The world of tennis is waiting with bated breath for the start of 2014’s first Grand Slam, the Australian Open. Set to start at Melbourne Park on Monday, not only will the tournament test the brilliance of the players, but also their endurance and heart to brave the heat.
Recent momentum and a lopsided draw have given Novak Djokovic an edge over Rafael Nadal. The Serbian is seeking a record fourth straight, fifth overall, Australian Open title.
The Serb, who lost his world number one ranking to the Spaniard in October last year, must be regarded as the favourite, having made the surprise addition of Boris Becker to his coaching team to find a new dimension.
Also in the fray will be Britain’s Andy Murray. He ended Britain’s 77-year men’s Wimbledon title drought last year and will be keen on reaching his fourth Melbourne final. Following a back surgery in September last year, he returned to action towards the end of 2013 and has been in tentative form, with defeats to Florian Mayer and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
Though he has had a bad year, all-time Grand Slam record-holder Roger Federer will also be a force to recon with. With only one major title in the past three years, the Swiss will be fighting to reclaim honour.
The draw is equally interesting on the women's side, with world number one Serena Williams the clear favourite to claim her 18th Grand Slam. She comes to Melbourne on a 22-match winning streak.
Martina Navratilova has predicted Williams can equal her total of 18 Grand Slam singles titles by winning the Australian Open. Navratilova also believes if Williams stays healthy, she can eclipse Steffi Graf's 22 major titles in the Open era.
Defending champion Victoria Azarenka, bowever, will be no pushover. The world number 2 might have started last year with a loss to Williams, but had a strong 2013. She made the semis at Roland Garros, and won titles in Doha and Cincinnati.
Also interesting to watch will be the not-so-polite rivalry between Williams and world number 3 Maria Sharapova, a feud that has often enough spilled over off the court. Williams is 1-0 up in 2014, having beaten Sharapova in the Brisbane semi-finals. Sharapova would be itching to turn the tables at the Grand Slam.
China's Li Na, the beaten finalist last year and in 2011, is hoping to land her second Grand Slam title. At her best, she can prove quite a handful.
So here’s waiting for a hotly contested tournament.