On Tuesday, Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley announced that all top 100 men and women would make the trip to Melbourne Park.
That means we’ll see the return of the great Serena Williams, plus multiple major winners Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka, to the courts after large chunks of inactivity in 2017.
How will they fare in their comebacks? And what will this mean for the rest of the field? The Tennismash team of Paul Moore, Matt Trollope and Bede Briscomb weigh in.
Craig Tiley on the #AusOpen: We'll have the full top 100 men and women returning."
That's got me like… pic.twitter.com/tLThb362Aw
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Moore: If I was the rest of the field I’d be worried – very worried, in fact. Particularly about Novak. If the Serb has used his downtime to recharge and recalibrate, he’s going to blow everyone away. He’s the best tennis player in the world when he’s focused, and I feel like he has a point to prove in 2018.
Trollope: I think all of them will go quite well, especially Novak and Andy. Djokovic has shown repeatedly throughout his career that he doesn’t need many matches leading into a Grand Slam event to perform well, while Murray’s hinted he could actually return from injury before this season is out, indicating his hip is more a niggle rather than a diabolic ailment. You never know with Stan – but he’s a proven performer at Melbourne Park and has vast reserves of belief and confidence. If he finds his groove, watch out.
Briscomb: Novak has spent the past ten months watching Federer and Nadal break away from his Grand Slam tally of 12. He’s got a lot of ground to make up – he knows that, and his desire to win will be as feverish as his fans who defend him every time someone excludes him from the Roger v Rafa debate. As for the other guys: Andy, maybe, Stan, meh.
Moore: Rafa yes, Roger no. Nadal has shown repeatedly this year that he is back to his best. The body looks healthy, the head is in the right place, and he’s proven enough in 2017 to take the pressure off in 2018. Roger, though, is less concrete. The body finally seems to be showing signs of wear and tear, and players like Djokovic and Murray can exploit that.
Trollope: I can’t see it happening. A fully fit and motivated Djokovic has given Federer and Nadal fits over the years, and if he’s back in the equation, I don’t see it being so easy for Fedal. Part of the reason Roger and Rafa have fared so well this year is due to the refreshing break they enjoyed by shutting down their respective 2016 seasons early. Who’s to say Novak, Andy and Stan won’t feel similar effects when they return in 2018?
Briscomb: Roger, no. Rafa, yes.
Moore: Serena is that much better than the rest of the women’s field that she can win when she wants to. And given that she wouldn’t play if she didn’t want to win (after all, she’s got nothing left to prove), she would need to be having an ‘off’ day and her opponent an ‘out-of-this-world’ day to stop her taking No.24.
Trollope: I think we’re jumping the gun with Serena’s participation, period. Just four months after giving birth, and taking into account the many “complications” she referenced in her Instagram video? It’s a big ask. That said, she wouldn’t take to the starting line if she didn’t feel ready to. So if she does appear in the draw, watch out.
Briscomb: I think if you gave an unfit Serena Williams a tennis racquet right now, chopped off her left arm and made a rule that she could only hit balls on the left side of the court, she would still defeat Halep, Muguruza, Wozniacki or whoever next week’s world No.1 will be in straight sets.
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