The offseason is over, the first Grand Slam of the year is here, and we couldn’t be more excited! The 2017 Australian Open is shaping up to be a rip snorter (Aussie slang for awesome) of a tournament, here’s the top storylines we’ll be watching for this year:
- The return of the Big Four: Tennis fans have been spoiled the past decade by the consistent staying power of Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, and Murray. The 2016 season, though, was cut short for Federer and Nadal due to injuries, and it’s been a year since we saw all four together at a Grand Slam. Each of the players has questions to answer in Australia: How will Federer and Nadal return after time off? Can Novak Djokovic defend his title and win his seventh Australian Open, which would be the most of all-time? How will Andy Murray perform in his first major as World No. 1? It’s unclear how long we have left of the “Big Four Era,” so tennis fanatics should be sure to appreciate these legendary players in the moment.
- The rise of the Next Gen: Much of the ATP’s marketing in 2016 was centered around what they call the “Next Gen” of tennis – the youngest players on tour who appear to have extremely bright futures ahead of them. Some of them, such as Nick Kyrgios, Alexander Zverev, and Kyle Edmund, have already made some noise in Grand Slams and are looking to build on that success. We’ll also be keeping our eyes on Americans Taylor Fritz, Frances Tiafoe, and Jared Donaldson, who are all poised to make a run deep into a major sooner rather than later. The question isn’t whether any Next Gen players will make a run in Australia; the question is who will it be?
- Which woman will look the most dominant: After years of Serena Williams holding the top spot on the women’s side, Angelique Kerber’s incredible 2016 that included an Australian Open title vaulted her to No. 1. Williams is still the favorite to win the tournament, though, and many fans expect the American to reclaim her top ranking at some point in 2017. Both players stumbled early at warm-up tournaments so a repeat of last year’s final isn’t a guarantee, but it would certainly be a treat for fans.
- American women: The Australian Open has been kind to American women in recent years. In addition to Serena’s six titles, both Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys had their best Grand Slam results down under. Americans are off to a strong start in 2017 with Lauren Davis winning her first WTA title in Auckland, New Zealand, Alison Riske making the final in Shenzhen, China, Madison Brengle notching her first career win over Serena, and Coco Vandeweghe winning 3 of her 4 singles matches at the Hopman Cup. Which young American will make a deep run this year.
- The Draw: Typically in Grand Slams, there’s not too much drama that goes along with the draw ceremony because we already know the big names will be placed far away from each other. This year though, with Roger Federer ranked No. 17 and Rafael Nadal at 9, we could get a matchup of superstars in earlier rounds depending on how the draw shakes out. On the women’s side, the only former Aussie Open champs are Williams and Kerber, so a friendly draw could open the door for a new face to win her first title in Melbourne. The draw for this year’s tournament will be released on Jan. 13.
The Australian Open main draw begins on Jan. 16 with coverage on the ESPN family of networks throughout the tournament. The women’s final will take place on Jan. 28 and men’s final on Jan. 29, both at 3 A.M. Eastern time, so be sure to have your coffee ready to go!
Chris Lewitzke is the social media and engagement coordinator at USTA Mid-Atlantic. He’ll be rooting for Rafael Nadal, his first favorite player, to make a strong comeback in Melbourne.