2014 Australian Open: 5 Streaks on the Line
The 2014 tennis Grand Slam season is underway. Another exciting fortnight down under should be in store, as the best in the game are competing for the Australian Open championship.
The first Grand Slam of the season has usually been the most unpredictable over the years, especially on the men's side. That can be attributed to the extreme heat as well as some players not being in the best form after not playing for a couple of months.
That notion has changed somewhat lately, though. Let's take a look at five streaks that are in jeopardy at this year's Australian Open.
Serena Williams: Absent from Winner's Circle
Serena Williams won her first Australian Open title back in 2003. She then won it again at least every other year through 2010.
The World No. 1 now enters Australia not having won it over the past three seasons. She missed 2011 due to an injury and lost early in both 2012 and 2013.
That drought will provide strong motivation for the American star, as she usually likes to avenge any and all of her losses. Just look at the 2013 French Open, where she captured her second title in Paris after losing in the first round the year before.
A title in Australia this year would also tie Williams with the likes of Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova with 18 Grand Slam singles titles. She is really climbing up the ranks of the game's greats.
Men's Bracket: Always the Big 4
At the Australian Open in 2008, Novak Djokovic captured his first Grand Slam title by defeating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the finals.
Djokovic took out Roger Federer (limited by mononucleosis) in the semis and Tsonga upset Rafael Nadal, a very surprising ending to the tournament. Federer had defeated one-time Grand Slam finalists Fernando Gonzalez in 2007 and Marcos Baghdatis in 2006 to win the titles.
That three-year stretch from 2006 to 2008 of only one top player appearing in the finals seems like a long, long time ago. The championship matches since then have all featured battles between members of "The Big Four":
- 2009: Nadal defeated Federer in five sets, his only Australian Open title to date
- 2010: Federer defeated Andy Murray in three sets, his last of four Aussie titles
- 2011: Djokovic defeated Murray in three sets, starting a great run down under
- 2012: Djokovic defeated Nadal in five sets, one of the best matches in tennis history
- 2013: Djokovic defeated Murray in four sets, getting the three-peat
Nadal, Federer and Djokovic have also combined to win the last eight Australian Opens and nine of the past 10, with the only blip being Marat Safin winning in 2005 (he beat Federer in the semis, saving a match point).
The above history is not a good omen for the secondary players in the game at this year's tournament. World No. 5 Juan Martin del Potro is the most likely man to break the streak, as he has shown the ability to beat anyone when he is at his best.
Victoria Azarenka: Consecutive Titles Won
World No. 2 Victoria Azarenka has found a home away from home in Australia the past two seasons. She is looking for a three-peat in 2014.
Azarenka is at her best on a hard court, and her two titles down under are the only Grand Slam trophies she has won. Her wins in finals were over Maria Sharapova and Li Na, two fellow top players, meaning she really earned her titles.
The daunting task for the Belarusian this season is that Serena Williams is looming in a potential championship blockbuster. Williams has been playing at a level beyond comprehension over the past 18 months, rarely even losing a match.
Azarenka lucked out last year, as she was pitted to play Williams in the semis. The American instead went down in the quarters to Sloane Stephens, at least in part due to a back injury.
Roger Federer: Consecutive Semis Reached
World No. 6 Roger Federer has reached at least the semifinals of the last 10 Australian Open tournaments, epitomizing his amazing consistency and longevity at the top of the sport.
Now that Federer is outside of the top four in the rankings, he faces the risk of having to defeat a top player before the semifinals at the Open.
This year, Andy Murray is in his section of the draw. Murray defeated Federer in the semis last year down under and has had pretty good success against the Swiss Maestro in his career.
Federer has already reached the finals of an event this year (Brisbane) and will be looking to bounce back strong from a subpar 2013. He is playing with a bigger racket and a new coach (Stefan Edberg), and his motivation appears as strong as ever.
That being said, Murray is a big obstacle for his Aussie Open semifinal streak. The Brit no longer struggles on the biggest stages and has both the game and youth to give Federer all he can handle.
You can also no longer just book Federer into the quarterfinals of slams, like we could between 2005 and 2012. He has more bad days than he used to, as Father Time is something no one can defeat forever.
Novak Djokovic: Consecutive Titles Won
World No. 2 Novak Djokovic will be looking to win his fourth consecutive Australian Open and fifth overall, both of which would be records in the Open Era.
Djokovic has proven to be the best hard-court player in the game today, and he has especially loved playing down under. He also has the motivation to get the No. 1 ranking back from Rafael Nadal.
His run over the past few seasons in Australia has not gone without its scares, so he is certainly not invincible. Nadal was up a break in the fifth set in their 2012 final, and Stanislas Wawrinka had him on the ropes in the fourth round last year.
Djokovic is looking to make the Australian Open what the French Open is to Nadal (eight titles and counting) and Wimbledon is to Roger Federer (seven titles and counting). He does have a favorable draw, as Nadal, Federer and Andy Murray are all on the opposite half.
The Serbian star has a new coach in his box for 2014, Boris Becker, and will try to continue the momentum he gained after the U.S. Open last season. It will take a great effort to beat the World No. 2 at his best slam.