Melbourne - Even before a single serve has been tossed up on court, the Australian Open sports a fresh look.
While the tournament, contested at Melbourne Park is traditionally the season’s tennis opener, this year’s event is set to usher in a new era. That is, the usual suspects are not at the top.
The two top seeds, Andy Murray and Angelique Kerber, world number one in the men’s and women’s rankings, are quite new in their positions. The pair only climbed to the top towards the end of last year.
So, the scene is set for a new era in tennis.
However, Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic, who have dropped to second slots in the world rankings, are set to have a lot of say.
The pair come into this contest as both seeded second as well.
It will be interesting to see how the year pans out, following the Williams/Djokovic dominance of the courts in the past and thus of the rankings.
Murray, who for quite some time lived under Djokovic and the likes of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, finally came of age last year and realised his true potential.
With three grand slam titles (two Wimbledon’s and one US Open) under his belt, the Briton should go all out to add to his 44 career titles.
But he will have to emerge from an impressive field that boasts the likes of Canadian Milos Raonic, Swiss Stan Wawrinka, the ever-improving Kei Nishikori of Japan, a much improved and matured Frenchman Gaël Monfils and lanky Croatian Marin Cilic.
Despite coming in at a usual low seeding of Number 9, Rafa might still have a lot of sway as to where the first grand slam title of 2017 ends up.
Neither does the women’s side look so shabby.
Besides Williams, the likes of Agnieszka Radwanska (Poland), Simona Halep (Romania), Garbiñe Muguruza (Spain) and Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova – all seeded in the Top 10 – are capable of upsetting the apple cart and preventing Kerber from winning another title.
The 14% increase in the total prize money, to £29.4 million (R485.8 million) – which will see each singles champion receive R36.6m - should act as an added incentive.
So from Monday until Sunday, January 29, tennis connoisseurs will be enjoying the screeching sound of tennis shoes on the blue plexicushion surface that replaced the rebound ace in 2008.
While the weather can be extremely hot in Melbourne during the last fortnight of January, the retractable roofs of the three primary courts – the Rod Laver Arena, Hisense Arena and the Margaret Court Arena – make play possible under any circumstances.
A tradition that started in 1905 with the first Australian Open, continues with the 105th edition of the top event on Monday.