There are eight weeks of Grand Slam tennis action each year, and the first of those eight is upon the eager tennis fans of the world.
Although it may seem like Li Na and Stan Wawrinka were hoisting their stunning major trophies in Melbourne just weeks ago, a full year has passed since then and we all await the dawn of more history-defining narratives, breathtaking matches, and the shots we’ve all come to know and love.
This week on #SaturdayNightShots, TTI will be previewing the shots that could make an impact within the many tiers of both the ATP and WTA tours. With the draws out, our contributors have made their picks as to who to look out for, and now we’ll have a look at what to look for.
ATP Seeds No. 1-8
As always, the top eight men possess the most noteworthy and well-known armory of shots that the game has to offer. From Novak Djokovic’s returns off both wings; to the extremely dissimilar yet equally greatest-ever forehands of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal; the dangerously beautiful backhand of Kei Nishikori to the unforgiving serve of Milos Raonic – there’s plenty to admire in the 2015 Australian Open’s projected quarterfinalists.
Yet among these players and shots, all eyes will be on Wawrinka and his backhand. Having shocked the world in defeating the world’s top two players and claiming his first major title last year, he’s now in the difficult position of pressure that comes with winning a major: defending it.
His backhand is his bread and butter shot; it’s brutal both cross court and down the line, and with #Stanimal’s propensity for go for broke on defense, we could see more miracle shots off that wing. However, if Wawrinka lets the pressure get to him we might not get to see as much off his blistering backhand Down Under.
ATP Seeds No. 9-16
The second tier of ATP players are always in contention, yet tend to fall to the best guys as the biggest hurdles. Last year, Grigor Dimitrov finally announced his presence on tour with a run to the quarterfinals, where he played an excellent match against Nadal that he probably could have won. Kevin Anderson and Roberto Bautista-Agut made it to the second week last year as well, yet fell to more experienced foes.
It’ll be easy to spot Ernests Gulbis’ wonky forehand this week, but look out even more for his extremely potent backhand. While his enormous pelican-like preparation for his forehand is as hilarious as it is difficult to execute on non-clay courts, the backhand is Gulbis’ anchor and can cause damage when the Latvian is in the right frame of mind. Will his explosive game show up this fortnight or will he crash out in the first round to young home favorite Thanasi Kokkinakis?
ATP Seeds No. 17-32
Packed in the bottom of the seedings are consistent ATP 250 title winners, but players that have lacked consistency at the bigger stages of the season. Known for the occasional upset over the top guys are players like Lukas Rosol, Martin Klizan and Alexandr Dolgopolov (who beat a red-hot Robin Soderling back in 2011).
Most exciting, however, is Gael Monfils. After a slightly more consistent year in 2014, Monfils is at his highest seeding since the Australian Open three years ago. He made a pair of quarterfinals in the last season on the back of his outrageous defensive shot-making.
He could make another deep run here on raw talent, and his backhand lobs and forehand tweeners will probably play a role in whatever his result may be this week – early exit included.
WTA Seeds No. 1-8
The WTA’s top seeds have a different kind of narrative interest coming into this year’s Australian Open. Eugenie Bouchard will be looking to hone her backhand in an attempt to defend last year’s results that are anchoring her ranking, while questions of Caroline Wozniacki’s left wrist may linger despite her insistence that it isn’t bothering her.
The greatest questions perhaps surround World No. 1 Serena Williams, who’s coming in off the back of disappointing performances at the Hopman Cup – as well as a disappointing 2014 by her lofty standards.
Williams’ serve, arguably the greatest shot in the entire women’s game, was extremely suspect in the competitive exhibition event in Perth – although the stakes weren’t nearly as high. The American plays her best when she competes for high stakes against high-ranked players, so look for her serve to find its lethal rhythm later on in the fortnight…
If she can make it there.
WTA Seeds No. 9-16
Quite a few interesting players lurk in these seedings, from the omnipresent Angelique Kerber to the always-almost-there Lucie Safarova. Both lefties have registered big wins (or have nearly registered big wins – sorry, Lucie) and can push the top women on big stages. The rest of this tier has struggled to start the year, but have earned their high rankings on consistent 2014 results.
This one is a toss up, but have a look out for recent Top 10 debutante Ekaterina Makarova. Jelena Jankovic’s backhand might do some damage, although her fitness is in question; Makarova, however, is a proven BourneGOAT. (She has a knack for succeeding in cities with the –bourne suffix.) Her brutal lefty shots can cause chaos for opponents. Her cross-court backhands and shots on the run are exceptional. She appears to change direction with ease.
Is another deep run at a place called the cards for the Russian?
WTA Seeds No. 17-32
A diverse roster of players makes up the latter seedings of this year’s Australian Open. Massive hitters Venus Williams, Karolina Pliskova, and Garbiñe Muguruza could cause some early upsets, and crafty counterpunchers Alizé Cornet, Carla Suarez Navarro and Elina Svitolina may well outmaneuver some opponents.
The pressure is highest for Samantha Stosur, but surely the bar must be set quite low in her own mind after years of disappointment at her home major. The former US Open champion is perhaps the greatest example of tennis being a game played between the ears; she has all the weapons and athletic gifts to beat the best, but has recently struggled to pull them together. Her forehand remains one of the best on the tour – when she’s not shanking it – so watch for her deadly spin to do a bit of damage this week: even if it’s for just one match.
WTA Unseeded (and Looming)
Everyone wanted to know where Victoria Azarenka was going to end up in the women’s draw. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t secretly hoping for a thrilling first round match against Sharapova or Williams – and I wasn’t too far off the mark. Azarenka plays Sloane Stephens in the first round (a semifinal just two short years – or a lifetime – ago) with potential to meet friend, and pseudo-favorite for this year’s title, Wozniacki in round two.
Despite a disappointing early exit in Brisbane, Azarenka appears fit and motivated – and if that’s the case, the top-heavy section of the draw she was placed in should fear her exceptional returning. The Belarusian is capable of returning hard and deep into the court off of both wings. She may not go for outright winners, but her ability to apply pressure to even the best serves had her labeled as one of the best returners in the game. Will she be able to reaffirm that title this fortnight?
What shot is essential for your favorite player to succeed? Sound off in the comments!