Sports

Djokovic and Serena for Australian Open titles, says Jason de la Pena

If world No. 1s implode, look out for Nadal and Muguruza

By JASON DE LA PENA

Two winners and two possible winners are what I'm going to suggest ahead of the FOX Sports' coverage of the first tennis Grand Slam of 2016 - the Australian Open - starting on Monday.

You'd be hard pressed to rule out the runaway world No. 1 Novak Djokovic.

The gap between him and world No. 3 Andy Murray in the ATP rankings is such that he would have to have a shockingly terrible season not to finish as world No. 1 come Dec 31.

The super Serb currently has 16,585 ranking points versus Murray's 8,945 - almost double!

With Murray promising to pull out of the tournament should wife Kim go into premature labour with the birth of their first child, that could stretch the gap even further.

Most importantly for me, Djokovic has also had a lengthy stay away from the tennis court during the short off-season.

He'll be fresh both mentally and physically, while others have been plying their trade in last month's IPTL and more recently on the Middle Eastern swing.

He would have had some quality time with his son Stefan and wife Jelena and, as I put it to him at the French Open last year, his becoming a parent has made him far more dangerous.

FAMILY MAN

He has perspective in his life now. Tennis is not the "be all and end all".

Djokovic will win his 14th Grand Slam title and move further into the annals of the game's greats.

I will also be bold enough to say that he will finally secure the French Open title across May and June this year.

He is really targeting that one. It's eluded him the last two years - not in 2016 though.

A possible Australian Open champion in the event Djokovic implodes on the hardcourts of Melbourne would be Rafael Nadal.

I had the pleasure of interviewing the 2009 champion for FOX Sports Asia during his highly popular IPTL debut in Manila late last year.

He's fit, has his whipped forehand firing and most definitely has got his confidence back.

The look he had when I asked him what message he has for those who say that he will not add another Slam to his 14, well, was one of steel and fire.

That twinkle in his eye is back and that's really good for the game.

His passion for tennis is palpable and he already has silverware in his trophy cabinet, starting 2016 off by winning the Mubadala World Tennis Championship title by defeating Milos Raonic in straight sets in Abu Dhabi.

While talking to him in Manila, I got the distinct feeling that he has some unfinished business to attend to.

More Slam wins are on the menu for the Manacor native.

So that's the men taken care of.

What of the ladies? Well, injuries to Maria Sharapova, Simona Halep and continued illness to Petra Kvitova are not helping the WTA right now.

Meanwhile, Australian Open organisers must be getting nervous at the participation or not of those three and also at Serena's withdrawal from the early stages of the Hopman Cup in Perth.

INJURY SCARE

Inflammation to the American's right knee will seriously hamper her preparations for the first Slam.

Remember that it's a long season and the Rio Olympic Games will be part of all players' diaries this year.

My point is, one rather pulls out of the first Slam and stay fit for the rest of this important season than risk a long time on the sidelines.

Mind you, players might also decide to play or get through the Australian Open and then rest and recuperate in between Melbourne and the second Slam, Roland Garros in Paris.

February and March are relatively quiet months for the women.

There are premier events in St Petersburg, Dubai and Doha next month before Indian Wells and Miami in March.

Don't be fooled though - the Rio Olympics are high on the agenda this season.

If Serena is fit, then it is a certainty in my mind that she will win a seventh singles title in Melbourne.

It's up to her really. If Serena wants it, she'll win it.

The chase is on for her and coach Patrick Mouratoglou to equal Steffi Graf's 22 Grand Slam titles and move closer to Margaret Court's Open era record of 24.

That knee injury in Perth though - that's an issue because speed is an important weapon in her arsenal.

Keep your fingers crossed for Serena's participation in Melbourne.

Should Serena not be fit to last the distance?

Well, and having watched her play last year at Wimbledon where she gave a really good account of herself on the biggest of stages, the final - I would ask you to keep a keen eye on Garbine Muguruza.

What a talent. It seems obvious to say that after she reached the Wimbledon final but, my word, she hits a ball with wallop.

A huge forehand and steely determination have seen the 22-year-old Spaniard slip seamlessly into No. 3 in the world.

Her best in Australia has been fourth round in the last two years.

She'll go deep this year and might well go all the way.

Remember as well that she has beaten Serena before. At the 2014 French Open, she dealt with the Queen of Tennis so that mental scarring of her Wimbledon final loss to the world 
No. 1 can easily be overcome.

Muguruza to win it, if Serena decides otherwise.


"Yeah, Novak, it’s just a joke now. It’s amazing what he’s doing. That’s the reason why he’s the best player in the world. There is a reason why Novak is the best: no weaknesses. I can’t think of any. He deserves to be there."

— Australian player Bernard Tomic on Novak Djokovic


* Jason de la Pena is FOX Sports Asia's resident tennis commentator, having seen the world's best at all the major tournaments. He is one of the presenters for FOX Sports' prestigious flagship sports news programme, FOX Sports Central, which provides the latest from the world of sports for viewers across Asia. He has an enviable journalism pedigree from broadcasting stints in Moscow, Paris, Johannesburg, London and now Singapore - which makes him one of the most authoritative voices in FOX Sports' stable of presenters in addition to being a former world-class cricketer. Catch the Australian Open day and night sessions on FOX Sports Asia network.

australian opennovak djokovicserena williams