Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams chase milestones: Australian Open talking points

With the season's first major starting on Sunday, Graham Caygill looks at the storylines likely to gain attention

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 13:  Novak Djokovic of Serbia has a drink during a practice session ahead of the 2019 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 13, 2019 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Julian Finney/Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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Djokovic’s big chance

Back in January 2016 Novak Djokovic arrived in Melbourne on the crest of a wave.

Having won Wimbledon and the US Open he was halfway towards possessing all four majors at once.

Djokovic prevailed for a sixth time in Australia and would then go on to win the French Open in June for the first time.

That success at Roland Garros, as well as achieving his career grand slam, made the Serbian the third male player to hold all four major titles at one time, a feat now referred to as a "Nole Slam".

Doing something that neither Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal have achieved is special but the 31-year-old Djokovic is now in a position when he can repeat the trick.

He was victorious in Wimbledon and in New York last summer, and is now in Australia with the same scenario he faced three years ago.

Djokovic starts as favourite and not just because he is world No 1. Melbourne is his most successful major, having won it six times, and he ended 2018 as the dominant man on the ATP Tour with a run of 22 successive victories between August and October.

While he did lose some matches towards the end of last year, there is a difference between claiming two sets off the Serbian at a Masters or a 500 event and winning that extra third in a high pressure environment at a major.

A record seventh Australian Open title is a real prospect and that opens up the door for Nole Slam No 2 at Roland Garros, which would only further underline his credentials when stacked up against Federer and Nadal in the years to come.


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Tennis - Australian Open - Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia - January 13, 2019-Serena Williams of the U.S. and her coach Patrick Mouratoglou at a practice.   REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Williams cannot be discounted

Serena Williams is back in Melbourne for the first time since she won the most recent of her 23 majors in 2017.

Williams did not play for the rest of the year as she stepped away from the WTA Tour to become a mother for the first time.

Speaking in Abu Dhabi last month she conceded she had surpassed her own expectations in 2018 by not only returning, but reaching two grand slam finals, at Wimbledon and the US Open.

The American lost both and the underlying theme of the year was that she could still hold her own against most of opponents in the top 50, but was a level below the current top players.

The way Williams was beaten so comfortably at Wimbledon by Angelique Kerber and then by Naomi Osaka at the US Open was a reality check.

The power is still there in her game at the age of 37, but the movement from the back of the court was an issue, and judging by her exhibition at Zayed Sports City against older sibling Venus, it still could be in 2019.

Australia may be a little soon for Williams to be near her best, with the limited build-up to the season. But even when not at her best she can still go far. She was still early in her comeback trail last year and still reached two big finals so don't entirely rule out major No 24 arriving in Australia.


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FILE - In this Nov. 17, 2018, file photo, Alexander Zverev of Germany plays a return to Roger Federer of Switzerland in their ATP World Tour Finals singles tennis match at O2 Arena in London. Zverev is one of the men to keep an eye on at the Australian Open, Jan. 14-27, 2019. (AP Photo/Tim Ireland, File)

Opportunity knocks for fresh faces

Kyle Edmund and Hyeon Chung were both surprise semi-finalists in the men’s draw 12 months ago. The first major of the year, coming so early in the season, often throws up a chance for players to achieve break through if they can hit the ground running.

Both Edmund and Chung will do well to repeat their success, with both struggling for form, but there is still a chance for some new faces to go deep into the tournament.

Alexander Zverev, despite being world No 4, has never been beyond the quarter-finals at a major. It is surely a case of when, not if, he makes his breakthrough and Melbourne is as good an opportunity as any.

Likewise, Karen Khachanov beat Djokovic in the Paris Masters final and knows he can beat the best players. That confidence combined with his undeniable talent should see him push to make a name for himself.

Fortune will be needed, of course, be it the draw itself, or kind scheduling to avoid the worst of the heat. It is not just about performance levels.

But with Nadal coming back from injury and Juan Martin del Potro ruled out there are gaps at the top of the draw and a real chance for fresh faces to step up. The fun part is seeing who it will be.


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