As Melbourne prepares to welcome the tennis world to its sun-baked courts, the start of the 2015 Grand Slam season means stakes and heartrates are high. After a tumultuous 2014 that included Stan Wawrinka’s surprising triumph at the Australian Open and ended with Marin Čilić and Kei Nishikori squaring off in the U.S. Open final, fans will be asking if the ‘Big Four’ of Men’s tennis will reassert themselves and restore normality to the Grand Slam history books.
By prevailing Down Under in 2014, Wawrinka became the first man outside the ‘Big Four’ of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and the floundering Andy Murray to win a major since Juan Martin Del Potro at the 2009 U.S. Open. Since then he’s gone on to win in Monte Carlo and was part of the Swiss winning Davis Cup team. However, despite his ranking as World No. 4 the pressure of defending his title could be too much, with some uninspired performances at recent tour events and Grand Slams.
The bookmakers are predicting that the Australian Open will see the restoration of messrs Djokovic, Nadal, Murray, and Federer back to their seat at the round table of Tennis’ elitè. Not surprisingly, the two debut major winners in 2014, Wawrinka and Čilić, have the next-best odds to take the trophy. Does this mean the anomaly of 2014’s grand slam results will be just an aberration? ‘Big Four’ apologists state confidently that both Murray and Nadal were a shadow of their real selves after both experienced back injuries, and that a recently-married Djokovic had a poor US Open after slumping the entire hard-court summer. Yes, the ‘Big Four’ had its fair share of problems in 2014. But what’s to say that same story won’t continue in 2015, thus once again opening the door for a new generation of hungry young players?
Federer at thirty-three years old hasn’t won a major since Wimbledon in 2012 and it has become the norm for Nadal to be out of at least one Slam a year with injury. He has missed two of the last three U.S. Opens and three of the last nine Grand Slams. Indeed, he admitted that he is taking a relatively cautious approach to his game at the start of 2015.
“at the beginning [of a comeback] you need to suffer a little bit on court. You need to remember all the things that you did well in the past to have success…it’s normal that I’m going to need some time.”
As for Djokovic, he’s still the No. 1 player in the world, in case you’d forgotten. The Serb has won the Australian Open four times in his career, including three out of the last four years and is favourite for this year’s tournament with odds currently at 13/8. A Djokovic versus Federer final is largely expected. Elsewhere, locker room rumours abound about our man Andy Murray, suggesting he has lost the “fear factor” since his back operation. He’ll need to address his weak second serve if he’s going to fend off the rest of the gang.
This all assumes play will go ahead smoothly. 2014’s tournament saw freak weather as temperatures soared above fourty degrees Celsius, causing players to faint from heatstroke and water bottles on court to melt. Organisers were criticised for not suspending matches, but Tennis Australia has since installed a retractable roof on the Margaret Court arena as a “weatherproof” measure to ensure matches can continue even in extreme cases.
A disrupted tour hierarchy in both men’s and women’s tennis in 2014 has set up an exciting 2015 Grand Slam season. New blood will be looking for luck in the form of an injured Nadal or inconsistent Sharapova to make a mark on the tennis circuit. The Australian Open will be the first witness to this unfolding drama. Will a bet on any one of our four much loved Tennis compadres remain safe? The Open offers a great chance for any budding punter to make a quick buck.
Image by Yann Caradec.