Australian Open: Evergreen Roger Federer the man to beat, women’s draw wide open | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 13.01.2018
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Australian Open: Evergreen Roger Federer the man to beat, women’s draw wide open

Roger Federer has a great chance to make it Grand Slam number 20 with many of the leading men injured or recovering from injury. The women's draw is harder to predict, with several candidates in Serena Williams' absence.

With Andy Murray injured, Novak Djokovic returning after a six-month lay-off and Rafael Nadal short of fitness, everything points towards Roger Federer this year in Melbourne.

The world number two is chasing Grand Slam number 20, a feat which would underline his status as the greatest player to ever pick up a tennis racket.

Federer could face Djokovic at some point with both in the bottom half of the draw, but Djokovic only returned to exhibition action in Kooyong this week and he's had to change his service motion a little as a result of the injury problems he's had with his elbow in the past year.

The Serb hasn't played a competitive match for more than six months and it would be a tall order, to say the least, for him to turn up and win the tournament — although that was said about Federer last year. Another possible challenger to the Swiss maestro is young German Alexander Zverev, but he remains unproven in majors and is in need of his breakthrough moment.

Tennis ASB Classic Men's Juan Martin del Potro (Getty Images/H. Peters)

Recent victories against Alexander Zverev and Roger Federer suggests Del Potro is a contender in Melbourne

Dark horse Del Potro

Perhaps the dark horse for the tournament is another man lurking in Federer's side of the draw, Argentine giant Juan Martin del Potro. The pair could meet in the quarter-finals, just as they did at the US Open in September when Del Potro won in four sets. If Federer is off his game just a little, Del Potro could pounce.

The other main challenger to Federer is of course Rafael Nadal. The top seed has a very comfortable draw with only Marin Cilic likely to offer the Spaniard much resistence. The main issue for Nadal is fitness; he hasn't played a competitive match since mid-November and pulled out of a recent warm-up event in Brisbane, citing a knee injury.

Nadal's preparation for the first major of the year has been questionable, but if he can come through the rounds in Melbourne, we may just be treated to another Federer-Nadal classic in the final.

Tennis Sydney International Angelique Kerber (Getty Images/M. Metcalfe)

Kerber ended 2017 ranked number 21, but heads to Melbourne in fine form having won her last nine matches

Women's title ‘up for grabs'

With Serena Williams still absent, the women's draw is impossible to call.

Germany's Angelique Kerber is back in form and arrives in Melbourne full of confidence following victories over Lucie Safarova, Venus Williams, 2014 Australian Open finalist Dominika Cibulkova and Camila Giorgi before beating Ashleigh Barty to claim her 11th career title.

"I am playing amazing tennis again and feeling just great," Kerber said. "It feels very good to win my first title in my first tournament this year."

After failing to win a title in 2017, the German left-hander is approaching something like her best form ahead of the first Grand Slam of the year.

"I have had a great week and the final was not easy against Ash but I was able to play my game in important moments. I feel like I am getting closer to my 2016 level."

Australian Open Johanna Konta (picture-alliance/Back Page Images/E. Ling)

Johanna Konta insists that the women's draw is very strong, despite Serena Williams' absence

Many candidates

But the 2016 Australian Open champion is one of many candidates for the title.

Veteran Venus Williams could see this as her chance to notch up an eighth Grand Slam, and the number two seed will be looking to go one better from last year, when she lost to her sister in the final.

Maria Sharapova will also view it as a chance to claim her first Grand Slam since returning from her doping ban. But there are plenty of candidates for the title, including Elina Svitolina, Jelena Ostapenko, Caroline Garcia, Sloane Stephens, Karolina Pliskova, Simona Halep and Johanna Konta. The latter was asked on Saturday whether she agrees that the women's draw is wide open.

"Whenever I get asked that question, it always comes across in an almost negative way instead of acknowledging how many great players we have," said the British number one.

"The depth in women's tennis has got so strong in the last few years," she added. "There's no straight sailing to the quarters or semis. It doesn't exist."

Stephens agrees the Australian Open field is still extremely tough, even with Serena Williams, the defending champion and 23-time major winner, skipping the tournament as she continues her recovery from a complicated childbirth in September.

"There's a lot of great players," she said. "It's up for grabs."

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