Summer Of Tennis 2018, Some of the world’s biggest names have started ramping up their preparations ahead of the first Grand Slam tournament of the year, the Australian Open.As always, this preview will be divided into three parts: in Part 1, I covered the Brisbane International, the Hopman Cup and the Shenzhen Open, while in Part 2, I covered the Maharashtra Open, the Qatar ExxonMobil Open and the ASB Classic.
Here, in Part 3, I will cover the Sydney and Hobart Internationals and, of course, the big one – the Australian Open.
Defending champions: Gilles Muller (LUX) and Johanna Konta (GBR)
Drawcards: Kei Nishikori (JPN), Albert Ramos Vinolas (ESP), Gilles Muller (LUX), Venus Williams (USA), Jelena Ostapenko (LAT), Johanna Konta (GBR), Sloane Stephens (USA).
The presence of seven-time Major champion Venus Williams and recent champions Jelena Ostapenko and Sloane Stephens will make this edition the strongest it has been for a while.
Venus returns for the first time since 2001, when she participated in only the doubles tournament with her sister, Serena, but this will be the first time she has played singles in Sydney since winning the Olympic gold medal in 2000.
Defending champion Johanna Konta also returns, and will have a large fan-base to draw on as the sister-in-law of former Greater Western Sydney Giants player Shane Mumford (in fact, the Giants’ headquarters are located just up the road).
Ostapenko and Stephens will look to build on their strong 2017 seasons, which saw them claim Grand Slam glory at Roland Garros and Flushing Meadows, respectively.
Former US Open champion Samantha Stosur has been granted a wildcard, her ranking having dropped due to injuries and poor form.
On the men’s side, while there are no top 20 players, the field is still quite strong, led by former US Open finalist Kei Nishikori and defending champion Gilles Muller, who by winning here last year secured his first career title, at the age of 33.
Former Australian Open semi-finalist Fernando Verdasco is also popular with the fans, and his presence will also no doubt attract the female fans to the Harbour City, while Australian pair Alex de Minaur and Jordan Thompson have both been awarded wildcards.
For the fourth consecutive year there are no top-20 players on the Apple Isle, with 35th-ranked Zhang Shuai the top seed for the tournament.
She is joined by defending champion Elise Mertens, who sacrificed the chance to qualify for the Australian Open to chase her maiden WTA title, as well as 2016 champion Alize Cornet and crowd favourite Eugenie Bouchard.
The Canadian’s presence will at the very least attract her biggest fans, and provide the tournament some much-needed spark to an otherwise-weak player entry list rankings-wise.
Still, fans can still be entertained to what the lower-ranked female players have to offer.