Women’s Champion: Serena Williams
She’s had spotty history in Melbourne since her 2010 championship — in 2012, she was upset by unseeded Ekaterina Makarova followed by a stunning semifinal loss to Sloane Stephens. The only obstacle in the American’s way is herself. Barring another bizarre ankle injury, Williams should hoist her 18th Grand Slam championship, tying Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert.
Men’s Champion: Novak Djokovic
He’s the three-time defending champion, loves the slow courts of Melbourne Park and finished the year on a 24-match winning streak. There’s just something about the “Happy Slam” that brings out Djokovic’s A-game.
Women’s Sleeper: Jelena Jankovic
The Serb’s resurgence in 2013 was one of the highlights of the season. Jankovic is once again connecting on her trademark backhand down the line and seems to be interested in tennis again. She’s in Sharapova’s quarter, but always has a knack for the big matches.
Men’s Sleeper: Stanislas Wawrinka
Oftentimes left in the shadow of Roger Federer, Stanislas Wawrinka embodies a dangerous opponent for all 127 players in the draw. Coming off a surprising semifinal appearance at the U.S. Open, the Swiss comes into Melbourne with momentum and confidence. He pushed defending champion Novak Djokovic to the edge last year at the Open, and will be a force again this fortnight.
Women’s Toughest Road: Venus Williams
Venus Williams has seen her fair share of crushing defeats since being diagnosed with Sjogren’s syndrome in 2011. The mind is willing, but the question always lies with the body. Williams has a tough opener against two-time quarterfinalist and talented lefty Ekaterina Makarova. Wimbledon finalist Sabine Lisicki, who beat the American in Beijing, is slated for the third round before a clash against last year’s Australian Open runner-up Li Na.
Men’s Toughest Road: Rafael Nadal
His draw is littered with dangerous players. Nadal will open with Sydney runner-up Bernard Tomic before a potential third round clash with the former World No. 7 Gael Monfils. A resurgent Lleyton Hewitt, who beat Federer in the Brisbane final last week, also looms in the fourth round. I picked Nadal to reach the final, but it certainly won’t be easy.