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Eight burning questions ahead of the Australian Open

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Novak Djokovic is gunning for his fourth-straight men's title at the Australian Open. (Robert Prezioso/Getty Images)

Novak Djokovic is gunning for his fourth consecutive title at the Australian Open. (Robert Prezioso/Getty Images)

MELBOURNE, Australia — The tennis landscape looked much different a year ago. Rafael Nadal was home in Mallorca worrying about his knees, Serena Williams wasn’t the No. 1 women’s player in the world and Andy Murray hadn’t been inducted into the Order of the British Empire. Now, we have a duel at the top of the men’s game between No. 1 Nadal and No. 2 Novak Djokovic, and Williams looks to be on the verge of widening the gap between herself and the rest of the field.

With the year’s first Grand Slam set to kick off in four days, here are eight questions to ponder ahead of the 2014 Australian Open.

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  • Published On Jan 09, 2014
  • Men’s final preview: Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray vie for history

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    Novak Djokovic

    Novak Djokovic has never lost an Aussie Open final dating to his 2008 win. (Manan Vatsyayana/AFP/Getty Images)

    No. 1 Novak Djokovic is bidding to become the first man to threepeat at the Australian Open, while No. 3 Andy Murray could become the first man in the Open era to follow up his maiden Slam title by immediately winning the next. Plenty is on the line in Sunday’s men’s final (3:30 a.m. ET, ESPN).

    There will be no secrets between these two when they take the court. They’ve faced each other 17 times, seven in the last year. Djokovic holds the head-to-head lead at 10-7, but their matches are quite often decided by a handful of points. They went the full five sets in both their Slam matches last year, with Djokovic prevailing at the Australian Open and Murray besting him at the U.S. Open.

    WERTHEIM: Azarenka overcomes Li, Internet spanking

    Djokovic is the favorite not only because he’s No. 1, defending champion and leads the head-to-head, but also because he’ll be fully rested after scoring an easy win over David Ferrer in his semifinal Thursday. Murray played his semifinal Friday and needed five sets and four hours to dispatch Roger Federer.

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  • Published On Jan 26, 2013
  • Women’s final preview: Li Na, Victoria Azarenka seek second Grand Slam title

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    Victoria Azarenka

    Victoria Azarenka came under criticism for her medical timeout in the semifinals. (Greg Wood/AFP/Getty Images)

    The Australian Open women’s final pits the defending champion and No. 1 Victoria Azarenka against 2011 finalist Li Na, in a match that offers both a chance to join Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Maria Sharapova and Svetlana Kuznetsova as the only active players with more than one Slam.

    For Azarenka, it hasn’t been as complicated on the court as it’s been off of it (see photo above). She’s faced only one seed in her six matches, No. 29 Sloane Stephens in Thursday’s semifinals. No. 6 Li ousted No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska and No. 2 Maria Sharapova and hasn’t lost a set all tournament. The last time Li beat two top-five players at a tournament she won it. That would be the 2011 French Open.

    Stephens’ coach: Azarenka ‘cheating within rules’

    On form, you have to give the slight edge to Li, though Azarenka leads the head-to head 5-4 and is on a 20-match win streak in January matches. Her last January loss was at the Australian Open in 2011 to … Li. In fact, Li is 2-0 against her at Slams, though Azarenka has won their last four matches.

    The final will begin at 3:30 a.m. ET/12:30 a.m. PT on ESPN.

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  • Published On Jan 25, 2013
  • Day 12 preview: Roger Federer faces Andy Murray for Aussie Open final berth

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    Andy Murray, Roger Federer shake hands

    Andy Murray and Roger Federer last played at the ATP Finals, won by Federer in straight sets. (Sang Tan/AP)

    Three singles matches in three days remain at the Australian Open. Roger Federer and Andy Murray meet in the last semifinal on Friday with the winner getting Novak Djokovic in Sunday’s final.

     No. 2 Roger Federer vs. No. 3 Andy Murray (3:30 a.m. ET, ESPN): I feel pretty confident in saying that this men’s semifinal won’t turn out to be the 6-2, 6-2, 6-1 drubbing that David Ferrer received from Djokovic on Thursday night. No, for all the dramatic previews and trailers the men’s draw has provided — and we have to thank the Bernard Tomics, Stanislas Wawrinkas and Jo-Wilfried Tsongas of the world for that — the screen now turns dark. We begin the main attraction of the fortnight, as 128 players have dwindled to three. The Big Three.

    Federer and Murray meet before the final of a Grand Slam tournament for the first time. Murray has another shot to get the one scalp that has eluded him on the big stage. It’s easy to forget that Murray is one of the few players, along with Rafael Nadal, who actually has a winning record against Federer. But despite that 10-9 edge, Murray is 0-for-3 against Federer in Slams, with his most recent loss coming in last year’s Wimbledon final. Of course, all that came before Murray got the better of him in the Olympic gold-medal match, 6-2, 6-1, 6-4, his first best-of-five win over Federer.

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  • Published On Jan 24, 2013
  • Day 11 preview: Stephens-Azarenka; Sharapova, Djokovic eye finals, too

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    Sloane Stephens

    Sloane Stephens can move into the top 15 if she makes the Australian Open final. (Asanka Brendon Ratnayake/Icon SMI)

    Day 11 at the Australian Open brings both women’s semifinals and the first men’s semifinal. Here’s a look at Thursday’s three marquee matches (click here for the order of play).


    No. 2 Maria Sharapova vs. No. 6 Li Na (9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2): How do two of the highest-paid female athletes go through a Grand Slam draw without much fanfare? Convincingly. Dominance doesn’t always make great drama, which means Sharapova’s and Li’s straightforward path to the semifinals has been met with a bit of a shrug.

    Neither Sharapova nor Li has lost a set through five matches, though Sharapova has looked the more dominant. The Russian has dropped a mere nine games, the fewest on the way to the Australian Open semifinals since it went to 128 players in 1988. Sharapova isn’t worried about the lack of competition.

    “Going into the match, my goal is not really to be tested,” she said with a laugh. “If I do come into a situation where I feel like I have to pull through or I’m not playing my best tennis or she’s up and I have to find a way to win, then that’s what you have on that given day. Do I want to be in that position? Absolutely not.”

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  • Published On Jan 23, 2013
  • Day 10 preview: Serena vs. Stephens in All-American clash; Federer vs. Tsonga

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    Serena Williams (left) and Sloane Stephens will meet for the second time this month. (AFP/Getty Images)

    Day 10 at the Australian Open brings the second set of quarterfinals in both singles draws. Here’s a look at Wednesday’s four marquee matches (click here for the order of play).


    No. 3 Serena Williams vs. No. 29 Sloane Stephens (second match, Rod Laver Arena): This is the first time since 2008 that two American women are meeting in the quarterfinals at a Grand Slam tournament. One is a 31-year-old 15-time major champion who has won 20 consecutive matches and 39 of 40 and could regain the No. 1 ranking in Melbourne; the other is a 19-year-old contesting her first major quarterfinal.

    But don’t write off Stephens’ chances. She was competitive against Williams in their first career match nearly three weeks ago, losing 6-4, 6-3 in the Brisbane International quarterfinals. Stephens gave Williams her toughest test of the tournament, using her defense and easy power out of the corners to force Serena to elevate her game. That combination of defense and power is a rarity on the WTA Tour, where most players seem to skew one way or the other. Williams came away impressed, labeling Stephens a future No. 1, and the five-time Australian Open champion knows that she’ll have to play some of her best tennis to avoid the upset.

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  • Published On Jan 22, 2013
  • Day 9: Aussie quarterfinals preview

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    Tomas Berdych (pictured) is 1-11 against quarterfinal opponent Novak Djokovic. (Lucas Dawson/Getty Images)

    Day 9 at the Australian Open brings the first set of quarterfinals in both singles draws. Here’s a look at Tuesday’s four marquee matches (click here for the order of play).


    No. 1 Novak Djokovic vs. No. 5 Tomas Berdych (first night match, Rod Laver Arena): Can Djokovic’s regenerative abilities really be questioned? With just about any other player, I’d be preoccupied with wondering how he’d recover from a five-hour fourth-round match that stretched well into the early-morning hours. Djokovic reportedly didn’t get to bed until 5 a.m. on Monday after outlasting Stanislas Wawrinka, but this is the guy who bounced back from a physically grueling five-hour match against Andy Murray in last year’s Australian Open semifinals to beat Rafael Nadal in their six-hour final 48 hours later. He even had enough energy the other night to rip his shirt in half and flex for the world to see. I’d be surprised if the two-time defending champion is too compromised against Berdych.

    The Serb has won 11 of 12 matches against Berdych, whose only victory came in the Wimbledon semifinals in 2010. Djokovic’s defense and ability to get the ball deep on the return have spelled doom for the big-hitting Czech. But as Wawrinka showed, the best bet against Djokovic is to grip and rip with impunity and Berdych — who hasn’t lost a set in four matches — does have the ability to do that. Whether he can do it over the course of a best-of-five match in Melbourne is a different story.

    PREDICTION: Djokovic in three sets. 

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  • Published On Jan 21, 2013
  • Australian Open Day 8 matches to watch

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    Roger Federer

    No. 2 Roger Federer is on course to face No. 3 Andy Murray in the semifinals. (Greg Wood/AFP/Getty Images)

    Storylines and matches to watch on Day 8 of the Australian Open (click here for the order of play):

    Roger Federer vs. another young gun: Two days after dismissing 20-year-old Bernard Tomic in straight sets, Federer will take on another riser in Canada’s Milos Raonic. As opposed to Tomic, the 22-year-old Raonic has actually had success against Federer, pushing him to three sets in their three ATP meetings last year. This will be their first matchup at a Slam, and if the big-serving Raonic couldn’t topple Federer in a best-of-three, it’s unlikely he’ll be able to do it in a best-of-five. Besides, Federer loves beating up on the kids. He has yet to lose to a player born in the 1990s.

    Challenge awaits Caroline Wozniacki: It’s been a year since Wozniacki made the quarterfinals of a Slam. Then again, it’s been a year since Wozniacki did much of anything. The last time she was running around the courts in Melbourne, she was the No. 1 player in the world. Now she’s fighting for relevancy. She won a tough first-round match against Sabine Lisicki in three sets and cruised against surprise opposition, 16-year-old Donna Vekic and Lesia Tsurenko, in the next two rounds. Wozniacki will get a big test against Svetlana Kuznetsova, a two-time Slam champion and former No. 2 who beat her two weeks ago in Sydney.

    French menu: Bad news for the Frenchies. Their top two players go head-to-head in the fourth round, as Jo-Wilfried Tsonga takes on Richard Gasquet. Their other two hopes are hobbled with injuries. Gilles Simon, coming off a 4 1/2-hour (and 71-shot rally) epic against Gael Monfils on Saturday night, has already admitted he doesn’t have much of a chance of beating a fitter Andy Murray on Monday. Meanwhile, Jeremy Chardy, who upset Juan Martin del Potro in the third round, sustained a knee injury in his doubles match Sunday. He is scheduled to play Andreas Seppi on Monday.

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  • Published On Jan 20, 2013
  • Australian Open Day 7 matches to watch

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    Novak Djokovic (pictured) has won 10 in a row against fourth-round opponent Stan Wawrinka. (Graham Denholm/Getty Images)

    Storylines and matches to watch on Day 7 of the Australian Open (click here for the order of play):

    Serbian Sunday: The Serbian fans will be out in full force as Novak Djokovic and Ana Ivanovic will anchor the night session on Rod Laver Arena, likely with split results. Ivanovic is up first against Agnieszka Radwanska, who has yet to drop a set this year in 12 matches. “I’m very confident from the beginning and just happy that I can play really my best tennis from the beginning of the year,” Radwanska said. Radwanska has won four consecutive meetings after losing the first three, with all of Ivanovic’s victories coming before 2009. It’s a much better story for Djokovic, who takes on Swiss No. 2 Stanislas Wawrinka. Djokovic hasn’t lost to Wawrinka since 2006, a string of 10 matches.  There’s no reason to think that’s going to change here.

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  • Published On Jan 19, 2013
  • Australian Open Day 6 preview: Tomic up to the challenge against Federer?

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    Roger Federer (left) crushed Bernard Tomic in the fourth round of last year’s Australian Open. (Aaron Favila/AP)

    Storylines and matches to watch on Day 6 of the Australian Open (click here for the order of play):

    It’s Tomic Time: Enough with the pleasantly snide remarks and the puffery. And I mean that from both sides. After plenty of buildup, Australian Bernard Tomic will finally face four-time champion Roger Federer on Saturday night at Rod Laver Arena in the most anticipated third-round match of the tournament. It doesn’t get more prime time than that (at least for the Aussies — that will be 3 a.m. ET).

    Federer schooled Tomic 6-4, 6-2, 6-2 in the fourth round last year, part of the Swiss star’s 3-0 record against the 20-year-old.

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  • Published On Jan 18, 2013