Novak Djokovic looks a solid favourite for the Australian Open and can begin a run of majors that could see him complete the calendar year Grand Slam. Serena Williams came up just short in her quest to win the four big wins last year but she is still by far the most likely winner of the women’s tournament. The double on the two market leaders pays almost 7/1 but there is some each way value to be had.
Simona Halep has generally underachieved in Grand Slam tournaments but can take her career to a new level in Melbourne over the next two weeks. Given a relatively kind draw she could go all the way. Grigor Dimitrov is best known for his exes and current girlfriend but can appear in the papers for sporting reasons by progressing deep into the second week of the first Grand Slam tournament of the year.
The four majors have distinct features and are played on different surfaces. Winning more than one in any year is a fine achievement so winning all four from January to September takes a player’s standing in the game to a new level. The Australian Open is played on hard courts, the French Open is played on clay, Wimbledon is a grass court tournament and the US Open is played on a different hard court surface.
A player must have a brilliant all round game with no weaknesses to win all four in one year. He or she must peak for four specific fortnights over a 12 month period and win seven matches each time. The competition is fierce because everyone is trying and a player’s status in the history of the sports depends on the number of majors won. Winning all four throughout a career takes some doing so Djokovic could be embarking on the greatest year of his sporting life.
Only two men have achieved the calendar year Grand Slam. Don Budge won all four major titles in 1938 and Rod Laver completed the set in 1962 and 1969. In the women’s game Maureen Connolly (1953), Margaret Court (1970) and Steffi Graf (1988) won all four in the same season and Graf won the Olympic title as well. Seven men have won the career Grand Slam and ten women have won all four majors at least once.
Djokovic has not won the French Open on clay and this is the only gap on his CV. In 2011 he held three titles but lost in the final of the French Open to Rafael Nadal. Roger Federer repeated this scenario in 2006 and 2007 but he did win the French Open in 2009. Nadal is the latest player to complete the set but Djokovic is good enough to become a member of the elite group.
The French Open is the second major of the season and is played at the end of May and beginning of June. It is the culmination of the European clay court swing but playing outdoors on hard courts at the height of the summer in Australia presents different challenges. Djokovic has the fitness and recent form to win the Australian Open for sixth time but Dimitrov represents some each value.
Serena Williams has won 21 Grand Slam tournaments, including three last year. She came up short in the semi-finals of the US Open but lost just one of 27 Grand Slam matches. She has won the Australian Open six times and won 68 of 77 matches played in the event. Williams’ longevity is reflected by the fact that she won the US open in 1999. Four years later she completed the career Grand Slam. In winning the gold medal at the London Olympics she achieved the career Golden Slam.
The younger of the Williams sisters is the obvious selection to win the Australian Open. However, at aged 34 she can’t keep producing the goods at the highest level. If she has a dip in form in Australia Halep could take advantage and win her first Grand Slam and scupper the double on the favourites to win the men’s and women’s singles. Djokovic looks unbearable and one odds-on bet worth placing.