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Six players to keep an eye out for at this year's Australian Open in Melbourne
Last Updated: 09/01/19 6:42pm
With the Grand Slam season kicking off at the Australian Open, we have selected three men and three women to keeps tabs on in Melbourne.
Roger Federer and Caroline Wozniacki defend their titles while Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams, Simona Halep and Naomi Osaka will be among the favourites.
Here are six players who will be looking to make some major headlines at Melbourne Park.
The world No 4 has widely been touted as the next king of tennis after a breakthrough 2018 season culminated in the 21-year-old German beating Federer and Djokovic in successive days to win the ATP Finals. But for a player ranked in the top five since September 2017, he punches desperately below his weight in Grand Slams. He has only one quarter-final appearance, losing to Dominic Thiem at the 2018 French Open, to show from his 14 majors to date. He has never made it beyond the last 32 in Melbourne and will be desperate to confirm his status as the flag bearer for a new generation.
In Osaka, women's tennis appears to have found a new superstar, and she will now have to cope with the pressure of sky-high expectations. The popular 21-year-old's US Open triumph was overshadowed by Serena Williams' tantrum in the final at Flushing Meadows but Osaka has the opportunity in Melbourne to demonstrate she can withstand the spotlight of being the new standard bearer for tennis in Japan, Asia and the next generation of women. She arrives as second favourite with the bookies behind Williams, and seems unfazed by her stratospheric rise. "I never feel pressure to perform. I enjoy Grand Slams the most," she said. "There is a certain degree of pressure, but it's from myself."
Australians would love to see a home winner and Kyrgios may be their best hope but, like most tennis fans, they never know quite what to make of his maverick talent. At his sublime best the world No 51 has an unreturnable serve and the talent to topple anyone, but the temperamental 23-year-old went through another roller-coaster 2018 season where he was criticised for his on-court antics. "I probably left it a little too long," he admitted after becoming notorious for his on-court meltdowns. He even needed a controversial umpire pep-talk to get him going during a US Open match. Love him or hate him - but do not take your eyes off him.
The Wimbledon champion and world No 2 will turn 31 on January 18 and is tipped to unveil a more aggressive approach under new coach Rainer Schuttler, who reached the Australian Open final in 2003 where he lost to Andre Agassi. Schuttler will be aiming to make the 2016 Australian Open champion's game a little more daring. The three-time Grand Slam champion lost an agonising, breathless semi-final 9-7 in the final set to Simona Halep in Melbourne last year, but will hope to go one better this time around.
The hottest young talent in men's tennis, Greek superstar Tsitsipas cemented his status by claiming the first ATP title of his career in Stockholm and winning the ATP Next Gen finals in Milan. He also reached his maiden Masters 1000 final in Toronto where he lost out to Nadal in the final. Looking like an 18th-century poet but with a 21st-century game, the 20-year-old will be determined to stand out from the crowd on and off the court.
Had Sabalenka rather than Osaka come out on top of a close fourth-round battle at the US Open, it might just have been the Belarusian's name on the trophy. Still only 20, Sabalenka possesses fearsome power and an intensity to match. Began the season with a confidence-boosting win over Alison Riske in the Shenzhen Open final for the third title of her career but failed to adjust to the warm and muggy conditions in Sydney to lose in the opening round to Petra Kvitova.
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