As the tennis season winds down, thoughts are already switching to January’s Australian Open in Melbourne – with the world’s best players all looking to get themselves in the best possible shape ahead of the season’s opening Grand Slam. 2014 has been a fascinating season in the Men’s game, as two of four tournaments were won by players outside the usually-dominant quartet of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and Roger Federer.
While long-time Swiss number-two Stan Wawrinka opened the year by shocking the Betfair odds and winning his maiden Grand Slam title in Australia, Marin Cilic followed suit in September when, clinching his first major title by beating Kei Nishikori in the final of the US Open. Both Wawrinka and Cilic had long been thought of as top players, but there weren’t many who expected either to be among this year’s Grand Slam winners. The duo will be looking at 2015 as a great chance to prove their achievements in 2014 were no fluke.
Wawrinka will be the first to get the opportunity to defend his sole Grand Slam crown when he returns to Melbourne at the start of the year, and the world number four will also be hoping to further cement his new place in the top-five places of the world rankings. The defending champion could find it tougher than last year though, with the likes of Djokovic, Nadal, Murray and Federer all expected to be much stronger than last year – not to mention the fast-improving group of players who currently occupy the rest of the top-20.
So who should we be watching out for when the Men’s draw of the Australian Open gets underway early next year?
Novak Djokovic: 13/8
The current world number one will start next January’s tournament as the perhaps unsurprising betting favourite for a tournament he has dominated in recent years. With four of his seven Grand Slam wins coming at the Australian Open, Djokovic has shown that this is his most successful of the four majors, and the Serbian star will be looking to make up for a relatively underwhelming run to the quarter-finals this year. Djokovic bounced back from his Australian Open disappointment to reach his second French Open final before losing to clay-court king Nadal. Djokovic did however, reply to the two previous setbacks by securing a second Wimbledon crown in the next major, before the 27-year old wrapped up 2014 with a spot in the semi-finals of the US Open.
Rafael Nadal: 10/3
With just one of his 14 Grand Slam titles coming in Melbourne, the Australian Open has been far from Nadal’s happiest hunting ground over the years – but you can still never rule out the sensational Spaniard. His sole success at the tournament came back in 2009, although Nadal has reached two finals since then – including this year when he was beaten in four sets by Wawrinka. An incredible ninth French Open title followed the Spaniard’s Australian Open heartache, only for injuries to again begin to plague Nadal’s season. The left-hander was clearly not at his best during his run to the fourth round of Wimbledon, and injury forced Nadal to miss his second US Open in three years in September. But if he’s fully fit, Nadal will be a serious contender next January.
Andy Murray: 5/1
Andy Murray will head Down Under at the start of 2015 looking to win a tournament he has progressed to the final in on three occasions, without ever coming away with the title. The Scotsman has come up short on three occasions in Melbourne, but it hasn’t stopped a number of fans tipping Murray to be in with a great chance of ending his wait for an Australian Open title in January. Injuries hampered Murray for much of this year – playing a huge part in the Scotsman slipping out of the world’s top-10. After kicking off 2014 by reaching the quarter-finals in Melbourne, Murray went on to reach the semi-finals of the French Open before a disappointing run to the quarter-finals at Wimbledon that saw him fail to mount a commendable defend of his crown in London. Murray then ended a below-par year in the Grand Slams by making it only as far as the quarter-finals at the US Open. The two-time Grand Slam winner looks set to start the year free of injury though, and the Scot will be hoping to put himself back on the map after a tough year and retake his seat at the top table of tennis.
Roger Federer: 10/1
While there is little doubt Roger Federer isn’t the same force he was five years ago, 2014 showed that the 17-time Grand Slam champion is still a contender for the biggest prizes in the game. After making the semi-finals of the Australian Open for the 11th straight year, Federer showed he is still one of the world’s best by reaching the final at Wimbledon, before falling agonisingly short of winning his eighth title at the All England Club. Another semi-final appearance in the US Open saw Federer bring an end to his 2014 Grand Slam schedule, with the Swiss star finding himself back up to third in the world rankings. Now 33-years-old, it remains to be seen just how long Federer will want to continue with his career, but it looks as though the four-time Australian Open winner will be back in Melbourne contending for a fifth title in January.
Stan Wawrinka: 10/1
Wawrinka’s incredible victory in Melbourne this year came very much out of the blue. While the Swiss number-two has been a consistent member of the top-20 for much of the past five years, Wawrinka’s longest run at the Australian Open had been a quarter-final appearance in 2011. But, despite starting the tournament as a betting outsider, Wawrinka looked sensational on his way to the final – beating Novak Djokovic and Tomas Berdych before putting on a clinic against Rafael Nadal in the final to win his first Grand Slam title. Quarter-final appearances at Wimbledon and US Open this year also helped cement Wawrinka’s position in the world’s top-five and the Swiss star will now be looking to build on 2014 when next season gets underway. While Wawrinka will have his work cut out attempting to defend his title in Melbourne, the 29-year old will have taken a huge amount of confidence from this year and 10/1 seems like a very tempting price.
Marin Cilic: 16/1
Despite being on the peripheries for years, it wasn’t until this year before Marin Cilic finally made the step up to the game’s elite tiers and won his maiden Grand Slam title. After reaching the semi-finals of the Australian Open in 2010 and going on to reach a career-high of ninth in the world rankings, injuries plagued the Croatian star for the next period of his career. It wasn’t until Cilic linked up with Croatian compatriot Goran Ivanisevic before he was finally able to start putting all the aspects of his game together, and the results were clear for all to see as the 25-year old made light work of Kei Nishikori in the US Open final at Flushing Meadows. This gave Croatia their second Grand Slam title after Ivanisevic’s Wimbledon triumph in 2001. The challenge for Cilic will now be to take the momentum from his US Open victory and carry it into 2015, starting with the Australian Open – a tournament he is more than capable of winning.