Angelique Kerber and Andy Murray both became world number one for the first time late in 2016 and both must now cope with increased pressure. Kerber has fond memories of Melbourne, while Murray’s history is painful.Kerber’s grand slam breakthrough came at the Australian Open in 2016 and the 28-year-old German went on to win the US Open and a silver medal at the Rio Olympics last year.
That stellar 12 month period saw her rise to world number one after the US Open win replacing Serena Williams, who Kerber beat in Melbourne last year.
But her start to 2017 has been less impressive. Kerber lost to Elina Svitolina in the quarterfinals at the Brisbane International, then was beaten in her first match at the Sydney International by 26th-ranked Daria Kasatkina.
“I have to go back again to this feeling,” she said on Thursday. “Going out there and playing match by match, enjoying the feeling and being where I am right now.”
“I’m really happy to be back here in Melbourne where everything started for me last year. “Of course it’s a little bit different. The pressure is a little bit higher. Still, I’m trying to enjoy this.”
Her main threat in the tournament, which begins on Monday, is again expected to come from Williams. The 35-year-old American enters a Grand Slam without top seeding for this first time since the 2013 Australian Open and needs one more major win to move clear of Steffi Graf’s record of 22 grand slam women’s singles titles.
While Kerber has a relatively straightforward first round match against Ukrainian Lesia Tsurenko, on Monday, Williams faces a tough task against former world No.7 Belinda Bencic. Williams lost to the 19-year-old Swiss when they last met in 2015.
Murray out to end Australian angst
For Andy Murray, any confidence gained from his new status at the top of the men’s game and his new year knighthood will surely be tempered somewhat by his Australian Open record against the man he replaced as number 1.
The Scot has lost five times in the Melbourne final and four of those were to Novak Djokovic, including the last two years. After a difficult end to 2016, the Serb fired a warning shot to Murray when he beat his 29-year-old rival in the Qatar Open final earlier this month.
After that match, Murray admitted Djokovic, who has won six times in Australia, remained the biggest obstacle to ending his Australian Open hoodoo but said he remains confident in his ability to win a fourth grand slam title.
“I love this event. I have been really close a number of times – it has just never happened for me, but I don’t think that will change my mindset so much coming into the event this year,” Murray said.
“If I play my best tennis I’ll have a shot of winning. And it’s one that I’d love to win because there have been so many near misses.”
As with the women’s draw, the number 2 seding looks to have brought with it a much trickier opener. Djokovic must face Fernando Verdasco, who beat Rafael Nadal in the first round last year, while Murray faces world number 93 Ilya Marchenko on Monday. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, who have five Ausralian Open titles between them, are seeded 17 and 9 respectively.