Australian Open predictions: Does grand slam No 20 await Roger Federer? Who will succeed Serena Williams?

Ahead of the first grand slam of the season getting underway on January 15, three members of The National's sports desk offer their predictions.

Defending men's singles champion Switzerland's Roger Federer juggles the ball as he prepares to serve during a practice session ahead of the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)
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Men's champion:

Jon Turner: Roger Federer. Not exactly the most left-field of picks, but given the fitness struggles of his leading rivals, and his impressive form at the Hopman Cup, Federer will win grand slam No 20. Oftentimes, the most obvious answer is obvious for a reason.

Chitrabhanu Kadalayil: Grigor Dimitrov. We have been here before: the Bulgarian would appear in one, two or all of our lists in the recent past. But after flattering in the initial rounds of a major he would disappoint against one of his more experienced opponents (read Roger Federer at Wimbledon last year). He certainly has the talent to win the title. At 26 he is peaking and his performances during the end of 2017 suggest he has become meaner than before. With uncertainty around the form and fitness of several top players, this could be his best chance.

Graham Caygill: Novak Djokovic. This is on the huge caveat that the Serbian can physically handle seven matches, having not played competitively since July. He looked great against Dominic Thiem in the Kooyong Classic. Yes, it was an exhibition but if Djokovic is healthy, and motivated, he can win his seventh Melbourne title.


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Men's disappointment:

Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria plays a shot in his semi final match against Nick Kyrgios of Australia during the Brisbane International tennis tournament in Brisbane, Australia, Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018. (AP Photo/Tertius Pickard)
Grigor Dimitrov. Tertius Pickard / AP Photo

JT: Pablo Carreno Busta. Ranked No 10 in the world, the Spaniard is on a wretched run of form heading into Melbourne. Since losing to Kevin Anderson in the US Open semi-finals last season, Carreno Busta has lost 11 of 12 singles matches, including all three here at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship. Another first or second round defeat is on the cards.

Cb: Alexander Zverev. The German's 2017 season was frustrating in the manner in which he lost at crucial stages of competitions last year. Granted he is only 20 and has some way to go to mature as a player. After all Federer did not win a major until he was 22. But at this stage in his career, he should be doing better than to lose in the third and fourth rounds of a grand slam tournament. He may be world No 4, but he will likely go out to Djokovic in the fourth round.

GC: Grigor Dimitrov. Every year begins wondering if this is the year the Bulgarian will break through. He starts the year at No 3 in the rankings, but there are doubts over his temperament in the big matches to get over the finish line. This is a great chance, but his loss to Nick Kyrgios in Brisbane hints that it will be more of the same and Dimitrov, who made the semi-finals last year, will not repeat that feat this time around.

Men's surprise package: 

epa06412154 Frances Tiafoe of the USA in action against Matthew Ebden of Australia during their first round match at the Brisbane International Tennis tournament in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, 01 January 2018.  EPA/GLENN HUNT EDITORIAL USE ONLY AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND OUT
Frances Tiafoe. Glenn Hunt / EPA

JT: Kyle Edmund. Impressive wins over fellow young contenders, Denis Shapovalov and Hyeon Chung, at the Brisbane International bode well ahead of the Australian Open. Pushed Dimitrov to a third set in the quarter-finals. His big serve and powerful groundstrokes can take him into the second week, as long as he avoids a top seed early on.

Cb: Frances Tiafoe. The 19-year-old American is considered the next big thing in American tennis. He will up against Juan Martin del Potro in the first round, and while he will be the underdog he has the game to beat the Argentine (he nearly pulled it off against Roger Federer at the US Open). A win like that could give him the confidence to create a few more upsets along the way. He will not win the tournament, but he will likely leave Melbourne having surprised and charmed fans.

GC: Andrey Rublev. Spectators at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship will know the 20-year-old Russian has great potential and his powerful groundstrokes can cause opponents real problems. Whether he has the consistency yet to be a real contender is doubtful, but the world No 32 has the game to make at least the last 16.

Women's champion:

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 10:  Simona Halep of Romania hits a backhand during a practice session ahead of the 2018 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 10, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)
Simona Halep. Michael Dodge / Getty Images

JT: Elina Svitolina. Cruised to the Brisbane International title, dropping just one set and completely taking apart Aliaksandra Sasnovich in the final. The world No 4 from Ukraine is in fine form and is making all the right noises ahead of Melbourne. Her maiden grand slam title awaits.

Cb: Simona Halep. The Romanian's time has come. She may not have won a grand slam title yet, but she is world No 1 on the basis of some consistent performances over the past two seasons. She is not being seen as a favourite after disappointing at the business end of majors in the recent past, but that should help her this time around.

GC: Caroline Wozniacki. The Dane is playing as well as she ever has done and a runner-up spot in Auckland highlights she has carried her good form from 2017 into this year. Wozniacki is too good not to win a grand slam and this is a great chance to finally win one.

Women's disappointment:

Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia serves against Kristyna Pliskova of Czech Republic during their women's singles second round match at the WTA Shenzhen Open tennis tournament in Shenzhen in China's southern Guangdong province on January 2, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / -
Jelena Ostapenko. AFP

JT: Jelena Ostapenko. Her run to the French Open title last year was one of the most impressive grand slam campaigns of the season, but the Latvian world No 7 is really struggling ahead of Melbourne. Successive first round defeats in Shenzhen and Sydney are worrying signs for Ostapenko. Another early exit is in store.

Cb: Karolina Plisova. She has been touted as the next big thing in tennis for the past three seasons, but she has not been able to back up the quality of her game with consistent performances lately. She reached the top of the rankings recently, but she will likely continue to be up and down during the tournament. She is good enough to win a major, but she has yet to develop the thick skin to get through her matches.

GC: Johanna Konta. The Briton had a mixed 2017 season and her inconsistency could carry over here. A semi-finalist in 2016, the world No 9 will do well to get anywhere near matching that, and on current form it will be an achievement if she makes the second week.

Women's surprise package:

Julia Goerges of Germany hits a return during her singles final match against Caroline Wozniaki of Denmark at the WTA Auckland Classic tennis tournament in Auckland on January 7, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / MICHAEL BRADLEY
Julia Goerges. Michael Bradley / AFP

JT: Angelique Kerber. It might be slightly cheating to include a former champion and world No 1 among the surprise picks, but such has been Kerber's alarming slide the past 12 months that few are giving the German any real chance. However, there will be a lack of spotlight on Kerber who has proved she can perform on the hard courts of Melbourne Park. Four straight-sets wins from four singles matches at the Hopman Cup are encouraging signs, too. A deep run at the Australian Open should not be discounted.

Cb: Garbine Muguruza. It is a strange name to include in this category. Of course, she should be a title contender. But the fact she has struggled with fitness issues in the run up to Melbourne suggests she could crash out early. But there is something to be said about her tenacity. Just as she has tended to lose matches when the stakes were not high, she has surprised many when she was not expected to win. She will go deep into the draw despite her troubles.

GC: Julia Goerges. The German is in good form having beaten Wozniacki  to take the Auckland title. The world No 12 has never been beyond the fourth round at a major but with the field as wide open as it is now, it is as good a time as ever to reach the last eight or better.