It may feel as though the tennis season has only just come to an end, and indeed the top players are still in competition in the International Premier Tennis League, but the first Grand Slam of 2016 is now just a month away. Coming right at the start of the new season, the Australian Open has historically been the most difficult to predict, often producing surprise champions.
In the past four years both Stan Wawrinka and Victoria Azarenka have broken through in Melbourne to land their first Grand Slam titles. However, the Australian Open has increasingly gone the way of tennis’ other majors to become dominated by the cream of the crop. When play gets underway next month, it will be the world No. 1’s on both the men’s and the women’s tour defending their titles.
Novak Djokovic dominated men’s tennis in 2015 and has done likewise at Melbourne Park in recent years. The Serb has won four titles in the past five years to take his tally to five overall. That is already a record in the Open Era, and a victory this time around would put him level with Australian great Roy Emerson for the most Australian Open titles in history. Djokovic will start as a strong favorite to do just that.
His closest rival may well be a familiar one. Ranked No. 2 in the world, Andy Murray has been on the other side of the net for three of Djokovic’s final wins, and has finished as runner-up a record four times. But, having ended the year by leading Great Britain to their first Davis Cup title in 79 years, the Scot should be heading Down Under in a buoyant mood.
Also feeling good about his chances is likely to be Roger Federer. A four-time champion, the Swiss great has not tasted glory at the Australian Open since 2010, but he will arrive at the event on the back of a fine season and will have a new coach, Ivan Ljubicic, in his corner. And then there is his long-time foe Rafael Nadal. The Spaniard had a 2015 to forget, but provided suggestions toward the end of the year that he could be a contender to land his second title in Melbourne. Wawrinka, too, will have good memories heading back to the scene of his maiden Grand Slam.
On the women’s side, the defending champion similarly triumphed last year as the first part of a Grand Slam treble in 2015. Serena Williams had a painful end to last year, coming up short of winning a calendar year Grand Slam with a stunning defeat in the semifinals of the U.S. Open, and then didn’t play again in 2015 after stating that she needed time to recover from a series of injuries.
Yet while that particular achievement has gone, the American still has a powerful motivator heading to Melbourne. Williams remains just one title away from equaling Steffi Graf’s Open-Era record of 22 Grand Slam titles as well as moving within two of Margaret Court’s all-time record.
While Williams has six Aussie titles, the only other player set for the women’s draw who has won the event more than once will be Azarenka. The Belarussian has had a rough time with injuries since her last victory in Melbourne in 2013 and will not be among the top seeds, yet she may just be the biggest threat to Williams’ hopes. Maria Sharapova, a winner in 2008, may have something to say about that, although she will be hoping not to have to go up against Williams, having lost to her long-time rival on 17 straight occasions.
Australian Open 2016 Key Dates
Monday, Jan. 18 - First Round Singles
Tuesday, Jan. 26 - Quarterfinals Singles
Wednesday, Jan. 27 - Women's Singles Semifinals
Thursday, Jan. 28 - Men's Singles Semifinals
Saturday, Jan. 30 - Women's Singles Final
Sunday, Jan. 31 - Men's Singles Final
Betting Odds (provided by Odds Checker)
Novak Djokovic -- 4/5
Andy Murray -- 11/2
Roger Federer -- 7/1
Rafael Nadal -- 10/1
Stan Wawrinka -- 12/1
Kei Nishikori -- 20/1
Tomas Berdych -- 40/1
Marin Cilic -- 40/1
Serena Williams -- 2/1
Maria Sharapova -- 7/1
Victoria Azarenka -- 7/1
Simona Halep -- 7/1
Petra Kvitova -- 12/1
Garbine Muguruza -- 12/1
Belinda Bencic -- 20/1
Agnieszka Radwanska -- 25/1