Welcome back, tennis.
The best tennis players in the world are in Melbourne, Australia, where they’ll compete in the year’s first Grand Slam at the Australian Open. Novak Djokovic and Angelique Kerber are looking to defend their singles titles on the men’s and women’s sides, respectively, but there are plenty of potential speed bumps standing in their way.
So, before the tournament begins Sunday night for American viewers, let’s take a look at a few predictions for the Australian Open.
BEST CHANCE TO SURPRISE
Rafael Nadal is one of the greatest men’s tennis players of all time, so calling him a dark horse wouldn’t be fair, but he does have a real chance to surprise over the next few weeks. The oft-injured star hasn’t won a Grand Slam since the 2014 French Open, but he’s had a few months to heal his nagging wrist injury. He should at least make it to the Round of 16 before things get too difficult with potential matches against No. 6 Gael Monfils (Round of 16), No. 3 Milos Raonic (Quarterfinals), No. 2 Novak Djokovic (Semifinals) and No. 1 Andy Murray (Finals).
We’re going to aim high here and pick unranked American Shelby Rogers, who’s known for her run to the 2016 French Open quarterfinals. She faces a tough match right away against No. 4 Simona Halep, but the Romanian has had trouble with high expectations before and has bowed out in the first two rounds in three of the last eight Grand Slams.
Let’s just say Andy Murray definitely will have to earn his first Australian Open title. The five-time Melbourne finalist is coming off a strong 2016 season and is the No. 1 men’s player in the world, but No. 5 Kei Nishikori, No. 10 Tomas Berdych, No. 17 Roger Federer and No. 19 John Isner all are in his quarter. Oh, and then he’d likely have to face No. 4 Stan Wawrinka and No. 2 Djokovic in the semifinals and finals, respectively.
Serena Williams’ next Grand Slam would be her 23rd, which would move her past Steffi Graf on the all-time list. But, much like Murray, she’ll face a tough path on her way to history. Tennis fans are giddy over her looming first-round match against Belinda Bencic, and she could have to face 2015 French Open finalist Lucie Safarova in the second round. If she gets past those two tricky matchups, she still has No. 6 Dominika Cibulkova, No. 9 Johanna Konta and No. 17 Caroline Wozniacki looming in her quarter.
As it usually has recently, the Australian Open likely will come down to either Murray or Djokovic on the men’s side. Djokovic got the best of Murray in the Qatar ExxonMobil Open final earlier this month, and he owns a 25-11 head-to-head record against Murray. Also, five of Djokovic’s wins against his rival have come in Melbourne, and we expect win No. 6 to follow shortly.
Williams should be in contention, and while she’s no longer the No. 1 player in the world, she’s still one of the top contenders on the women’s side. Kerber is coming off quite the 2016 with Grand Slam titles at the Australian Open and U.S. Open, but we can’t pick against Williams in her quest for history.
Thumbnail photo via Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY Sports Images