Open season as tennis slam gets under way

Jan 14, 2018

Tennis fans should strap themselves in for another two-week rollercoaster ride, with Australian Open boss Craig Tiley declaring anything's possible when the Melbourne Park major gets under way on Monday.

A year after clashing in the most anticipated Open final ever, ageless tennis titans Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are seeded to square off once again for the title, after in 2017 completing the most extraordinary seasons of their decorated careers.

Languishing in the rankings after injury-enforced absences, Federer and Nadal rolled back the years to set up what many believed one last dance on the big stage.

But after sweeping to all four slams in a wildly retro 2017, the living legends are back in Australia as the world's top-two players and favoured to extend their compelling grand slam rivalry to a 14th year.

With five-time finalist Andy Murray recovering from hip surgery in Melbourne and six-time champion Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka - the only other man to claim the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup in the past decade - also under fitness clouds, Federer and Nadal are the only men under single-figure odds with the bookmakers.

Their biggest threats look to be young guns Alexander Zverev and local hope Nick Kyrgios and world No.3 Grigor Dimitrov.

"It's going to be an interesting first few days of the event," Tiley said.

"It's going to be a big-time telling sign for how the rest of the event is going to go.

"This time exactly 12 months ago, we were talking about the great play of Andy and Novak," Tiley said.

"We weren't too sure about Serena (Williams) and Roger and Rafa had been off for a bit injured.

"On Wednesday of the first week, Novak had lost and Andy had lost and there was still some doubt around Roger and Rafa and Serena's health and even Venus' (Williams) health.

"Ten days later we had them both in the women's and men's finals."

The world's best, sans Murray, Serena Williams and fellow former world No.1 and new tennis mum Victoria Azarenka, will be playing for a record $55 million in prize money over the next fortnight.

Apart from Kyrgios, Australia have two big women's hopes in 17th-seeded Sydney finalist Ashleigh Barty and 23rd seed Daria Gavrilova.

Kyrgios, up against Brazil's world No.100 Rogerio Dutra Silva, and Gavrilova, playing a qualifier, are among nine Australians opening their campaigns on Monday.

French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko, playing her first match under the guidance of Australian coach David Taylor, has the honour of opening Rod Laver Arena proceedings against veteran Italian Francesca Schiavone.

Nadal, Dimitrov, Venus Williams, Caroline Wozniacki and Samantha Stosur are among the other stars in day-one action.

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