After a year which featured eight Grand Slam singles champions, there's been plenty of talk ahead of the Australian Open about the new guard vs. the old guard in both men's and women's tennis. Here's the lowdown on the top contenders.
SERENA WILLIAMSThe evergreen American, 33, has won five of her 18 Grand Slam titles in Australia and is short-priced favourite to claim a sixth this year after winning seven WTA titles in 2014, including the US Open. Despite some erratic early season form in the Hopman Cup, Williams has a combination of power and intensity when on song that is perfectly suited to the Melbourne Park cauldron.
MARIA SHARAPOVAThe glamorous Russian remains the biggest earner in women's sport and will again be a star attraction in Melbourne, where she has reached the final three times, winning in 2008. The 27-year-old enjoyed a strong 2014, finally overcoming a nagging shoulder injury to claim her fifth Grand Slam at the French Open. Appears full of confidence after starting 2015 with a convincing win in the Brisbane International final over Ana Ivanovic.
The hard-hitting 23-year-old is looking to build on a breakthrough season in 2014, when she reached the French Open final and the semi-finals at Wimbledon. The Romanian has hired Swiss Thomas Hogstedt — former mentor to Maria Sharapova, Caroline Wozniacki and Li Na — as a coaching consultant for the Australian Open and opened her 2015 season with a blistering win in the Shenzhen Open for her ninth WTA title.
Kvitova was thrust back into the limelight with her second career Wimbledon triumph last year but needs to improve at other Grand Slams to avoid being seen as a grass court specialist. Has only advanced beyond the second round once in five appearances at the Australian Open and a first-round exit last year suggests she still struggles on the hard surfaces of Melbourne Park.
Djokovic's winning run at the Australian Open came to an end in the quarter-finals last year to eventual champion Stan Wawrinka, but he is always the player to beat in Melbourne, suited to the hardcourt and conditions. He has held the top ranking since July 7 last year and is coming off an ATP World Tour-high seven titles from eight finals in 2014, including his second win at Wimbledon.
(Roger) The all-time Grand Slam record-holder launched his 2015 season with victory over Milos Raonic in the Brisbane International final. Continues to defy his years, turning 33 last August, as he chases his fifth Australian Open crown and first since 2010. He has reached at least the semi-finals in Melbourne a remarkable 11 straight times.
Nadal is fighting back from an appendectomy in early November after a 2014 season of just four wins, including a ninth French Open title. The Spaniard was knocked out in the first round of the singles in Doha this month to German qualifier Michael Berrer on the way to Melbourne. Fitness could be a concern over the two weeks as he had few matches since Wimbledon last July. Nadal has been runner-up in his last two appearances in Melbourne after winning the 2009 tournament.
Breakthrough year in 2014 with first Grand Slam title at the Australian Open where he overcame a 12-match losing streak against then number one Rafael Nadal in a four-set victory. Won two other Tour titles and reached a career-high three in the world in the wake of his Melbourne triumph. Owner of a brilliant single-handed backhand and a powerful serve when on song.
Murray is battling a left shoulder injury heading into the year's first major after a frustrating 2014 season. Had a longer than expected recovery from back surgery, suffered a surprise split with coach Ivan Lendl, then hired former women's number one Amelie Mauresmo, lost his Wimbledon crown in tame fashion and briefly fell out of the top 10 for the first time in six years. Still chasing an elusive Australian Open title.