ATP Burning Question No. 2: Will There Be Another 1st-Time Slam Champ in Oz?

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Stan Wawrinka shocked the world, and himself, by winning the Australian Open in 2014. (AP Photo)

Over the next two weeks, as the new season begins and the Australian Open nears, our panel of writers and editors will debate the five burning questions on each tour.

ED MCGROGAN, Senior Editor: I don’t think so, because I sense Novak Djokovic realizes the opportunity he has in front of him. He’s in the prime of his career, his two biggest rivals ended last year with injuries, and two major personal milestones—marriage and the birth of his first child—are behind him. His aim coming into 2015 should be nothing less than the Grand Slam—he’s that good and is capable of achieving the feat.

NINA PANTIC, Associate Editor: If we were to see a maiden major champion on the men’s side again, Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori, two leaders of the next generation, are the best bets. But Nishikori’s durability is an issue, despite a run of five-set marathons at last year’s US Open; Raonic, who lives and dies with his serve, has never beaten Nadal or Djokovic. The better odds are that the Australian Open will distill into a contest between the men at the very top.

PETER BODO, Senior Writer:  It’s unlikely that anyone can repeat what Stan Wawrinka did last year. He has established himself as an elite pro and is one of five top-tier contenders who have won at least one major. Perhaps you’ve heard of the other four. Djokovic finished 2014 on a roll, and given his record Down Under, he will be motivated to prove that he still owns the year’s first Slam. Also, Nadal will be fresh, Federer is resurgent and Murray has been to three Australian Open finals, losing each time. The chances of all those men stumbling out is slim.

STEVE TIGNOR, Senior Writer: The Australian Open once had a reputation for surprises among the men: Petr Korda won in 1997, Thomas Johannson won in 2002, and Marcos Baghdatis and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga reached their only major finals in Melbourne in 2006 and ’08, respectively. But as with everything else in the ATP, the Aussie Open turned into another playground for the Big 4. Then Wawrinka brought the madness back to Melbourne. As the new season begins, Oz has the makings of a return to form and sanity. Nadal will be starting fresh; Djokovic will be hungry to win Down Under again; Federer should have renewed confidence. And all of them should be prepared for anything after Stan’s stunner.

Tuesday, January 6: Is Grigor Dimitrov for real?
Monday, January 12: Have we reached the end of the Big 4 era?
Wednesday, January 14: What does Roger Federer need to do to win his first Australian Open title since 2010?
Friday, January 16: What constitutes success for U.S. tennis in Melbourne?

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