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Australian Open Preview: Nadal, Djokovic Lead Way

Melbourne, Australia

Rafael Nadal© Getty ImagesWorld No. 1 Rafael Nadal returns to Melbourne for the first time in two years.

The 2014 Grand Slam circuit kicks off with the Australian Open. Here are the key men's storylines to watch for:

Big 4 Lead The Way

The Big 4 of Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Roger Federer have accounted for 34 of the past 35 Grand Slam tournaments since Roland Garros in 2005 when Nadal won his first of 13 Grand Slam titles. The only exception came at the ’09 US Open where Juan Martin del Potro won the title. The past eight titles in Melbourne have been won by three players: Djokovic (four times), Federer (three, four overall) and Nadal. They are the former Aussie Open winners in the draw.

Rafa Returns

World No. 1 Rafael Nadal returns to Melbourne for the first time in two years when he lost to Djokovic in the longest Grand Slam final in history, a five hour, 53 minute marathon that went 7-5 in the fifth set. The 27-year-old Spaniard is making his ninth appearance at the tournament (35-7 record), capturing the title in 2009 (d. Federer in five sets). This is the third time he’s come in as the No. 1 seed (’09, ’11-QF). He has advanced to the quarter-finals or better in his last six visits.

Last season Nadal finished No. 1 in the Emirates ATP Rankings for the third time (2008, ’10, ’13), winning 10 titles and compiling a 75-7 match record. Nadal is the only player to win a Grand Slam title for nine straight years. At the start of the tournament (13 January), Nadal will be holding the No. 1 ranking for the 117th week in his career, sixth-most in the history of the Emirates ATP Rankings (since 1973).

Career Double Slam

Nadal is trying to become the third player in men’s tennis history to win each Grand Slam singles title twice. The ’09 Australian Open champ is an eight-time Roland Garros champion and two-time winner at Wimbledon and US Open. Aussies Rod Laver and Roy Emerson are the other players to accomplish the feat. Laver won a calendar Grand Slam in 1962 and ’69 while Emerson earned six Australian Opens and two each at Roland Garros, Wimbledon and US Open.

All-Time Grand Slam Champions

Roger Federer is the all-time leader with 17 Grand Slam titles leader and he’s won at least one title in nine of the past 11 years. Nadal is at No. 3 on the list:

Player W-L
1 Roger Federer 17-7
2 Pete Sampras 14-4
3 Rafael Nadal 13-5
4 Roy Emerson 12-3
5 Bjorn Borg, Rod Laver 11-5

Novak on a Roll

Three-time reigning champion (four overall) Novak Djokovic is the No. 2 seed for the first time in a Grand Slam tournament after coming into Melbourne No. 1 the past two years. Djokovic has won 21 consecutive matches at the Australian Open since his last loss to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in five sets in the quarter-finals in 2010. He finished last season on a 24-match winning streak and his last loss came to Nadal in the US Open final.

The 26-year-old Serb is one of three players to win three (more) titles in a row at the Australian Open. Aussies Jack Crawford (1931-33) and Roy Emerson (1963-67) are the others. He has been ranked No. 1 for 101 weeks, tied with Andre Agassi for eighth-most. Coming into Melbourne he has reached the final in 10 of the past 13 Grand Slam tournaments (5-5).

Federer Grand Slam Streak

This will be Roger Federer’s record 57th consecutive Grand Slam tournament played, breaking the mark he shared with South African Wayne Ferreira. Federer’s streak began at the 2000 Australian Open and he is the only player to compete in every Grand Slam singles draw in this century. Two other players in that draw (Haas, Hewitt) are also in this year’s Australian Open. There are four other players with current streaks of 40-more consecutive Grand Slam tournaments played.

Federer Semi-final Streak

Federer has reached an Open Era record 10 consecutive semi-finals in Melbourne. The last time he failed to reach the SF in Melbourne was in 2003 when he lost in the 4R to David Nalbandian. He also holds the record for most consecutive semi-final appearances at Wimbledon (seven) and Roland Garros (five).

Slam Title Winners in the Box

While there are six active Grand Slam champions in the main draw, including three former Australian Open winners, five retired Grand Slam title winners (three Australian Open champs), will be on the sidelines as coaches. They have accounted for 22 Grand Slam titles. Here are the former Slam winners as coaches:

Retired GS Winner Coaching GS Titles (AO Titles) Highest Ranking
Ivan Lendl Andy Murray 8 (1989-90) No. 1
Boris Becker Novak Djokovic 6 (1991, '96) No. 1
Stefan Edberg Roger Federer 6 (1985, '87) No. 1
Michael Chang Kei Nishikori 1 No. 2
Goran Ivanisevic Marin Cilic 1 No. 2
Note: Petr Korda, who won ’98 Australian Open, coaches Radek Stepanek but will not be in Melbourne. Sergi Bruguera, a two-time Roland Garros winner who works with Richard Gasquet, will not be at the Australian Open.

Top 3 Dominance

In the past eight years, three Top 3 players have won the title (Djokovic four times, Federer three times and Nadal once). Federer also won the ’04 title. In the previous eight years from 1998-2005, there were six different winners. This is the first time in tournament history two four-time Australian Open champions (Djokovic, Federer) are playing in the draw together. The last player outside the Top 3 to earn the title was No. 4 Marat Safin.

Here’s a look at the players in the draw who have reached a Grand Slam final and are still looking for their biggest title:

ATP Ranking Player GS Final
No. 3 David Ferrer 2013 Roland Garros
No. 7 Tomas Berdych 2010 Wimbledon
No. 10 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 2008 Australian Open
No. 109 Marcos Baghdatis 2006 Australian Open

Hewitt, Tomic Lead Aussie Hopes

Mark Edmondson is the last Aussie to win the singles title on home soil in 1976 (d. Newcombe). Aussie No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt is making his 18th consecutive start at Melbourne Park and his best result is a runner-up in 2005 (l. to Safin). He also reached the 4R six other times, the last coming two years ago. The 32-year-old Adelaide native is coming off his seventh ATP World Tour title in his homeland in Brisbane last week (d. Federer) and 29th in his career. He jumped from No. 60 to No. 43 with the title. The last time Hewitt came into the Aust. Open in the Top 50 was in 2010 at No. 22.

Aussie No. 2 Bernard Tomic, 21, who is the second-youngest player in the Top 100, was playing in the final on Saturday in Sydney. He is making his sixth straight appearance in Melbourne (9-5 mark) and the last two years he has lost to Federer (4R in ’12, 3R in '13). Aussie No. 3 Marinko Matosevic, who was the No. 1 Aussie in 2012, is looking for his first win at Melbourne Park (0-4). He reached the quarter-finals in Brisbane and Sydney the past two weeks.

Young Stars on Rise

Here is a look at the players age 23-under in the Top 50 Emirates ATP Rankings coming into the Australian Open:

ATP Ranking Player Age
No. 11 Milos Raonic (CAN) 23
No. 21 Jerzy Janowicz (POL) 23
No. 23 Grigor Dimitrov (BUL) 22
No. 30 Vasek Pospisil (CAN) 23
Note: Ranked at No. 52, Australian Bernard Tomic (AUS) is 21 years old.

Bryans Team to Beat

Bob and Mike Bryan have finished No. 1 for nine of the past 11 years and are six-time winners of the Australian Open. Their six titles is the second-most as a team in tournament history behind Bromwich-Quist (eight). They have reached the final the past five years and eight of the past nine years (except ’08, QF). This is their 15th straight appearance at the Australian Open (57-8 record). In their first four appearances they were 4-4 but in the past 10 they have compiled a 53-4 record. Overall they have an all-time record 15 Grand Slam titles, which is the most by a team.

Grand Slam Match Leaderboard

Federer is the all-time match wins leader (260) in Grand Slam history while Nadal is tied at No. 8 with 171 wins and Djokovic is No. 12 with 158 wins. Nadal and Djokovic could move up during this year’s Australian Open. Here is a look at the Top 20 match wins leaders coming into the tournament:

Player W-L GS Titles
1 Roger Federer 260-41 17
2 Jimmy Connors 233-49 8
3 Andre Agassi 224-53 8
4 Ivan Lendl 222-49 8
5 Roy Emerson 217-48 12
6 Pete Sampras 203-38 14
7 Stefan Edberg 178-47 6
8 Rafael Nadal 171-23 13
Ken Rosewall 171-34 8
10 John McEnroe 167-38 7
11 Boris Becker 163-40 6
12 Novak Djokovic 158-30 6

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