The first Grand Slam of 2019 is nearly upon us and history is on the line at the Australian Open.
Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic are both chasing a record seventh title at Melbourne Park, Rafael Nadal is looking to become the first man in the Open Era to win every Grand Slam title twice or more and Serena Williams is chasing Margaret Court’s all-time Majors haul.
It promises to be a fascinating fortnight Down Under, with plenty of British interest, too.
Eight Brits are in the main draw including Andy Murray, who may well be competing in his final tournament as a professional tennis player.
Here, George Bellshaw and Louis Sealey predict who will win the singles events, name the dark horses to watch out for and rate the chances of the Brits.
GB: I was seriously impressed with Federer’s performances at the Hopman Cup but Djokovic remains the man to beat on the ATP Tour and has to be viewed as the favourite.
The Serb has won the last two Grand Slam titles and has enjoyed some great moments on the Rod Laver Arena, while his draw looks relatively straightforward so it’s hard to look beyond the world No. 1.
LS: How can you look past Djokovic? The 31-year-old is, by some distance, the best player in the world right now and can stamp his authority on the 2019 season with victory in Melbourne.
Defending champion Federer will give it a good go but Djokovic has been in another league for the past six months. Australian Open title No. 7 surely awaits.
Australian Open men’s winner
GB: Novak Djokovic
LS: Novak Djokovic
GB: It has to be Serena, doesn’t it?
Williams hasn’t competed at the Australian Open since beating her sister Venus while eight weeks pregnant back in 2017 and has since reached two Grand Slam finals since giving birth to her first child.
She is now targeting Aussie Court’s all-time Grand Slam record and it would take a brave man to bet against her claiming an eighth title Down Under.
LS: Again, it would be naive to oppose the best player in the world. So I’ll go for Serena.
The 37-year-old endured a mixed year in 2018, reaching the final at Wimbledon and the US Open but failing to add to her 23 Grand Slam titles. It could be a different story this year.
Australian Open women’s winner
GB: Serena Williams
LS: Serena Williams
Dark horses (man & woman seeded outside top-10)
GB: I’m, rather cheekily, going for world No. 11 Aryna Sabalenka on the women’s side of the draw.
The Belarusian has everything in her game to become a dominant force in the sport and it’s surely a matter of time before she climbs inside the world’s top-10.
Her first three rounds look manageable and if she finds momentum she will take some stopping.
For the men, I’ll also lump on the 11th seed – Borna Coric.
The Croatian has impressed in recent times and his draw looks rather inviting, he could even get a first Grand Slam semi-final under his belt…
LS: Roberto Bautista Agut, the 30-year-old Spaniard, beat world number one Djokovic on his way to winning the Qatar Open last week. A fine start to his year.
A consistent if not spectacular player, Bautista Agut could cause a few upsets, providing he gets past the struggling and injured Andy Murray in the first round.
In the women’s draw, keep an eye on the talented Ashleigh Barty, the top-ranked Australian in both women’s singles and doubles who is one of the few people in the world who can claim to have played professionally in two sports.
Australian Open dark horses
GB: Sabalenka, Coric
LS: Barty, Bautista Agut
How far will the Brits go?
GB: Not very.
It’s hard to see the injured Andy Murray coming through his first round match against Bautista Agut, while Harriet Dart will surely struggle to maintain her excellent run of form against five-time Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova.
Heather Watson and Katie Boulter should also fall in the first round to Petra Martic and Ekaterina Makarova respectively.
Kyle Edmund is also vunerable to a first-round defeat after an awkward draw against Tomas Berdych but Johanna Konta, Dan Evans and Cameron Norrie should all come through.
Of them, Norrie has the best shot of going on to round three and he may end up going the furthest in this event, although there’s surely no chance of him getting beyond Federer to reach the second week.
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LS: Sadly, it would not be a surprise to see most of the Brits fall to first-round defeats.
Three-time Grand Slam winner Murray and the likes of Katie Boulter and Heather Watson appear up against it, while Dart will surely be outclassed by Sharapova.
But Johanna Konta and Cameron Norrie should progress to give British fans something to cheer about.
British players predictions
First round: Dart, Murray, Boulter, Watson, Edmund
Second round: Konta, Evans
Third round: Norrie
First round: Dart, Murray, Boulter, Watson, Evans
Second round: Konta, Edmund, Norrie