DJOKOVIC, SERENA LEAD OLD GUARD INTO NEW DECADE
Melbourne, Australia - Old stagers Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams will aim to keep the younger generation of players waiting in the wings as Grand Slam tennis enters a new decade at the Australian Open on Monday.
After recent bushfire smog largely cleared in Melbourne, the view is all too familiar with Djokovic and Serena, who is seeking a record-equalling 24th Major title, installed as the bookies' favourites.
Top seed Rafael Nadal, 33, is celebrating becoming world No 1 in a third decade while Roger Federer, 38, is trying to defy the ageing process and stay ahead of his rivals with a 21st Grand Slam win. The start of 2020 is not dissimilar to 2010, when Federer and Nadal shared the four Grand Slam titles and Serena won in Melbourne and Wimbledon.
Ten years later, the men's Big Three - who have won all but two Australian Open titles since 2004 - occupy the top three rankings, and Serena is one step away from Margaret Court's record for Grand Slam victories.
The men's dominance is stark: since Federer won his first Grand Slam title in 2003, only five Major finals have not featured one of the Swiss, Nadal or Djokovic. Several challengers have come and gone but there is increasing hope for the men's up-andcomers, while nine women have won Grand Slam titles since Serena, 38, claimed her 23rd in Melbourne in 2017.
‘They’re very close’
While Djokovic and Nadal split last year's Grand Slams, Dominic Thiem, Daniil Medvedev and Fabio Fognini won their first Masters trophies and Stefanos Tsitsipas, 21, became the youngest ATP Finals champion in 18 years.
"They're very close. I don't think that's miles, miles away maybe as it was some years ago," Djokovic of the NextGen winning a Major title.
"I think they are definitely hungry. They're challenging. They're knocking on the door."
The clash between old and new will be epitomised in the first round on Monday, when Venus Williams, who turns 40 this year, plays 15 year old rising star Coco Gauff - who wasn't even born when her fellow American lifted her first Grand Slam trophies in 2000.
Japan's Naomi Osaka, 22, is defending a title for the second Grand Slam in a row after her repeat bid at last year's US Open fell flat in the fourth round.
World No 1 Ashleigh Barty, fresh from winning the Adelaide International on Saturday, carries Australian hopes of seeing the first home-grown women's winner since 1978.
"Obviously it's the perfect preparation. But regardless of whether I won the title or not last week, I feel like I'm well-prepared," Barty
Melbourne Park is a home away from home for the Serbian world No 2 who has won seven of the last 12 Australian Opens since making his Grand Slam breakthrough on its hardcourts way back in 2008. Djokovic, 32, who has amassed 16 Major tournament wins, thrashed his old sparring partner Rafael Nadal in last year's final to kick off another phenomenal year where he won his fifth Wimbledon title and collected five tournament victories to take his career tally to 77.
Tennis royalty Federer is rapidly becoming the oldest swinger in town but even at 38, he still has the tools to add to his all-time record of 20 Grand Slam titles. Retirement talk is never far away at his age but there are few signs he plans to call a halt this year, when Federer will look to fill the only gap in his trophy cabinet - Olympic singles gold. Like Djokovic, he has a liking for Melbourne Park, where he has won six titles, most recently in 2018.
Will this be the moment when the American great finally makes it a 24th Grand Slam title? The 38 year old Serena, now a mother, has been stuck on 23 Major triumphs since
winning the Australian Open in 2017 when she beat her sister Venus. Now in her fourth decade on the WTA Tour, Serena started the season well when she won in Auckland - her 73rd tour victory and first since the 2017 Australian Open.
She hit the highs and the lows in 2019. Osaka, 22, triumphed at last year's Australian Open for her second Grand Slam title but the Japanese then endured a slump, exiting early at the Wimbledon and the US Open. Last month she hired Belgian Wim Fissette as her coach - her fourth in less than a year.
Australia's world No 1 will enjoy strong backing from the home crowd, but whether she thrives or shrinks in the spotlight will be key to her chances. She won her maiden Grand Slam at the French Open in 2019. Barty, 23, became No 1 in June and has stayed there ever since.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC ROGER FEDERER