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Who will wear the champions' crown at the Australian Open?

Last updated on: January 13, 2017 12:28 IST

Will it be Djoko or Sir Andy?
Will it be Serena?
Or Simona? Or Svetlana?

The tennis season will begin in full swing with the Australian Open commencing on Monday, January 16.

The first Grand Slam of the year is a preview of what to expect, more or less, from the rest of the season -- which player will dominate the circuit, who could upset the apple cart, new players to watch out for.

Last year, Serbian World No 2 Novak Djokovic joined Roy Emerson as the most successful men's champion at the Australian Open when he beat Andy Murray for his sixth title at Melbourne Park.

In the women's competition Serena Williams was upset by German Angelique Kerber.

With Rafael Nadal returning from his injury lay-off and Svetlana Kuznetsova vying for her third Slam, this tournament bodes well for tennis lovers at Melbourne Park.

As the players warm up before the competition, Rediff.com introduces you to the players who could well be contenders for the 2017 Australian Open title.

Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic reacts after winning a point

IMAGE: Novak Djokovic in action. Photograph: A K BijuRaj/Getty Images

Ever since he won his maiden Grand Slam title at the Australia Open in 2008, Novak Djokovic has lost just three times at Melbourne Park.

Each time he has made the final, he has won the tournament.

Djokovic is not the top seed for the first time since 2014, but he is for sure a top contender for the title.

His victory over current World No 1 Andy Murray in a scintillating final in Doha at the weekend will be a big boost for Djoko.

Andy Murray

Andy Murray

IMAGE: Andy Murray serves during a practice session ahead of the 2017 Australian Open. Photograph: Michael Dodge/Getty Images

Andy Murray had a dream run in 2016 -- he won the Wimbledon title, defended his Olympic gold medal and finished the year as World No 1 ahead of Djokovic.

Murray will be keen to end his jinx at the Australian Open, having lost in the final five times, four of them to Djokovic.

The Scot was knighted in Britain's New Year Honours list and apparently tennis officials have been mulling what to call him, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Channel Seven, the SMH said, would call the three-time Grand Slam champion Sir Andy when he plays his first match in Australia since being honoured by the Queen.

'Not only is he tennis royalty, he's now a Knight Bachelor, so yes, of course, we will be showing him the respect he deserves and refer to him as Sir Andy Murray,' Channel Seven's head of sport Saul Shtein said.

Stan Wawrinka

Wawrinka hits a backhand during a practice session ahead of the 2017 Australian Open

IMAGE: Stan Wawrinka hits a backhand during a practice session ahead of the Australian Open. Photograph: Michael Dodge/Getty Images

Swiss Stan Wawrinka is a hot contender for the Australian Open title after he defeated hot favourite Djokovic in the US Open final.

World No 4 Wawrinka's first-ever Grand Slam victory was achieved at the Australian Open when he stunned spectators by beating Rafael Nadal in the 2014 final.

The following year, he got the better of Djokovic in the French Open final for his second Grand Slam.

Though he lost in the semi-finals at the Brisbane International last week where he struggled with a leg injury, Wawrinka's chances of winning another Slam can't be ruled out.

Milos Raonic

Milos Raonic serves

IMAGE: Milos Raonic serves. Photograph: Julian Finney/Getty Images

The big-serving Canadian heads into the Australian Open seeded a career-best third and will aim to go a step or two further from his semi-final appearance last year.

Raonic lost a thrilling five-set match against Murray last year, going down despite taking a two sets to one lead.

He has looked in good form heading into the Australian Open, making it to the semi-finals in Abu Dhabi and Brisbane.

If he gets his serve going, it would be difficult to stop Raonic from winning his first Grand Slam.

Kei Nishikori

Kei Nishikori plays a forehand

IMAGE: Kei Nishikori plays a forehand return. Photograph: Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images

The Japanese World No 5 had a successful 2016 -- he won an ATP Tour title, an Olympic medal and recorded a career-high 58 wins.

The first Asian player to make a men's Grand Slam final he finished runner-up at the 2014 US Open.

Nishikori beat Nadal to win bronze at the Rio Olympics and then reached the US Open semi-final, losing to eventual champion Wawrinka.

If he can bring in consistency in his game, he could go the distance in Melbourne.

Serena Williams

Serena Williams returns a shot during the women's singles semi-finals on Day 11 of the 2016 US Open

IMAGE: Serena Williams during the women's singles semi-final at the 2016 US Open. Photograph: Elsa/Getty Images

Chasing a historic 23rd Grand Slam title, Serena will look to get into gear for the first Slam of the year.

She may have slipped to World No 2 and lost in the second round at the Auckland Classic last week, but ruling her out is plain stupid.

Serena embodies class and what the world knows as being the best.

It is only she -- and her mental framework on those rare, low, days -- that can bring her downfall against the most unfancied opponents.

Losing the US Open semi-final and failing to breach that 22 Slam barrier will act as motivation for Serena who will vie to be the best there ever has been.

Simona Halep

Simona Halep in action

IMAGE: Simona Halep in action. Photograph: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports/Reuters

The petit Romanian has been twice quarter-finalist at the first Grand Slam of the Year.

The World No 4 went out of the competition in the opening round last year.

Halep, finalist at the 2016 WTA Tour Finals, hasn't had the best start to the year, having lost in the second round of the WTA Shenzhen Open.

A solid baseliner, she reached the knock-out stages of most WTA events last year and also won three titles.

She would hope to do justice to her talent and win the big points when it counts at the Australian Open.

Svetlana Kuznetsova

Svetlana Kuznetsova  

IMAGE: Svetlana Kuznetsova. Photograph: Edgar Su/Reuters

The big-muscled Russian will be determined to put her demons to rest when she chases her first win at the Australian Open.

In a career plagued with inconsistency, Kuznetsova, who has seen a steady revival in her career post her time-out due to injury, will be an imposing presence in Melbourne.

A two-time Grand Slam champion, she had a decent 2016. 2017 has already given her a reality check -- reaching the quarters of the Brisbane International and crashing out of the Sydney International in the pre-quarters.

Can she have a shot at the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup?

Johanna Konta

Great Britain's Johanna Konta

IMAGE: Johanna Konta. Photograph: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

We put the British No 1 on the list because she has the potential to shock the top five.

Her rise has been meteoric.

A little under two years ago, she was ranked 146th in the world, and now she is seeded 9th at the first Slam of the year.

Training under coach Esteban Carril has seen her game improve and improve so much that she made it to the fourth round at the US Open in 2015 and ended the year inside the top 50.

Last season the world witnessed a more consistent player as the World No 9 went on to beat about 7 top 10 players and that saw a surge in her rankings.

Sydney-born Konta, a semi-finalist at the Australian Open last year, may well begin the year with a triumph Down Under.

Carla Suarez Navarro

Carla Suarez Navarro in action

IMAGE: Carla Suarez Navarro. Photograph: Julian Finney/Getty Images

Seeded 10th at the Australian Open, Navarro, a quarter-finalist at last year's Australian Open, is one to watch out for.

She has a giant slayer reputation and has gone up the rankings over the last eight years or so.

Strong on clay, she is no less dominant on other surfaces -- having reached the singles quarter-finals in Paris, at the Australian Open and the US Open.

Known for her one-handed backhand, she will look to pocket the Australian crown this year.

Rediff Sports Desk
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