Tennis biggies Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams will aim to keep the next-gen waiting to get their hands on the coveted Australian Open title as the season’s first Grand Slam kicks-off in Melbourne’s on Monday (January 19).
After practice sessions and qualifiers were hit by smog from the recent bushfire, it is only now that the sky has cleared. Bookies will have their eyes set on Williams who is looking to equal Margaret Court’s record-breaking 24th major title.
Old stagers Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer are still in line chasing another Grand Slam title to add to their massive kitties.
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Top seed Nadal, 33, is celebrating becoming world number one in a third decade while Federer, 38, is trying to defy the ageing process and stay ahead of his rivals with a 21st major win.
The start of 2020 is not different from 2010, when Federer and Nadal shared the four Grand Slam titles and Williams won in Melbourne and Wimbledon.
Ten years later, the men’s Big Three – who have won all but two Australian Open titles since 2004 – occupy the top three rankings.
The men’s dominance is stark since Federer won his first Grand Slam title in 2003, only five major finals have not featured wither Federer, Nadal or Djokovic.
Several challengers have come and gone but there is increasing hope for the men’s up-and-comers, while nine women have won Grand Slam titles since Williams, 38, claimed her 23rd in Melbourne in 2017.
‘They’re very close’
While Djokovic and Nadal split last year’s Grand Slams, Dominic Thiem, Daniil Medvedev and Fabio Fognini won their first Masters trophies and Stefanos Tsitsipas, 21, became the youngest ATP Finals champion in 18 years.
“They’re very close. I don’t think that’s miles, miles away maybe as it was some years ago. I think they are definitely hungry. They’re challenging. They’re knocking on the door,” said Djokovic of the NextGen winning a major title.
The clash between old and new will be epitomised in the first round on Monday, when Venus Williams, who turns 40 this year, plays 15-year-old rising star Coco Gauff – who wasn’t even born when her fellow American lifted her first Grand Slam trophies in 2000.
Japan’s Naomi Osaka, 22, is defending a title for the second Grand Slam in a row after her repeat bid at last year’s US Open fell flat in the fourth round.
World number one Ashleigh Barty, fresh from winning the Adelaide International on Saturday, carries Australian hopes of seeing the first home-grown women’s winner since 1978.
“Obviously it’s the perfect preparation. But regardless of whether I won the title or not last week, I feel like I’m well-prepared. I’m happy, I’m healthy. I’m coming into the first Grand Slam of the year with a smile on my face. That’s all I can ask of myself,” Barty said.
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The tournament is taking place against the backdrop of a bushfires emergency that has swept the nation. Several players expressed difficulty to breath during qualifying and practice and several were hit by coughing fits and breathing problems.
However, air pollution returned to ‘moderate’ levels over the weekend, with rain forecast for the start of the tournament.
(With inputs from agencies)