What to make of potential absences
Injuries have plagued both the men’s and women’s game for the last few Grand Slams at least. While some of the big names will be missed in terms of the tournament as a spectacle, it also makes picking the winner a real challenge.
A word of warning would be to not read too much into the early rounds - a player's performance might look a lot more impressive than it actually is.
Roger Federer is the only one of the Big Four with no real health concerns and it’s no surprise to see him as a popular pick for the men’s singles title. There might be doubts over how ready Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal will be if they do compete, but I can tell you that no professional will play in the tournament unless they feel they are well prepared.
The fact that Federer won the event last year will have played some part in making him most people’s choice for the title this time around but it also means there will be a lot more pressure on him to perform. While the media and fans always put pressure on him, the chance to repeat his success means he’ll be even more desperate to win.
Has injury opened the door for a new star?
Alexander Zverev and Nick Kyrgios are two guys that are on the fringes of breaking into that elite level at the top of the rankings. They might be part of the discussion when it comes to the big name players, but they’ve got a way to go yet.
The mental capacity of Kyrgios is often questioned. You can’t really argue against his critics after he folded under the pressure numerous times last season and appeared to lack commitment to his game. However, the talent is certainly there and if he’s going to win a slam in the near future it will most likely be the Australian Open.
Whether or not the fact that it’s his home court means that much to him is up for debate, but the hard court surface in Melbourne lends itself to his big serve and great hands. Grass is probably his best surface but the No. 17 ranked 22-year-old should definitely be given a chance.
What to think about ahead of the first Grand Slam of the year
Any real tennis fan will know the Australian Open is often referred to as the Happy Slam - this is because all the players are raring to go and optimistic that it could be their year to win a major or add another trophy to their collection.
Back in the game after her 15-month ban, Sharapova will be full of passion and desire to prove a point.
Players who had a great end to the season last year will be full of confidence heading into the first big event of the year and those who didn’t perform so well will have put the hours in during the offseason and will be determined to improve.
Because the Australian Open is the first Grand Slam of the year there is very little form to go on. A word of warning would be to not read too much into the early rounds when it comes to analysing performance - the gap in quality between some of the top-seeded players and their opponents in the early rounds means their performance might look a lot more impressive than it actually is.
Why the weather and court conditions will play a part
I’m sure most tennis fans will be aware of it, but the weather can have a massive influence on how players perform - especially at the Australian Open. The drastic changes in temperature in Melbourne (it can drop from 100°F in the day to 65-70°F later in the evening) are important because different styles are suited to different temperatures.
In short, hot weather makes the ball bouncier and livelier meaning it spins more and travels through the air faster, suiting those who put plenty of spin on the ball and like to play the game at a fast pace. The colder it is, the easier the ball is to read – this is more suited to big servers as the ball will skid through off the surface.
The weather makes it hard to distinguish which style of play is suited to the hard court in Melbourne and it’s probably why most people believe the Australian Open is the “fairest” of all the slams. There might not be much you can do if you’re trying to pick the winner at the start of the tournament (the weather forecast can only tell you so much) but it’s definitely worth considering when looking at individual matches.
What to make of the Women’s Australian Open singles tournament
As is so often the case with the women, there are plenty of options to consider when trying to pick the winner of the singles tournament. The shorter format makes it incredibly unpredictable but there are a few contenders that stand out from the others.
The weather makes it hard to distinguish which style of play is suited to the hard court in Melbourne and it’s probably why most people believe the Australian Open is the “fairest” of all the slams.
The experience of winning a major (and the confidence that comes with it) is certainly a major plus for Garbine Muguruza. She’s burst onto the scene in the last couple of years and having already won the French Open (2016) and Wimbledon (2017), it won’t be long before she adds the Australian Open to her collection.
Maria Sharapova is another big name that everyone is going to be talking about during the tournament. Now back in the game after her 15-month ban, she’ll be full of passion and desire to prove a point. She’s won each of the four Grand Slams at least once (the French Open twice) and is a real talent that looks to be getting back to her best.
In contrast to Muguruza, Simona Halep is still on the hunt for her first Grand Slam title (despite being ranked No. 1 in the world). The Romanian hasn’t struggled in terms of consistency but the worry might be that she has lost both the major finals she’s played in (French Open 2014 and 2017).