The Australian Open giveth and it taketh away. The tournament known as the "Happy Slam" left some of the game's favorite players a little disappointed with their draw and others looking at a more-than-favorable draw heading into the Grand Slam event.
On the men's side, No. 2 Novak Djokovic has a pretty simple path to making the final while Rafael Nadal, the No. 1 player in the world, could wind up with a few difficult tests before playing in the final against Djokovic, if both players make it.
For the women, both Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka have a pretty clear-cut path to face off in the final but will need to get through the likes of Li Na, Maria Sharapova and young darling Sloane Stephens.
With the Australian Open getting under way this week, here is a breakdown of the paths for tournament favorites out of the men's and women's side of the bracket.
No. 1 Rafael Nadal
The best player in the world should be coming into the Australian Open as a happy player—it is, after all the Happy Slam. But before the tournament even started, he already had some complaints about the courts, as his uncle and coach Toni Nadal told The Guardian:
The spectators want a bit of rallying, a bit of tactics. People don't go to Barcelona's stadium to watch Lionel Messi taking penalties. This year everything is a bit quicker, that's my feeling and also Rafa's. I don't know if it's because of the courts or the balls, which I think have been changed, but I don't think it's good for the spectacle
His unhappiness with the playing of the new Plexicushion courts might add to his frustration that the world No. 1 comes in with a tough draw in his path to unseat Djokovic at the Australian Open.
Nadal will likely have to take down the likes of No. 25 Gael Monfils in the third round and No. 5 Juan Martin del Potro just to make the semifinals. With another tough test before the final, potentially with Andy Murray (No. 4) or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (No. 10), the top player in the tournament might be winded quite a bit before reaching that stage of the tournament.
No. 2 Novak Djokovic
The Djoker not only comes in as the favorite to win his fourth straight Australian Open but also has a favorable draw with a new coach in Boris Becker. After winning his opening-round match, Djokovic is now 25-0 in his last 25 matches, with Becker officially moving to 1-0 as a coach.
According to Melissa Isaacson of ESPN.com, Djokovic believes he will be a better player with Becker as his coach:
"Djokovic said he hopes Becker, a former six-time Grand Slam champion, will give him a 'mental edge' and an 'aggressive mindset' particularly in the late stages of the biggest tournaments."
While Djokovic also called himself "rusty," he has a favorable path all the way to the final. With his toughest possible matchup coming against No. 15 Fabio Fognini before the quarterfinals, his path is paved for another title match.
If Djokovic can get past the likes of possible players like No. 8 Stanislas Wawrinka in the quarterfinals and either No. 7 Tomas Berdych or No. 3 David Ferrer in the semifinals, he will defend his title and could take home his fourth straight.
No. 1 Serena Williams
A more-than-favorable draw is deserving for Serena Williams, who comes in as the top-ranked women's player in the world. And at 32 years old, the most dominant player in the sport doesn't appear to be slowing down.
In fact, a commentator during her first-round matchup had an interesting comment about Williams' play against younger opponents, according to Australian comedian Dave Hughes:
In search of her first Australian Open title since 2010, Williams will not face many tough tests before her collision course with Azarenka in the final.
The No. 1 player will likely have to face off with No. 17 Samantha Stosur in the quarters and could meet with No. 4 Li Na in the semifinals. If Williams can outduel Na in the semis (if they face one another), her chances at winning her sixth Happy Slam in her career look good.
No. 2 Victoria Azarenka
The female equivalent to Djokovic at the Aussie tournament is clearly Azarenka. While she still has quite a ways to go before she can match the Djoker's three straight titles, she has won the last two Australian Opens and dominated the tournament.
But coming into the tournament, Azarenka has constantly been overshadowed by Williams, who won both the French Open and U.S. Open last season. According to Jocelyn Gecker of the Associated Press, Azarenka isn't fazed by the hype of Williams.
"I don’t really care about it, honestly," Azarenka said. "It’s a matter of playing tennis and giving your best on the court. ... Of course, everyone will be motivated to beat her."
The Belarusian could wind up facing Sloane Stephens (No. 13) in the fourth round before Agnieszka Radwanska (No. 5) in the quarterfinals. But after last year's match with Stephens, in which Azarenka caused a bit of controversy before winning, she could be tested again by the young American.
If Azarenka can get through Sharapova, she could make it back to the final again. And with the talk being centered around Williams coming into the tournament, Azarenka would love to silence her critics with a third straight Australian Open title.
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