Sunday, January 17, 2016

Players to watch in the Australian Open

   The Australian Open begins today at 4 p.m. PST on ESPN2 and continues through Jan. 31. Here are players to watch (seedings in parentheses):
Novak Djokovic, shown en route to the title at Indian Wells
last year, has won four of the last five Australian Opens.
Photo by Paul Bauman
   Novak Djokovic (1) -- Has won four of last five Australian Opens, including last year, and five overall. Half of his Grand Slam titles have come in Melbourne. Northern California connection: None. 
   Andy Murray (2) -- Two-time Grand Slam singles champion is 0-4 in Australian Open finals. Awaits birth of first child next monthNorCal connection: Won first of his 35 tour-level singles titles (fourth among active players) in now-defunct SAP Open in San Jose at 18 in 2006 and repeated in 2007. Also won Aptos Challenger in 2005.
   Roger Federer (3) -- Won last of his four Australian Open titles six years ago. Hasn't won Grand Slam title since 2012 Wimbledon. Will turn 35 in August. NorCal connection: None.
   Stan Wawrinka (4) -- Captured first of his two Grand Slam singles titles in 2014 Australian Open. NorCal connection: None.
   Rafael Nadal (5) -- Australian Open champion in 2009, Spaniard lost to Djokovic 6-1, 6-2 in last week's Doha final. NorCal connection: None.
   Kei Nishikori (7) -- Two-time Australian Open quarterfinalist is coming off first-round loss to Benoit Paire of France in U.S. Open after reaching 2014 final at Flushing Meadows. Faces German veteran Philipp Kohlschreiber, highest-ranked unseeded player at No. 34, in first round. NorCal connection: Lost in second round of SAP Open in all three appearances (2008, 2009, 2011). Brad Gilbert of San Rafael coached Nishikori in 2011.
   Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (9) -- Will meet Marcos Baghdatis, 2014 Aptos Challenger champion, in first-round matchup of 30-year-old former Australian Open runners-up. NorCal connection: None.
   Milos Raonic (13) -- Hard-serving Canadian beat Federer 6-4, 6-4 in last week's Brisbane final. NorCal connection: Never lost a set in 13 career matches in SAP Open, winning the last three titles (2011-13) before tournament was discontinued.
   Nick Kyrgios (29) -- Mercurial Australian reached quarterfinals of home Slam last year at 19. Teamed with Daria Gavrilova, who won doubles title in 2014 Sacramento Challenger with fellow Aussie Storm Sanders, to give Australia its first Hopman Cup title since 1999 last week in Perth. NorCal connection: Reached semifinals of 2013 Sacramento Challenger at 18 despite soreness in right (playing) arm.
Serena Williams seeks her 22nd Grand Slam singles title, which would
tie her with Steffi Graf for second all-time. 2014 photo by Paul Bauman
   Serena Williams (1) -- Seeks 22nd Grand Slam singles title, which would tie her with Steffi Graf for second place on all-time list behind Margaret Court (24), and seventh Australian Open crown. Withdrew during Hopman Cup in Perth last week because of inflammation in left knee but says it's fine. NorCal connection: Won Bank of the West Classic at Stanford in 2011, 2012 and 2014.
   Simona Halep (2) -- Australian Open quarterfinalist for past two years. Withdrew from Brisbane last week with left Achilles' inflammation, then advanced to Sydney semifinals before losing to eventual champion Svetlana Kuznetsova in three sets. NorCal connection: Lost in first round of 2011 Bank of the West Classic in only appearance at Stanford.
   Garbine Muguruza (3) -- Advanced to first Grand Slam final last year, losing to Williams at Wimbledon. Retired from only match of 2016 last week in Brisbane with plantar fasciitis. NorCal connection: Won doubles title in 2014 Bank of the West Classic with fellow Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro.
   Agnieszka Radwanska (4) -- Australian Open semifinalist in 2014 and four-time quarterfinalist won Shenzhen last week but withdrew from Sydney this week with left leg injury. NorCal connection: Runner-up to Dominika Cibulkova in 2013 Bank of the West Classic.
  Maria Sharapova (5) -- Australian Open champion in 2008 and three-time runner-up, including last year, has yet to play a match in 2016. Right-hander withdrew from Brisbane with left forearm injury. Could face Williams, against whom she is 2-18 with 17 straight losses, in quarterfinals. NorCal connection: Runner-up to Victoria Azarenka in 2010 Bank of the West Classic.
   Petra Kvitova (6) -- Two-time Wimbledon champion has not advanced past third round of Australian Open since reaching 2012 semifinals. Retired from first-round match in Shenzhen last week with virus and withdrew from Sydney for same reason. NorCal connection: None.
   Venus Williams (8) -- Australian Open runner-up in 2003 and quarterfinalist last year, now 35, has tough first-round matchup against Johanna Konta of Great Britain. Konta, 24-year-old Sydney native, reached fourth round of U.S. Open last year (beating top-20 players Muguruza and Andrea Petkovic) as qualifier . NorCal connection: Seven-time Bank of the West finalist, winning in 2000 and 2002 and losing in 1998, 1999, 2004, 2005 and 2009. Made pro debut in tournament at 14 in 1994, when it was held in Oakland.
   Victoria Azarenka (14) -- Ironically, might be healthiest contender after battling injuries for past two years. Two-time Australian Open champion (2012 and 2013) won Brisbane last week without losing more than three games in a set, but top three seeds (No. 1 Halep, No. 2 Muguruza and No. 3 Sharapova) either withdrew or retired. NorCal connection: Won Bank of the West Classic in 2010.
   Madison Keys (15) -- Australian Open semifinalist last year at 19, powerful right-hander -- surprise -- withdrew from Sydney this week with left forearm injury. NorCal connection: Has lost in second round of Bank of the West Classic in both appearances there (2013 and 2015).

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