Five things to expect at the Australian Open 

 - Simon Cambers

The draw for the first grand slam of 2020 has thrown up some intriguing early matches and some big talking points.

Nadal Djokovic Australian Open 2019Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Another Djokovic-Nadal final is more likely than possible

Twelve months ago, Djokovic crushed Nadal to win his seventh Australian Open title and after the way he has started the year, few would bet against him winning his eighth.

Djokovic is the title favourite and has already beaten Nadal in 2020, at the ATP Cup, but Nadal has the added incentive of knowing that a second Australian Open win would put him level with Roger Federer on 20 grand slams.

Djokovic and Nadal split the four grand slam events in 2019 and though Djokovic has won 19 straight sets against the Spaniard on hard courts, the two men are, once more, the ones to beat, even though the likes of Roger Federer, even at the age of 38, may well have a say in that.

Serena Williams Naomi Osaka US Open 2018Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Is this the time Serena Williams will win slam No 24?

It’s now three years since Williams won the most recent of her 23 grand slam titles. Having taken a year off after the birth of her first daughter, Serena has lost at the final hurdle four times in slams and at the age of 38, time is running out if she is to match, and then pass Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24, a record which spread across the amateur and professional eras.

But as 2020 begins, Williams looks fitter, more motivated and has already won her first title as a mother, in Auckland, and goes into the Australian Open full of confidence. A quarter-final against the defending champion Naomi Osaka is a mouth-watering prospect and the way she’s been looking so far this year, another Australian Open title is distinctly possible.

Handshake between Venus Williams and Cori Gauff at Wimbledon 2019©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Get set for an early blockbuster

It was at Wimbledon last summer where Coco Gauff announced herself on the world stage as she upset Venus Williams in round one and went on to reach the last 16 at the tender age of 15. Seven months on and the pair have been drawn together again in the first round in Melbourne and this time, Gauff will probably be the favourite, having firmly established herself in the women’s game.

Unafraid of big names and absolutely made for the big occasions, Gauff is fearless, while Venus, who is into her 40th year, has not played yet this year and pulled out of Brisbane with an unexplained injury. It will surely be on a big court and that will suit Gauff down to the ground.

Ashleigh Barty trophy shoot© Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Can Ash Barty handle the pressure?

No Australian man or woman has won the singles title in Melbourne since Mark Edmondson and Chris O’Neil did the double in 1978. The pressure of trying to win a home slam inspires some and causes other to freeze but Barty’s career is still young and she has the bonus of having already won a grand slam title, at Roland Garros last summer.

Twelve months ago, she was only denied by a brilliant performance from Petra Kvitova in the quarter-finals and she’s looked in good nick in Adelaide this week. So far, she’s handled pressure well in her time on Tour, and though there are plenty of other contenders for the title, all capable of winning it, there would certainly be no popular champion should she manage to get over the line.

Conditions will play their part

The weather is always a factor at the Australian Open, with the excessive heat usually the biggest thing players have to contend with. But this year’s horrific fires across Australia, the smoke from which drifted into Melbourne especially in qualifying week, has left many wondering if it will have a lingering effect in the tournament proper.

The biggest stars won’t be affected as they will play most of their matches on the showcourts, with the option of having the roof closed if the air quality is below healthy standards. But for others, it may yet be a factor.

The lower-ranked players usually get the rough end of the stick, of course, when it comes to the weather, and the big names are protected because they draw in the crowds. With luck, the heat will stay away and the players can produce their best, without undue risk of illness or injury.