Grand slam dreams

Weekend Herald - - Your Sporting Weekend - Ash­leigh Barty.

Un­chal­lenged in its billing as the great­est event in this part of the world, the Aus­tralian Open con­tin­ues to pro­vide a fit­ting start to the sport­ing year. First held in 1905 as the Aus­tralian Cham­pi­onships and con­tested only by ama­teurs, the Open, from 1969, cel­e­brates 51 years mark­ing the oc­ca­sion with an­other hefty in­crease in prize­money to A$62.5m of which the sin­gles win­ners each pocket $4.1m. Even first round losers in qual­i­fy­ing pick up $15,000 while first round losers in the main sin­gles draws take home $75,000. No-one, surely, would bet against the big three in the men's sin­gles. Since

2006 No­vak Djokovic (six), Roger Federer (five) and Rafael Nadal (one) have dom­i­nated with only Stan Wawrinka (2014) play­ing party-pooper. Djokovic is seeded first ahead of Nadal and Federer here. The women's sin­gles ap­pear more open. Apart from seven-time win­ner Ser­ena Wil­liams — this time seeded 16 — only Vic­to­ria Azarenka (twice) has won more than once in re­cent years. The Be­laru­sian, on the come­back trail, is now ranked 51 and un­seeded. Among those to have won in re­cent times, de­fend­ing cham­pion Caroline Woz­ni­acki is seeded third be­hind Si­mona Halep who lost last year's fi­nal and An­gelique Ker­ber, the

2016 cham­pion. Aussie fans will be hop­ing for an up­set from their best hope, 15th-seed

ASB Clas­sic, fi­nals, to­day from noon. Syd­ney

● In­ter­na­tional, fi­nals, to­day from 5pm. Aus­tralian Open, from Mon­day 1pm then daily.

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