It might be January but the tennis world is set to rock into action down under in Melbourne with the Australian Open. The first Grand Slam of 2017 looks unpredictable in both the men and women’s singles.
In the men’s draw, Sir Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic are the two favourites to lift the title.
Murray has been on an unbeaten competitive tournament run since the back end of last season and only lost to Djokovic in a tight thriller last weekend in Doha.
Milos Raonic has really progressed throughout 2016 and will surely be amongst the favourites, should both of the top 2 slip up.
His overall game has caused problems for many players in the past year with Murray being pushed all the way by him in the semi finals at Melbourne Park and the World Tour Finals.
Over in the women’s draw, you could say that any of the top five seeds are favourites.
2016 finalists, Angelique Kerber and Serena Williams are both out of form with poor showings in warm up tournaments.
This gives Agnieszka Radwanska, Simona Halep and Karolina Pilskova a shot at winning their first grand slam and potentially, the world no.1 ranking.
Outside of those players, Johanna Konta and Garbine Muguruza will have to be real threats alongside beaten 2014 finalist, Dominika Cibulkova.
Svetlana Kuznetsova will be amongst the potential threats, should she continue her reconnaissance at an age when most female tennis players start to decline.
Two obvious dark horses in the men’s draw are Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.
Two fallen greats will be hoping to get 2017 off to a flyer and prove that age is just a number so don’t rule them out just yet.
Dominic Thiem and Kei Nishikori could spring a shock if they are at their absolute best and for the latter, it could be his best chance of a grand slam.
At the age of 27, he should be in peak condition to get at least one major given that the average age for a first time GS winner is 26.
Stan Wawrinka will be amongst the dark horses because he will surely be eying up a decent run but can’t see him winning a slam till Wimbledon, where he will have the opportunity to complete the career grand slam.
With this being the Australian Open, don’t count out Nick Krygios!!
He might have an energetic and controversial personality but he’s been seeing an sport psychiatrist over the off season.
Could we see a very different Krygios who proves why he is the real deal at the first opportunity?
Over in the women’s section, watch out for Eugenie Bourchard, who seems to be back to her very best judging by her performances in the Sydney Open, this past week en route to her semi final exit.
Everyone from 10th – 22nd seeds are surely amongst the dark horses because they are often inconsistent.
This could be the year that they finally hook a good run together in the Australian Open and set the cat amongst the top seeds.
Ones to watch
There are quite a few lower and non seeds to watch out for from the third round in both draws.
David Ferrer is seeded 21st and will be eager to rediscover his former glory and get back up the world rankings.
Should he get a nice and simple looking group, this could be his chance to get back to his best tennis without tough opposition until the latter stages.
Alexander Zverev is touted as a potential world no.1 and isn’t afraid to cause upsets, having beaten Federer in the Hopman Cup last week.
The confidence from that win will be massive as long as he harnesses it properly and makes progress, starting with a deep run at his first proper competitive singles tournament of 2017.
Don’t forget Kyle Edmund and Dan Evans, who are both in fine form and are capable of reaching at least the third round.
Both aren’t defending points so expect them two to be big movers up in the rankings.
Across in the women’s draw, Olympic gold medallist, Monica Puig could well be a surprise player, given how unpredictable she can be.
Belinda Bencic has struggled with injuries throughout 2016 so will be a potential danger as she seeks to reclaim her place in the midtable seeding positions.
Brits, Naomi Broady and Heather Watson will be in the main draw but are likely to bow out early.
If they can get good paths, watch out for those two and especially if Watson meets Serena Williams early on.
Since losing to Williams in the third round of the 2015 Wimbledon Championships, she has struggled for form.
An opportunity to exact revenge in early stages could ignite her game and cause shocks in the tournament with the former world no.1 out of form.
Finally, could the heat be the key factor in who comes King and Queen of the Australian Open in 2017?