2016 Australian Open Preview

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Best of 2015




By Alberto Amalfi

By Christopher Levy


THE NUMBERS By Richard Pagliaro


VIEW: 13 VIDEO Best & Worst Moments

Tennis Now TV



SHOT SPOT: Novak Djokovic Backhand By Blair Henley



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24 LLEYTON’S LEGACY By Erik Gudris







CLOSING SHOTS: Photo Gallery

By Corleve / Mark Peterson



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Live Scores Gossip Draws TV Listings Instruction Results Rankings Player Interviews Editorials Statistics Match Analysis Daily Updates Daily Video News Forums Photo Gallery Blogs 2016 AUSTRALIAN OPEN PREVIEW 3




WRITERS Alberto Amalfi

Erik Gudris

Blair Henley

Rallies are wordless dialogues of Rafael Nadal is playing for a inquiring spin and declarative drives. major Renaissance. Chris Oddo examines tactical revisions Rafa can Lately, there’s been a major shift in make to regain his place as a Grand on-court communication. Slam contender. Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams are controlling the conversation.

Blair Henley shines an instructional spotlight on the champion’s signature shot.

The reigning Australian Open champions arrive in Melbourne within shouting distance of Grand Slam records and within dreaming distance of the Golden Slam.

From weddings to coaching splits to a mix masters reunion, Alberto Amalfi chronicles changes from a busy offseason.

Six-time champion Serena can match Steffi Graf’s Open Era record of 22 career Grand Slam titles by successfully defending in Oz. Five-time champion Novak can equal Roy Emerson’s record mark of six Australian Open titles by capturing his fifth Melbourne title in the last six years. In this issue, we highlight the champions, challengers and compelling characters who make the Happy Slam buzz. Former No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt will close the curtain on his playing career after his unprecedented 20th Australian Open. Erik Gudris assesses Lleyton’s legacy and his impact on generation next as new Australian Davis Cup captain.

Tennis Now photographer Christopher Levy shares his favorite shots from the 2015 season. Our man in Melbourne, famed Aussie photographer Mark Peterson, provides a striking insider’s vision of the Happy Slam. Oz awaits you, enjoy the view.

Chris Oddo

PHOTOGRAPHY Christopher Levy Corleve/Mark Peterson Corleve/Phillip Sutherland CameraSport/Stephen White Tennis Australia Brisbane International Sydney International ESPN

DESIGN Kriss Zambrano Natalia Valenkova


Richard Pagliaro Editor Tennis Now Magazine

To advertirse with us: ads@tennisnow.com General comments or questions: media@tennisnow.com

Tennis Now

1 Barker Street, Suite 612 Mount Kisco, NY 10549 914.595.4211


OPENING SHOTS Tennis Now photographer Christopher Levy shares his favorite snap shots of the 2015 season.

Roger Federer closed net—and his 1,000th career victory—in style.

A Hogwarts alum tries to steal a kiss during a selfie with Andrea Petkovic.



Ana Ivanovic to fans: “You’re the best!”

The blue Brisbane court was a launching pad for Maria Sharapova.


Grigor Dimitrov erupts in full primal scream mode.

US Open champion Flavia Pennetta kisses the silverware.



Art-Deco dressed acrobat Gael Monfils lights up Miami on the stretch.

Belinda Bencic did some heavy lifting raising the Eastbourne trophy.



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Victoria Azarenka is the only woman in the field who has won Australian Open junior and senior singles championships.

Wild cards awarded in both the men’s and women’s singles fields.

Record number of Australian Open singles titles won by Hall of Famer Margaret Court.


3 4 5 15 20 29

Times Serena Williams has swept both the singles and doubles titles in Melbourne (2003, 2009 and 2010).

Number of Australian Open finals Andy Murray has reached without a win— most in the Open Era.

Novak Djokovic is a fivetime Australian Open champion.

Age of Lleyton Hewitt in 1997 when he became the youngest man to qualify for the Australian Open.

Consecutive Australian Open appearances by Lleyton Hewitt, who will retire after the tournament. Years since Stefan Edberg became the last man to sweep Australian Open singles and doubles titles in the same year.

By Richard Pagliaro


Years since the last Australian woman, Chris O’Neil, won the title.

77 95

Roger Federer’s record streak of consecutive Grand Slam appearances, which includes the 2016 Australian Open.

Combined age of reigning Australian Open mixed doubles champions Martina Hingis (35) and Leander Paes (42).

Average maximum daily temperature (Fahrenheit) for the 2009 tournament, which remains the hottest Australian Open on record.

380 4,763

Ball kids worked the 2015 tournament, including 20 from Korea, 6 from China and 2 from Singapore.

200K 865K

Racquets were restrung during the 2015 Australian Open, using more than 35 miles of string.

Bottles of water fans consumed during the 2015 Australian Open.

Followers of @AustralianOpen.

Photo Credit: Corleve / Mark Peterson

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Nations were represented among the 256 players competing in the 2015 main draw singles.


Follow all the action from Melbourne with live and encore presentations of Australian Open matches.





BEST & WORST Tennis Now TV revisits the highlights and lowlights of the pro circuit. click on videos to watch





By Alberto Amalfi

Weddings, racket changes, new clothing contracts and coaching hires highlighted a busy off season.

Roger Federer parted company with his coach of two years, Hall of Famer Stefan Edberg, and hired former world No. 3 Ivan Ljubicic to join Severin Luthi on his coaching staff. Ljubicic, who formerly coached Milos Raonic, joins physiotherapist Daniel Troxler and fitness trainer Pierre Paganini on Team RF.

Photo Credit: Corleve / Mark Peterson

Rafael Nadal switched strings from Babolat to Luxilon.

Two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova announced her engagement to Czech boyfriend and hockey player Radek Meidl.

David Ferrer married long-time girlfriend Marta Tornel on November 28th. Ferrer launched the 2016 season switching from his extended Prince racket to Babolat.

Lleyton Hewitt will retire from competitive tennis after the Australian Open and take over as the new Australian Davis Cup captain. Hewitt will continue to serve as mentor for Nick Kyrgios.

Slovak-born Australian Jarmila Gajdosova married U.S. Marine pilot Adam Wolfe in November and is now playing under her married name, Jarmila Wolfe.

Milos Raonic replaced the departed Ivan Ljubicic with a former world No. 1. Raonic hired 1998 French Open champion Carlos Moya to serve as co-coach during the Australian Open. Riccardo Piatti remains as Raonic’s assistant coach.

Andy Murray reunited with coach Amelie Mauresmo, who took maternity leave after giving birth to son Aaron, on August 16th, and bid farewell to interim coach Jonas Bjorkman. Murray also announced wife Kim is expecting the couple’s first child in February. 14 2016 AUSTRALIAN OPEN PREVIEW

Madison Keys parted with coach Lindsay Davenport, who could not commit to a full-time travel schedule, and hired former ATP pro Jesse Levine as her new coach.

ESPN analyst Darren Cahill signed on as Simona Halep’s full-time coach. Cahill, who coached the youngest year-end No. 1 (Lleyton Hewitt) and oldest No. 1 (Andre Agassi), previously worked with Halep in the now-defunct adidas player development program.


Hall of Famer John McEnroe signed a multi-year racket deal with Head. McEnroe, who played with Dunlop for much of his career, will play with Head rackets, customized with his favored leather grip, at senior events.

Dominika Cibulkova switched to a Babolat racket after playing with Dunlop Grigor Dimitrov confirmed his 2016 commitment to coaches Franco Davin, in recent years. who previously coached Juan Martin Sloane Stephens split with Nick Savidel Potro, and Johan Ortegren. ano, who had coached her off and on since age 11, and hired Kamau Murray Dimitrov, who split with long-time girlas her new coach. Stephens signed a friend Maria Sharapova in 2015, is now dating pop star Nicole Scherzing- global marketing and management deal er, who sat in his player box during the with IMG. Brisbane International. Karolina Pliskova signed an apparel contract with Fila. Tomas Berdych stepped out of H&M, his clothing sponsor for the past three years, and signed an apparel and shoe Elina Svitolina is now wearing Nike after two years as an Ellesse brand pact with adidas. ambassador. David Goffin left Lacoste and signed a Serena Williams was named Sports clothing and shoe contract with Asics. Illustrated’s 2015 Sports Person of the Year. American No. 1 John Isner signed a new apparel and shoe contract with Fila after ending his four-year endorse- Roger Federer and Martina Hingis will ment deal with Lacoste that reportedly reunite as mixed doubles partners reppaid him in the mid six figures annually. resenting Switzerland at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. In 2001, Hingis was the star attraction and Federer a rising Julie Coin, who shocked then world young talent when they joined forces to No. 1 Ana Ivanovic at the 2008 US lead Switzerland to the Hopman Cup Open as a 188th-ranked qualifier, is championship. working with Madison Brengle during the Australian season. 2016 AUSTRALIAN OPEN PREVIEW 15

By Blair Henley

It’s dynamic, precise, versatile and effortless. Novak Djokovic’s backhand is also the envy of professional and recreational players alike. Though the champion is a master escape artist, creating offensive shots out of thin air, let’s highlight his mechanics when he has plenty of time to unleash his trademark two-hander. We pick up the play-by-play after the world No. 1 has done much of his preliminary positioning. He’s locked and loaded, his shoulders completely turned, allowing him to hit the ball down the line or crosscourt with equal ease.


Djokovic is putting his body to work by spring-loading his back leg, resulting in maximum power potential. Notice the pull in his back muscles as he looks out over his right shoulder toward the ball.




Here, he has begun to push forward into the back of the ball—not across his body. His backswing is still engaged, back muscles rotated, hands soft, eyes trained on the oncoming ball.


Even upon planting his front foot, Djokovic is still withholding the rotation of his hips and upper body until contact. He’s low in his lunge position, which allows for great balance and ideal energy transfer.



Photo credit: Corleve/Mark Peterson


Djokovic is transferring weight to his front leg, but has not yet unleashed on the ball. He makes another subtle but important move, dropping his racquet head to allow for additional low-to-high through contact.


As he follows through, he unwraps from his core, still maintaining a steady head and perfect balance. His energy is continuing to shift forward, following the path of the ball. His racquet face is perfectly square.


Still propelling himself in the direction of his shot, his head remains steady long after the ball has left his racquet, ensuring solid, consistent contact. His right leg explodes out and up through contact.


Only as he completes his follow through does he allow himself to track the ball with his head. And only then does he allow his back leg to rotate around his body, facilitating quick recovery to the ready position.


Photo Credit: Corleve / Mark Peterson


RAFA’S RENAISSANCE Can the 14-time Grand Slam champion return to glory in 2016?

By Chris Oddo

Six Grand Slams have come and gone since Rafael Nadal last sunk his teeth into major hardware (or even reached a semifinal, for that matter), and in that time a drop in the Spaniard’s level and corresponding uptick in Novak Djokovic’s other-worldliness prompted many self-proclaimed experts to predict Nadal will never again taste the umami of his former glory. But armchair tennis seers don’t call the shots in the pro game. Just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, major changes in Tour fortunes don’t happen overnight. With his numerous comebacks from injury, Nadal made a stunning reversal of fortune part of the annual script. But normally, as the saying goes, these things take time.



Photo Credit: Corleve / Mark Peterson

But there’s something intangible and critically important that isn’t gone, and that is Nadal’s will to keep working for solutions. When we’re talking about Nadal’s future, any rational hypotheses must first take into account this fact. He’s still working tirelessly to get back on top. Perhaps Nadal is no longer as potent as he once was and perhaps he has been slow in reacting to this new dynamic. Maybe, stubborn to retool his tactics to fit his newer, slightly diminished capabilities, Nadal has suffered because he’s not fully aware of how to proceed from here. The 2009 Australian Open champion has never taken this long to return to form after an injury layoff. Nadal missed most of the second half of 2014 with appendicitis then underwent other off-season treatments after returning for a brief, dismal Asian swing. One can counter that claim with this fact: A return to form is taking longer this time because he’s never had to deal with circumstances exactly like these before. For the first time, Nadal is learning to play tennis like a soon-tobe thirtysomething, without all the reckless abandon he exuded earlier in his career. In all of Nadal’s previous comebacks from injury layoffs—there have been many—he’s been able to return, switch into Raging Bull mode, and rampage back to the top of tennis. As he nears his 30th birthday (June 3rd if you’re scoring at home), flicking the switch and going into beast mode is not an option. This time, Nadal the beast must evolve into

Nadal the problem-solving tactician. And, slowly but surely, he’s getting there. That may not seem apparent after days like the Doha final, when Nadal was lashed so brutally by Novak Djokovic he admitted he’s never seen anybody play at the world No. 1’s lofty level. That may sound like a statement of submissiveness, but keen observers of Nadal know that he believes that Djokovic is playing at a level that will prove to be unsustainable. In his heart of hearts, as he looks for solutions and new tactics to match his abilities in 2016, Nadal believes that he’ll find ways to beat his rivals in major finals. “If I play well, I am going to have my chances, no?” Nadal said before his final in Doha. “And then win or lose, anything can happen. But the positive thing and most important thing is feel yourself that every time that you go on court you are competitive against everybody and you have your chances.” Increasingly, Nadal is earning more of those chances. Despite absorbing a thrashing from Djokovic in Doha, Nadal is a much better player than he was six months ago. He’s serving with more authority and playing big points with more aggression. More importantly, the will to win has never wavered. With the heart of a champion still beating, Nadal’s time is bound to come. It may not be here yet, but it is surely coming.



Five players primed for breakout seasons.

By Chris Oddo

With every new season comes an element of surprise. Just as 2015 brought us the rise of Garbine Muguruza to elite status and the arrival of Benoit Paire as a legitimate title threat, 2016 is sure to create its own share of stunning story lines. Here are five players poised for breakout performances in 2016. 1. VICTORIA AZARENKA The two-time Australian Open champion is a major talent. She’s fleet of foot, feisty and gifted with magical hands. But can Azarenka stay healthy long enough to mount a charge back to the top of the game? Already she’s showing signs of promise. Azarenka blitzed her way to the Brisbane title—her first title in nearly three years!—and she’s looking primed to take advantage of what could be a very depleted Australian Open field. Four of the top six players succumbed to injuries in the season’s first week, but Azarenka, who has 22 2016 AUSTRALIAN OPEN PREVIEW

reached the quarterfinals at the last two majors, looks to be in her best health in over two years. In recent years, Azarenka has undergone a public transformation. Once temperamental and prone to over-thinking, she’s embracing her craft and staying positive these days. “I grew so much,” Azarenka told reporters in Brisbane. “I learned how to be by myself and enjoy my own company so much. Also how to love yourself, because I think it’s quite a big challenge when you are a public person, when you have so many voices around you. Some people struggle with their identity. So for me to kind of find it again and really trust that and be comfortable with who I am has been a great lesson really.”

2. BORNA CORIC There are sexier picks among the ATP’s young guns. But we’re tabbing Borna Coric as the chosen one from a very talented crop of teenagers. Why? Because Coric wants it the most. From his first Tour-level match, Coric has displayed an uncanny maturity and an unyielding will to improve. Think about it: What made Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic into the megastars they are? Was it pure talent? Or was it hard work?

Clearly Coric, who already owns wins over Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray, has talent. He’s a classic baseliner capable of grinding, is incredibly balanced off both wings and owns a potent serve. But what will really set Coric apart in 2016 is his maturity and his capacity to improve—qualities he showed reaching the Chennai final in his 2016 opener. The 19-year-old Coric will surely take more lumps, but with each hard lesson, Coric will emerge stronger. Already the ATP’s highest-ranked teenager, we expect the 40th-ranked Croat to make a run at the Top 20 this season.

3. GRIGOR DIMITROV His 2015 season was a bust, but the 24-year-old Bulgarian is too talented to be down too long. A superb shotmaker, a top-five mover and a wicked striker of the ball, Dimitrov must settle on his tactics and become more consistent as a problem solver and pressure player. “I just want to play,” Dimitrov said in Brisbane. “That’s all I want to do right now. And focus one match at time, and whatever the outcome is, to put my head down and just keep working again until one day everything just becomes better and better.”

Photo Credit: Corleve /Mark Peterson



Now playing under the Aussie flag, Moscow-born Gavrilova is primed to become a top-tier talent. A year ago, she was ranked outside the Top 200. Now ranked No. 36, we believe the 21-yearold baseliner is ready to rise even more.

The highest-ranked man on the ATP Tour yet to turn 23 is an Austrian with jaw-dropping ground strokes and a strong work ethic. A winner of three titles in 2015, Thiem is capable of producing big results, but he’ll need to sharpen his shot selection to take the next step. While he was amazing to watch against Roger Federer in the Brisbane semifinal, he was tactically inferior. But on the slower surfaces, particularly clay, where the strapping Austrian can take big cuts with impunity, he could be ready for his breakout.

Gavrilova notched three Top-10 victories last year, reached quarterfinals or better on all three surfaces, and, despite her diminutive stature, proved that she can go If Dimitrov deploys his all-court skills wisely, better times are com- toe-to-toe with the likes of Maria Sharapova and come out on top. ing this year.



Lleyton Hewitt endured ups and downs but ultimately triumphed throughout his 20-year career.

By Erik Gudris

The long, sometimes agonizing, but always inspiring career of Lleyton Hewitt has had as many plot twists as a best-selling novel. The Adelaide, Australia native known as “Rusty” is writing the final chapter this month in Melbourne. Hewitt will play his final match at his unprecedented 20th Australian Open. The future Hall of Famer proved to be the perfect bridge between the Aussie greats before him and the current generation of stars. Hewitt, who played Aussie Rules Football and wore a mullet haircut and sleeveless shirts in his younger years, not only possessed Aussie macho bravado, but also an intense desire, almost need, to grind through every point. Though he didn’t play the traditional serve-and-volley game of his predecessors, Hewitt used his tenacious baseline grit and returning prowess to quickly rise to prominence on the ATP Tour. In the early 2000s, Hewitt appeared ready to rule the decade. At age 20, he dismantled Pete Sampras in the 2001 US Open 24 2016 AUSTRALIAN OPEN PREVIEW

final and finished the year at No.1—the youngest man ever to hold the top spot. In 2002, Hewitt solidified his top ranking by winning Wimbledon and outdueling Juan Carlos Ferrero in five sets to win the year-end championships. Hewitt beat Rafael Nadal, David Nalbandian and Andy Roddick in succession to reach his lone Australian Open final in 2005 where he fell to old rival Marat Safin. It was Hewitt’s last major final and marked a turning point. By now Roger Federer, and soon enough, Nadal would take over the tour. The later part of the decade saw Hewitt battle injuries. Whether it was his knees, hips, or feet, Hewitt often spent more time on the sidelines recovering from surgery or rehab than being on the court. “I’ve tried to get the most out of myself. I’ve said in the last few years that the toughest surgery for me to come back from was the toe surgery, which was the last one that I had. Most people didn’t think it was possible,” Hewitt told UK press prior to the 2015 Wimbledon.

Photo Credit: Corleve / Mark Peterson 2016 AUSTRALIAN OPEN PREVIEW 25


Photo Credit: Corleve / Mark Peterson

“HEWITT SOLDIERED ON AND REINVENTED HIMSELF.” “In that way I’ve been proud that I can still get out there to compete against these guys. So it’s not something that I’d ever regret having done. I’d been told that I was going to need that surgery after tennis, regardless of whether I kept playing or not. It just got to a stage where I couldn’t play with the pain and injections any more.”

Rivals share their personal stories about Lleyton Hewitt in Facing Hewitt

click to watch video tribute to Lleyton Hewitt

Still, Hewitt soldiered on and reinvented himself. Despite no longer being on the short list of major title contenders, Hewitt, when fit and healthy, became a disruptive dangerous floater in the draw. In 2009, Hewitt reached the Wimbledon quarterfinals before losing in a nail-biting, fifth-set battle to Roddick. At the 2013 US Open, Hewitt upset Juan Martin del Potro, who grew up looking up to the Aussie. Two years ago, Hewitt won two ATP titles and for a time was Australia’s top-ranked man. Though his resurgence inspired well-deserved praise, there was also a tinge of sadness wondering what more Hewitt might have achieved had he remained injury-free. Hewitt, who begins 2016 with 615 career victories, never seemed to feel regret at what might have been. His desire to continue competing proved that he still

loved the game. For him, it was more about achieving a personal best rather than fretting over daily ranking. In 2015, Hewitt announced that it would be his final full season on tour as he set his sights on a coveted role — Australian Davis Cup captain. But not before playing on the team that fell to eventual-champion Great Britain in the semifinals. After starting his career as something of a brash upstart, Hewitt finds himself in a much different place. With all of his vast experience, the 34-year-old father of three is now mentoring a new generation of Aussie talent, and like him before, a group viewed as being talented and tempestuous. Hewitt could well serve as the bridge once again — this time to Nick Kyrgios, Bernard Tomic, Thanasi Kokkinakis and more who all hope to be like as he was once — the best player in the world. Hewitt’s role as a professional tennis player may come to an emotional end at this Australian Open, but his enduring legacy for the game is just beginning.



With the impending retirement of former world No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt, Australian tennis fans don’t have to wait for the next generation of home stars to shine on the world stage. Both 20-year-old Nick Kyrgios and 23-year-old Bernard Tomic already reside among the world’s Top 30. Both Aussies are ready for launch at this month’s Australian Open.

Kyrgios, who reached the Australian Open quarterfinals in 2015, delighted some fans with his athletic game, while alienating others with his cocky attitude and penchant for sometimes tanking during matches. Yet, Kyrgios went too far for most last summer when he made a crude and derogatory statement to Stan Wawrinka during their early-round match in Montreal. Kyrgios, who received universal condemnation and multiple fines for his comment about Donna Vekic, Wawrinka’s girlfriend, later apologized. 28 2016 AUSTRALIAN OPEN PREVIEW

Photo Credit: Corleve / Mark Peterson

A year ago, each man showed talented and turbulent sides leaving many fans wondering what to expect from the pair capable of creating big wins and big trouble.

Aussie fans are hoping brash talents Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic inspire rather than implode.

“I’m a young dude in his career, still growing and trying to be more mature, trying to learn new things,” Kyrgios told Australian media earlier this month. “I think I’ve definitely grown as a person since the start of last year, so I think there’s going to be some improvements this year. I’ve always been an emotional guy. I wear my heart on my sleeve and every time I go out there I just want to win.” Balancing his desire to win while not letting his emotions consume him, could be Kyrgios’ biggest challenge this year. The Canberra native has already established he has the game and the confidence to beat the biggest champions, including Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, on the sport’s biggest stages. Is Kyrgios ready to become a consistent contender for Grand Slam titles? Can he put together a complete season of consistent results and minimize eruptions of boorish behavior? These are the questions he must answer this year.

the W South Beach Hotel. But it didn’t distract Tomic from defending his title at an event in Bogota a week later. With improved results, Tomic will enter Melbourne at a career-high ranking of No. 17.

Someone who knows all too well the importance of balancing talent with temperamental behavior is Bernard Tomic. With his silky smooth touch and natural easy power, Tomic was long touted as a potential future No. 1. But a slew of off-court issues, including with his demanding and volatile father, John Tomic, and several run-ins of his own with the police, overshadowed Tomic’s on-court success.

“To get your spot there in the top 10 you have to earn it. So the next few months we shall see. I’ll try my best,” Tomic told the Australian media.

In 2015, Tomic again made headlines away from a tennis court for all the wrong reasons. In Miami, Tomic spent a brief time in jail after a dispute with police over the noise levels at a party he was throwing in his penthouse suite at

Can Tomic reach the Top 10 in 2016? While competing in Brisbane where he knocked off 2014 US Open finalist Kei Nishikori for the first time, Tomic said he believes he is ready.


What does the future hold for both Kyrgios and Tomic? That depends not only on their tennis development, but how well they manage their emotions and personal growth. This Australian Open will be a major testing ground for both men.

Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic both ranked highly in Tennis Now’s Top 10 Controversies of 2015. Watch the video of their exploits here.


AUSTRALIAN OPEN MEN’S PREVIEW Creating offense while off balance, Novak Djokovic embraces unsettled situations.

Can anyone deny defending champion Novak Djokovic a sixth Australian Open title?

By Richard Pagliaro

The son of a ski instructor is on a gravity-defying run in which he’s always the last man standing. The reigning Australian Open champion returns to Melbourne playing for his sixth Australian Open title to join Hall of Famer Roy Emerson as the most decorated men’s champions in history. The 10-time Grand Slam champion has been oppressive in Oz —and imposing everywhere else—riding a streak of 16 straight finals, sweeping three of the last four Grand Slam titles and surging to an outrageous 45-6 record in his last 51 matches versus Top 10 opponents. “I played against a player who did everything perfect,” Rafael Nadal said after Djokovic dispensed a 6-1, 6-2 thrashing in the Doha final.” ”I know nobody playing tennis like this ever. Since I know this sport I never saw somebody playing at this level.” If gravity doesn’t bring down the world No. 1, can any opponent knock Djokovic off the Grand Slam peak? “(Djokovic is) in the prime of his career,” ESPN analyst Brad Gilbert


said. “He’s set to do some unbelievable damage the next couple years.” “Right now he is as complete of a tennis player as I’ve ever seen, ever, and that’s anybody.” Last season, Djokovic led the ATP in return games won (34 percent) and was fifth on tour in service games won (89 percent). How do you defeat a dominant player without a discernable weakness? “If you know in your heart you can’t beat him from the baseline, you’ve got to come up with some drop shots, angles, net play,” Hall of Famer Chris Evert said. “You’ve got to mix it up.” The last three men to defeat Djokovic in Grand Slam play—Stan Wawrinka, Kei Nishikori and Nadal—play disparate styles but all displayed the skill for the strike down the line in their victories. “Right now Djoker is the taxman, he’s just collecting, plain and simple,” said Gilbert. “I think if it was going to be somebody (to upset him), I think it has to be one of the young players, whether or not it’s a Nick Kyrgios or someone like that. Somebody that has a big game and catches lightning in a bottle.” Australian oddsmakers have installed Djokovic as a strong 4/6 favorite to collect his sixth Australian Open title. Here’s a look at the Top 5 challengers to Djokovic’s reign.

ROGER FEDERER 2015 RESULT: Third Round BEST RESULT: Champion (2004, 2006, 2007, 2010) AD IN: Contesting his record-extending 65th consecutive Grand Slam, Federer can play dynamic all-court tennis. He handed Djokovic three of his six losses last year. New coach Ivan Ljubicic is a tactical asset. Federer has reached the finals in three of his last six majors. AD OUT: Six years removed from his last Melbourne final and nearly four years from his last major win over Djokovic, can the 34-year-old Swiss beat successive Top 5 players in best-of-five-set matches? ODDS: 10/1

ANDY MURRAY 2015 RESULT: Finals BEST RESULT: Finalist (2010, 2011, 2013, 2015) AD IN: Athleticism, fitness, quickness around the court and one of the best two-handers in the game are all assets that play well in Oz. Murray showed grit, problem-solving skills and hard-core commitment carrying Great Britain to its first Davis Cup championship in 79 years. AD OUT: His slice second serve can go soft and shallow, when opponents play heavy and deep down the middle to his forehand, Murray can struggle to create pace and he’s been torched at times by Djokovic, who has won 10 of their last 11 meetings. ODDS: 5/1 Photo Credit: Corleve / Mark Peterson 2016 AUSTRALIAN OPEN PREVIEW 31

RAFAEL NADAL 2015 RESULT: Quarterfinals BEST RESULT: Champion (2009) AD IN: Regaining the snap on his whipping topspin forehand and the confidence to drive the ball down the line, Nadal has reached semifinals or better in five of his last six tournaments. The 14time Grand Slam champion’s athleticism, fierce will and sharp court sense have carried him to the finals in two of his last three appearances in Oz.

Photo Credit: Corleve / Mark Peterson

AD OUT: Rafa hasn’t won a hard-court title in two years, his backhand can land short under pressure, flatter hitters can displace him and he hasn’t shown a solution for the punishing pattern of Djokovic’s backhand to his forehand. ODDS: 12/1

STAN WAWRINKA 2015 RESULT: Semifinals BEST RESULT: Champion (2014)

Australian Open men’s draw preview with quarter-byquarter analysis is here.

AD IN: A rattling serve, raw power off both wings and a bold shot-maker’s spirit make Stan a threat to blast past anyone when he’s tuned into the muse.

KEI NISHIKORI 2015 RESULT: Quarterfinals BEST RESULT: Quarterfinals (2012, 2015) AD IN: Blurring hand speed, blazing foot speed and a crackling two-handed backhand empower the 2014 US Open finalist to take the ball on the rise and control the center of the court. Nishikori owns a 12-4 record in five-set matches.

AD OUT: A tendency to chip returns from well behind the baseline can be problematic: Wawrinka won 21 percent of his return games in 2015, which was 24th on the ATP.

AD OUT: Durability is an issue for the 5-foot-10, 165-pound Nishikori, who has been plagued by lower-body injuries. He has come up flat early in Grand Slams: Nishikori has failed to survive the second round in four of his last nine majors.

ODDS: 10/1

ODDS: 33/1


AUSTRALIAN OPEN WOMEN’S PREVIEW Serena Williams swept three of the first four majors last season to complete the Serena Slam only to be staggered in the latter stages of an epic Grand Slam run.

Can advancing age—or rising young opponents— stall Serena’s sprint to a 22nd Grand Slam title? By Richard Pagliaro

The world No. 1 aims to hit her stride playing for the major mark this season. The six-time Australian Open champion can match Steffi Graf’s Open Era-record of 22 Grand Slam titles by successfully defending in Melbourne. Serena was tripped up in the home stretch run toward Grand Slam last summer. Roberta Vinci pulled off an upset for the ages in the US Open semifinals, Williams pulled the plug on her 2015 season and hasn’t played a tournament since. It sounds absurd to suggest the woman who has lapped the field winning four of the last five majors, needs a jump-start now. But some champions believe Serena’s sprint to the Grand Slam finish line all depends on her feet. The 34-year-old Williams, who looked lethargic at the end of 2015, must play with urgency and fast feet from the first point as she faces massive mental pressure in Melbourne. “(Serena) can’t have another year like she had last year. She narrowly escaped so many matches, down a set, down a set and a break,” Hall of Famer Chris Evert said. “It can’t

happen again like that. That would be like immortal for that to happen. I think Serena she just has to manage herself, manage her body, manage her schedule, manage her intensity when she’s out there.” Australian bookmakers have installed Serena as an 11/4 favorite to seize her seventh Australian Open crown. Here’s a preview of the Top 5 challengers to the top seed’s Australian Open reign.

VICTORIA AZARENKA 2015 RESULT: Fourth Round BEST RESULT: Champion (2012, 2013) AD IN: The two-time Australian Open champions plays her most dynamic tennis Down Under: Azarenka has won four of her last six titles on Australian soil, including her opener in Brisbane. Well-balanced off both wings, the Belarusian’s explosive return game is a major asset. AD OUT: Azarenka, who has battled injuries to both feet, can be challenged by short angles, can grow conservative serving under pressure and has had a strained relationship with Aussie fans. Her world ranking of 16 could put the former No. 1 in the line of fire vs. top seeds early. ODDS: 4/1 2016 AUSTRALIAN OPEN PREVIEW 33

SIMONA HALEP 2015 RESULT: Quarterfinals BEST RESULT: Quarterfinals (2014, 2015) AD IN: One of the best movers in the game, Halep can redirect the ball on the rise and owns a jolting two-handed backhand. Working with coach Darren Cahill, the 2015 US Open semifinalist is trying to play with more patience and less frustration. AD OUT: A nagging Achilles injury forced Halep out of Brisbane though she bounced back to play Sydney. Vulnerable versus bigger hitters, Halep closed 2015 with a 1-6 record in her last seven matches vs. Top 10 opponents. ODDS: 7/1

PETRA KVITOVA 2015 RESULT: Third Round BEST RESULT: Semifinals (2012) AD IN: One of the purest ball strikers in the sport, Kvitova can dictate on serve and return. Propelled by a strong finish to 2015—including a trip to the WTA Finals final, helping the Czech Republic to the Fed Cup championship and her engagement—the two-time Wimbledon champion should be empowered in Oz. AD OUT: Enormous ability undermined by erratic performances and ongoing battles with illness and fatigue are stumbling blocks. When Petra is fully fit and feeling it, she can obliterate anyone; when she’s forcing shots and depleted she can hit herself into oblivion. Since her run to the Australian Open semifinals, Kvitova has just three wins the last three years in Oz. Photo Credit: Corleve / Mark Peterson 34 2016 AUSTRALIAN OPEN PREVIEW

ODDS: 12/1

Photo Credit: Corleve / Mark Peterson



2015 RESULT: Finals

2015 RESULT: Fourth Round

BEST RESULT: Champion (2008)

BEST RESULT: Fourth Round (2014, 2015)

AD IN: A rally-killer off both wings, Sharapova is one of the hardest hitters, most lethal returners and defiant fighters in the game. She should be rested and ready after a nearly four-month layoff last season due to leg and forearm injuries. Sharapova is a major noisemaker: the world No. 5 has contested a Grand Slam final five years in a row. She is playing for her 600th career victory in Melbourne. Australian Open women’s draw preview with quarter-by-quarter analysis is here.

AD OUT: Sharapova’s second serve, built on a high ball toss, can go wildly askew, she’s averse to hitting overheads, her running forehand can be tested and she’s been better on clay than hard court in recent years: Nine of the Russian’s last 12 titles have come on dirt. Maria has no solution for Serena, who has shredded 17 straight wins vs. the overwhelmed Russian.

AD IN: An aggressive baseliner with a knack for the big strike, the 2015 Wimbledon finalist often brings her best against the best. Muguruza won seven of her last nine matches vs. Top 10 rivals last season closing with a career-high rank of No. 3. She shocked Serena at the 2014 Roland Garros and could emerge as the world No. 1’s next rival. AD OUT: The 22-year-old Spaniard can be a slow starter. She’s still learning point construction, when to impart more spin and the right time to pull the trigger on drives down the line. Muguruza, who can be rushed on the deep ball into her hip, has won only two titles. ODDS: 10/1


Noted Australian photographer Mark Peterson, a Melbourne native, shares a fascinating insider’s view of the Australian Open. By Mark Peterson



Photo Credit: Corleve /Mark Peterson