Australian Open 2014 Predictions: Projecting Top Overachievers Down Under

Patrick ClarkeCorrespondent IJanuary 7, 2014

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 05:   Lleyton Hewitt of Australia plays a backhand in his mens final match against Roger Federer of Switzerland during day eight of the 2014 Brisbane International at Queensland Tennis Centre on January 5, 2014 in Brisbane, Australia.  (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)
Chris Hyde/Getty Images

Grand Slam season has officially arrived as the 2014 Australian Open is set to begin on Jan. 13.

And while defending tournament champions Novak Djokovic and Victoria Azarenka both carry strong odds to repeat into Melbourne, there are a plethora of players sure to surprise this January. 

Here are my predictions for the top overachievers at Melbourne Park in 2014.


Lleyton Hewitt

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 04:  Lleyton Hewitt of Australia celebrates victory after his semi final match against Kei Nishikori of Japan during day seven of the 2014 Brisbane International at Queensland Tennis Centre on January 4, 2014 in Brisbane, Aus
Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images

Despite his age and early exit from Melbourne in 2013, beloved Aussie Lleyton Hewitt looks to have another magical major run left in him.

After conquering Brisbane, topping Roger Federer in the tournament final to kickoff the new season, the 32-year-old will soar into the 2014 Australian Open with a rare level of confidence under his wings, per BBC Sport

If I play like I did this week I have a chance of doing damage to some serious players. It gives me a lot more confidence going out there believing in how well I'm hitting the ball at the moment and that I can match up with the best guys.

A two-time major champion and former world No. 1, Hewitt clearly has the experience and mental makeup to survive at his home Slam. Having lost in the first round at Melbourne in two of the past three years, the reigning Brisbane champion is poised to overachieve. 


Madison Keys

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 05:  Madison Keys of the United States serves in her first round match against Simona Halep of Romania on Ken Rosewall arena during Day One of the Sydney International at Sydney Olympic Park Tennis Centre on January 5, 2014 in
Joosep Martinson/Getty Images

The potential for American success in the women's draw is significantly greater than in the men's draw. And promising young talent like Madison Keys is a big reason for that. 

After making a run to the third round in Melbourne a year ago, the 18-year-old Keys is primed for a deep run in 2014. The fast-improving teenager is already ranked inside the top 40 and recently picked up a win over world No. 11 Simona Halep in Sydney.

The immense confidence gained from 2013's impressive display, coupled with a powerful serve (one of the best in the women's game as tennis journalist Chris Goldsmith points out) has Keys ready to challenge the elite Down Under.

With Serena Williams and Sloane Stephens set to challenge for the title, Keys has a shot to add to the American threat in Australia.  


Kevin Anderson

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 18:  Kevin Anderson of South Africa celebrates winning his third round match against Fernando Verdasco of Spain during day five of the 2013 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 18, 2013 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Pho
Julian Finney/Getty Images

After winning just 10 Grand Slam singles matches combined from 2008 through 2012, overlooked South African Kevin Anderson won nine singles matches between the four majors in 2013.

The 6'8" star recorded career-best finishes at the Aussie Open, French Open and Wimbledon en route to earning just over $1 million in prize money in 2013. However, none of those performances were more eye-catching than his run to the fourth round of the Australian Open last January.

Anderson would bow out in straight sets to Tomas Berdych midway through the tournament, but not before knocking off Fernando Verdasco and dominating through the early rounds. 

With Anderson more than doubling his Aussie Open win count in 2013, there's no telling how far he can go in 2014. 


Jie Zheng

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 17:  Jie Zheng of China plays a backhand in her first round doubles match with Nuria Llagostera Vives of Spain against Hao-Ching Chan of Chinese Taipei and Yung-Jan Chan of Chinese Taipei  during day four of the 2013 Austral
Graham Denholm/Getty Images

A semifinalist Down Under in 2010, Chinese veteran Jie Zheng certainly has the hard-court game to compete with the top women's contenders in Melbourne this January.

While the 30-year-old has been flying under the radar since her memorable performance in Australia four years ago, her unrivaled spirit and superior court coverage make her a threat to reach the second week. Most recently, Jie's hard-court prowess and heart were on display in a dramatic third-set tiebreak win over Venus Williams in the second round of the 2013 U.S. Open.

Although Jie has missed the Aussie Open twice since 2008, keep in mind that she hasn't bowed out prior to the third round since 2007. 


Follow Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Patrick Clarke on Twitter. 

Follow _Pat_Clarke on Twitter