Tennis  

The old order may change

Serena Williams of the US hits a forehand return during a tennis training session in Melbourne on January 11, 2017. Top players from around the world are arriving in Melbourne in the lead up to the Australian Open from January 16 to 29. / AFP PHOTO / William WEST / IMAGE

Serena Williams of the US hits a forehand return during a tennis training session in Melbourne on January 11, 2017.<br />Top players from around the world are arriving in Melbourne in the lead up to the Australian Open from January 16 to 29. / AFP PHOTO / William WEST / IMAGE

As the Australian Open kicks off today in Melbourne, the story is of the top players, who are in the lower pack of the seeding. Andy Murray, the world number one aptly heads the pack followed by Novak Djokovic. The veteran Rafael Nadal is seeded ninth and has a tough opening round battle with Germany’s Florien Mayer.

The attraction is that 17-time grand slam winner, Roger Federer, occupies the 17th place, the lowest spot he has been placed in the last two decades. He is followed by many erstwhile top ten players of the past decade: Richard Gasquet, John Isner, David Ferrer, Feliciano Lopez, Philipp Kohlschreiber and Sam Querrey, who defeated Novak Djokovic in the 2016 Wimbledon. Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov, winner of the Brisbane International warm-up tournament, occupies the 15th spot, while Australian Hope Nick Kyrgios is 14th and his compatriot Bernard Tomic is seeded 25.

Germany’s Angelique Kerber returns as defending champion, in the top spot, while the runner-up, Serena Williams, is seeded second. The “old guard” players in the ladies draw were also placed in the lower part of the seeding. Venus Williams (seeded 13) will face Ukraine’s Kateryna Kozlova in the first round. Americans are superstitious on that number to the extent that there is no 13th Floor in many high rise buildings. Russia’s Svetlana Kuznetsova is the highest seed among past champions, but Roberta Vinci (remember 2014 US Open semifinals defeat of Serena Williams) is placed 15th. The defending champion opens with a match against Ukrainian Lesia Tsurenko, but Serena faces a tough opposition in her first round match with Belinda Bencic of Switzerland.

Top Australian lady, Samantha Stosur, is seeded 18th and faces a tough opener against Britain’s Heather Watson.The four Grandlams have preludes but many top players avoid them because of concerns over injuries.

Serena In her heydays always prepared only for the major events. This year, however, she participated in the Auckland but lost a three-set match to fellow American, Madison Brengle.

Performance in these tune-ups could result in good outing in the Grandslam; especially in the grass-court tournaments where the turf needs adjusting to.
In the men’s tournament in Auckland, Jack Sock defeated Brazil’s Joao Sousa (the doubles maestro), while Luxembourg’s Gilles Muller defeated British star Daniel Evans.
In Brisbane, Nadal lost to hard-serving Milos Raonic, but the tournament was won by Grigor Dimitrov, who defeated Japan’s Kei Nishikori in three sets.

In the ladies’ events, Laurent Davis defeated Ana Konjuh in Auckland, while Johanna Konta defeated Agnieszka Radwanka in Sydney. In Brisbane, Karolina Pliskova defeated Alize Cornet. In Shenzhen China, Katerina Siniakova defeated Alison Riske.

The winners of the warm-up tournaments bring to the Australian Open, newly gained confidence and are likely to go far if they were still match-fit. The excitement of this Grand Slam, however, is that the commencement of the tennis calendar portends a potential change of guards in the men’s game.

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