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Sunday, 17 January 2016

#TwineTime Serves Up Aussie Open Preview
The opening grand slam of the season kicks off down under


The nets have been set up.  The courts have been washed.  The balls have been cleaned.  It is time to officially bring welcome to the 2016 #tennis season.  Bring on the first grand slam of the season: Australian Open!  While most of us in the Northern Hemisphere are doing our best to survive the cold winter month of January, our friends south of the equator are celebrating a nice, warm summer.  Let's watch the Australian Open and soak in the sun from our television sets.

There are lots of interesting storylines heading into the opening major of the season.  How will Serena respond to the heartbreaking US Open loss and quest for the calendar grand slam?  Can anyone stop Novak Djokovic?  Does Roger Federer still have enough game to challenge for, and win, another grand slam?  What about all the injuries, especially on the women's side?  Let's answer a few of these questions and more in the #TwineTime #AusOpen preview.  Who are the favorites?  Who, outside the Top 10, could be the one to watch for?  Is there an unseeded player who could prove to be the darkhorse?

The Favorites

Novak Djokovic (Seed: 1) - No real surprise here....this appears to be Djoker's world and we are just along for the ride.  Novak took 3 of 4 grand slams last season.  He wisely took the offseason to relax, recharge and prepare to defend his Australian Open title from a year ago.  He is also going for Aussie Open title #6, which would tie him for the most ever with Roy Emerson.  His biggest challenge before the SF could be his opening match vs #51 ranked Korean youngster Chung.  But hard to see anyone really challenging him until the #Final4.

Serena Williams (1) - The last time we saw Serena she was chasing history.  Some will say she achieved history...as in being on the losing end of the biggest upset is sports history.  Serena is battling injuries right now and even during practice sessions in Melbourne has looked in pain at times (yesterday needing to sit at the baseline during the session).  Her knee is not 100%.  Her back looks to be in some pain.  Plus she opens with the highest non-seed in the draw with Camila Giorgi.  If she survives the 1st round, she should power through the next 3 rounds to the QF....again assuming the body holds up.  The story won't be on can anyone beat Serena but more will Serena's body beat her?

Watch Out For

Milos Raonic (13) - Could anyone enter the Aussie Open on more of a confidence high than Milos?  Coming off a victory over Roger Federer in the final at Brisbane, the rocket arm of Raonic could finally be back to giving Canadian tennis fans something to cheer for.  After a tough year battling injuries, 2016 could be the comeback year for Milos to race up the rankings.  His draw is favourable until a huge R4 encounter with 2014 champ Stan Wawrinka.  If both make if that far, I like the winner's chances to reach the SF and maybe even the final.

Victoria Azarenka (14) - A two-time former champion down under, Azarenka looks prime to complete the comeback from injuries this year.  Outside of Serena, coupled with the injuries of many top players ranked above her, Vika finds herself as the best bet to hoist the trophy.  The former top-ranked player in the world loves the fast hard courts in Melbourne.  Her draw is VERY favorable, avoiding Serena, Maria, Radwanska and Kvitova.  Sure she draws Halep and Muguruza but both enter with injuries and neither have the full game, and determination, of Vika.

The Dark Horse

Borna Coric - Currently ranked #40 in the world, the young 19yo Croat is expected to make the rise to the top 20 this season.  And why shouldn't he?  January has been a great month so far, making his first career ATP final in Chennai before losing to Wawrinka.  He is a former US Open Junior Champion (2013) and reached R3 at the French Open last season.  A big R2 match up with fellow countryman Marin Cilic is enticing and winnable.  Survive the Croatia Battle and Coric should find himself in the R4 battling for a QF spot.


(Honorable Mention to Lleyton Hewitt, playing his final grand slam event before retirement)

Alize Cornet - A former #11 player in the world, the 25yo Frenchwomen has seen her ranking dip to #33.  But remember, Cornet comes up big in the slams...just ask Serena!  In 2014, Cornet defeated Serena twice in one season...including R3 at Wimbledon.  This season has started strong for her as well as she comes into the opening slam off a WTA title performance in Hobart, beating Genie Bouchard in the final.  Looking at the draw, she can be very opportunistic...maybe.  Her R2 opponent should be #2 seed Simona Halep, who is dealing with an injury.  If she can take advantage and catch Halep struggling, she could make a deep run into Week 2.


A brief preview on a few players to watch but let's get down to the exciting part of the blog...the predictions!  Here is how #TwineTime sees the draw playing out down under:

MEN

4th Round

(1) Novak Djokovic def. Vasek Pospisil
(17) Benoit Paire def. (7) Kei Nishikori
(3) Roger Federer def. (19) Dominic Thiem
(29) Nick Kyrgios def. Borna Coric
(11) Kevin Anderson def. (5) Rafa Nadal
(4) Stan Wawrinka def. (13) Milos Raonic
(18) Feliciano Lopez def. (8) David Ferrer
(16) Bernard Tomic def. (2) Andy Murray

Quarterfinals

(1) Djokovic def. (17) Paire
(3) Federer def. (29) Kyrgios
(4) Wawrinka def. (11) Anderson
(16) Tomic def. (18) Lopez

Semifinals

(3) Federer def. (1) Djokovic
(4) Wawrinka def. (16) Tomic

MEN'S CHAMPIONSHIP:  (4) Stan Wawrinka def. (3) Roger Federer in 4 sets - Isn't it time we get an All-Swiss grand slam final?  With two of the top four ranked players in the world being from the small Alps country, this could be the best opportunity to witness a Swiss battle for the championship.  Federer chasing what could be his final grand slam opportunity.  Stan going for grand slam title #3. Djoker, Murray and Nadal have been the big names denying Fed another slam title...can his country friend/rival add his name to the list?  The #Stanimal is never to be underestimated and does find himself on the bottom half of the draw...arguably the easier side.  Time to once again take notice of #StanTheMan!



WOMEN

4th Round

(16) Caroline Wozniacki def. Camila Giorgi
(12) Belinda Bencic def. (5) Maria Sharapova
(4) Aggie Radwanska def. (24) Sloane Stephens
Dominika Cibulkova def. (10) Carla Suarez Navarro
(7) Angelique Kerber def. Kiki Bertens
(14) Victoria Azarenka def. (3) Garbine Muguruza
(21) Ekaterina Makarova def. (30) Sabina Lisicki
(15) Madison Keys def. Alize Cornet

Quarterfinals

(12) Bencic def. (16) Wozniacki
(4) Radwanska def. Cibulkova
(14) Azarenka def. (7) Kerber
(21) Makarova def. (15) Keys

Semifinals

(4) Radwanska def. (12) Bencic
(14) Azarenka def. (21) Makarova

WOMEN'S CHAMPIONSHIP:  (14) Victoria Azarenka def. (4) Aggie Radwanska in 2 sets - This really is Azarenka's tournament to lose.  She is back to full health.  Already has a title under her belt this season.  The drive, motivation and determination we saw from Vika before the injury bug hit her is finally back.  She looks like the old Azarenka who won this event twice before.  Nothing against Radwanska though.  She also has already started the year with a title, winning the Shenzhen Open.  She is also a huge fan favorite, being named Favorite Female Player voted by the fans for 5 years running now.  A SF here two years ago, Radwanska still seems destined to grab a slam title and is probably the best player in the Top 5 who hasn't won one yet.  But I think her best chance is always at Wimbledon, with the grass better suiting her game overall.  She should see a great run here and taking advantage of a few injuries from the proposed "favorites" will be a step in the right direction to start the season.  This would be a great final.


There you have it fellow tennis fans.  We should be in for an exciting two weeks of tennis action.  Let's hope the injury bug doesn't plague the draw too much...but I am a bit worried it will, especially on the women's side of the draw.

Hopefully some of you were able to join the fantasy tennis fun at RacketRally and/or the TalkAboutTennis Australian Open Suicide Pool.  I have participated in the suicide pool for many years and always enjoy it.  Stay tuned on twitter for my daily suicide picks.  This is my first season playing RacketRally.  I am excited to see how that goes.  Below is my RacketRally portfolio for the Aussie Open:


Share your thoughts on the opening slam of the season with me either here or on twitter.  Also, for the opening week of the slam, have your vote on which woman you think will hoist the Australian Open title in two weeks on the #TwineTime home page.

Enjoy the action everyone!