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Aussie hopefuls look to break Australian Open title drought
A new generation of Australian starts, led by Sydney finalist Ashleigh Barty—who has beaten Ostapenko, Halep, Mertens and Bertens in the tune-up tournament—will try to win on home soil.
Published Jan 12, 2019
Professional tennis players never lack the motivation to succeed at a tournament on home soil. However, the pressure—whether self-imposed or from game opponents—can have a negative impact on their prospects.
It’s an experience many of the “hometown hopefuls” at the Australian Open have had to deal with over the years.
Despite the fact that players such as Pat Cash, Patrick Rafter, Lleyton Hewitt and Samantha Stosur won majors in England and the U.S., they were unable to triumph in Australia. In fact, it’s been more than 40 years since the last Australian Open victories for Aussie men and women: Mark Edmondson, ranked 212th at the time, shocked the field in 1976, while Chris O’Neil claimed her lone singles title in 1978.
This year, though, a strong wave of young contenders will be looking to end the drought. Having experienced some measure of success at home in their careers, they enter this year’s Australian Open ready to make a mark in front of a crowd eager to embrace one of their own.
Since her return to the game after an extended break, Barty has only known one direction: up. The 22-year-old claimed the biggest singles title of her career to close out 2018 at the WTA Elite Trophy in Zhuhai and land in the Top 15. Already this year, she’s made her way to the final in Sydney. Provided she comes in with fresh legs, she has a solid chance to make it to the second week in Melbourne.
Last year, Kyrgios got off to a perfect start by taking the title in Brisbane, the fourth of his career. He extended his winning streak to seven matches by reaching the fourth round at the Australian before Grigor Dimitrov—whom he had just beaten in Brisbane—stopped his charge. It was a solid run for the young Australian and gave weight to the notion that he was committed to maximizing his talent with such a strong start. However, injuries kept him off the court for significant portions of the year, and he ended the season outside of the Top 30. An early loss in Brisbane this year knocked him out of the Top 50 and into the unseeded ranks in Melbourne—where he’ll face 16th seed Milos Raonic in the first round. Kyrgios has split his six meetings against the Canadian.
Forced into a situation where he had to claw his way back up the rankings, Tomic surprised many observers of the game by being up to the task. The 2008 junior Australian Open champion fell in the final round of qualifying last year, but has played through to the second week most recently in 2016. He faces 2018 finalist Marin Cilic first; given the sixth seed’s health issues to start the year, could possibly pull off an upset.
Until the end of his career, Millman will be known as the unseeded Australian who defeated five-time champion Roger Federer at the 2018 US Open. While he was unable to build upon that momentum for the rest of the year, the 29-year-old showed he had the potential to shine on the game’s biggest stages. He opens play against Federico Delbonis, and provided he gets past that, he could face the winner of the match between Roberto Bautista Agut and sentimental favorite Andy Murray.
In 2017, Gavrilova reached the round of 16 at the Australian Open for the second year in a row, kicking off a career-best campaign that saw her capture her first career singles title. Though she took a step back last year, the powerful baseliner is at her best on hard courts. She’s in a challenging part of the draw in Melbourne this year: If she wins her opener, she’s likely to face No. 4 seed Naomi Osaka in the second round.
The ATP’s breakout performer last year, 19-year-old de Minaur has demonstrated that he’s game for nearly any challenge. In addition to reaching his first two career finals last year, he contested two of 2018’s best matches, falling just short against Alexander Zverev and Marin Cilic in five-set thrillers. Australia’s top-ranked male, and popular dark horse pick, could possibly face world No. 2 Rafael Nadal in the third round.
Injury-plagued for the better part of two years, Tomljanovic showed what she’s capable of when healthy in 2018. She reached two singles finals, her first championship-round appearances in more than three years. Opening play against former semifinalist Johanna Konta, the 25-year-old could face two-time Grand Slam champion Garbine Muguruza if she passes her first test.
ATP/WTA Sydney (1/5 to 1/12)
• Stefanos Tsitsipas, Frances Tiafoe, Simona Halep and Sloane Stephens headline the Sydney International. Watch live coverage on Tennis Channel Plus.
WTA Hobart (1/5 to 1/11)
• Watch the action from the Hobart International featuring Caroline Garcia, Belinda Bencic and Maria Sakkari.
ATP Auckland (1/6 to 1/11)
• See John Isner and Fabio Fognini live on Tennis Channel Plus beginning Monday, Jan. 7 at 6:00 pm ET.
FAST 4—Sydney (1/7)
• The game’s best compete in the always entertaining Fast4 format, with appearances by Nick Kyrgios, Grigor Dimitrov and Milos Raonic. Live coverage begins on Monday, Jan. 7 at 3:30pm ET.
World Tennis Challenge—Adelaide (1/7 to 1/9)
• Watch Borna Coric, CoCo Vandeweghe and Victoria Azarenka live from Adelaide starting Monday, Jan. 7 at 3:00 am ET.
AO Qualifying Rounds (1/8 to 1/11)
• Australian Open officially begins with qualifying action. Tennis Channel Plus has fall the action live! Coverage begins Tuesday, Jan. 8 at 6:00 pm ET.