the Australian Open final the last three years. In 2015, she beat Maria Sharapova for the title. In 2016, however, she succumbed to Angelique Kerber in the final. In 2017, Williams once again made a roaring statement by ousting Venus to emerge victorious at the season-opening Grand Slam.
If the stars are aligned, the current World No. 22 Serena will possibly equal Margaret Court's record of 24 Major singles titles when she steps on the court again in January.
While it would be most amazing to see Williams making a victorious return, her participation at the Australian Open is still not fully confirmed. It has emerged that she is booked as a keynote speaker at a conference in Florida on January 23, which should fall during the quarter-finals. Fans thus need to wait for Serena's decision on the Australian Open.
#2 Novak Djokovic's return from an injury hiatus
The Serbian superstar, Novak Djokovic will be back at the Melbourne Park and will look to fill the lacuna with yet another addition to his trophy cabinet. Targeting a record seventh title at the Australian Open, Novak will leave no stone unturned to script history once again at the opening Grand Slam of the season.
Djokovic's dominance at Melbourne can be testified with the fact that amongst his 12 major titles, six have been at this Grand Slam. The 30-year-old has defeated Andy Murray in four of his six finals.
His encounter with Rafael Nadal in the 2012 decider -- one of the best Grand Slam finals of all time -- saw the Serbian emerge victorious in five hours and 53 minutes, which is the longest match in Australian Open history and the longest Grand Slam singles final in the Open Era.
The Serbian captured his first Grand Slam title in Melbourne in 2008 and from there, it was almost no looking back. 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2016 were the years when Novak simply kept dominating the blue plexicushion surface that best suits his terrific baseline game.
Djokovic’s dominance at the Australian Open was thwarted in 2017, with wildcard Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan pulling off a scintillating upset, sending the defending champion packing in five sets in the second round. Not really able to find his feet again, Novak just managed a single more title win after that which came at Eastbourne. An elbow injury later forced him to bring down the curtains for the year after Wimbledon.
Stepping into the new season with a lowest-ever ranking in a decade at 12, it will be a huge challenge for Novak to lift himself up from the throes of a setback. With the new addition of Radek Stepanek in Team Djokovic, the news of which the Serbian so cleverly broke on his Instagram page, it will indeed be very much interesting to see if we can see him replicating his earlier feats in Melbourne yet again.
Also read: Nobody returns it better than the Djoker
#3 Five-time runner-up Andy Murray's return to Melbourne Park
The two-time Wimbledon champion and 2012 US Open winner, Andy Murray has had an excruciatingly painful campaign at the Australian Open. What is more heartbreaking is the fact that the Scot has reached the final at this tournament five times, but failed to convert and lay his hands on the elusive trophy.
While Djokovic has been a roadblock in Murray's path to Australian Open glory four times, the Swiss great Roger Federer denied Andy his first title in Melbourne Park in 2010.
The 30-year-old Murray was shown the exit in the fourth round this year by Mischa Zverev -- his earliest Australian Open exit since 2009. Most of his 2017 season was eclipsed by illness and injury which increased his struggle to find form.
The very painful quarter-final loss at the hands of Sam Querry at Wimbledon finally drove the British to shut his season down. A hip injury needed him to get rest and contemplate on his plans for the next season. The former World No. 1 has declined surgery and is hoping that the time off the court will render him healthy enough to take on the challenges of the upcoming year.
Whether or not the brutal Australian summer is kind to the athletes is a major story to follow in itself. Who can stand the test of time is what time will tell.
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