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The 2017 Australian Open will be bigger and better than ever before as the vibrant, cosmopolitan city of Melbourne plays host to the best in the men’s and women’s game once more for a fortnight of breathless tennis action.
Defending champions Novak Djokovic and Angelique Kerber will head the field – but each could be facing a fight not just to retain their title in Melbourne, but their place at the top of the rankings. Djokovic, who could become the outright holder of the record for most Australian Open men’s singles titles if he wins a seventh in 2017 – he is currently tied with Australian great Roy Emerson on six – has seen Andy Murray, now firmly established as world no. 2, closing the gap in the rankings on him in the closing stages of 2016. Five times a runner-up at the Australian Open, including four times to Djokovic, could Murray finally break into the winners’ circle and take the no. 1 ranking as well as the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup?
Kerber celebrates victory at the 2016 Australian Open (Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)
Kerber’s maiden Grand Slam title at the 2016 Australian Open saw her defeat Serena Williams in the final and begin a breakthrough season which would see her claim both the US Open title and the no. 1 ranking so long held by Serena. But now she has to deal with the knowledge that every other woman in the Australian Open field is gunning for her title – and with the return to action of Serena herself. The 2017 Australian Open will see Serena return to action for the first time since the US Open: Already possessed of six Melbourne titles, more than any other woman in the Open Era, Williams is looking for the 23rd Grand Slam crown of her glittering career, which would see her surpass Steffi Graf’s record. Could she do it in Melbourne in 2017?
The 2017 Australian Open will be about more than Djokovic, Murray, Kerber and Serena, though. Prominent among its fascinating storylines will be the return to action of the iconic Roger Federer, who at 35 years old finally seems to be showing signs of mortality as he missed over half the 2016 season due to injury. It seems like everyone in the game wants Federer to turn the clock back and win an eighteenth Grand Slam title, and time is running out: Could he shock everyone and collect a fifth Australian Open crown in 2017?
Then there’s bad boy Nick Kyrgios, currently suspended by the ATP and enjoying a troubled relationship with his home fans – but all will be forgiven if he becomes the first Australian Open male singles champion since Mark Edmonson in 1967. And what of the rising stars of the women’s game – Madison Keys, Karolina Pliskova and more – could one of them follow in Kerber’s footsteps and claim their maiden Grand Slam title in Melbourne when the 2017 Australian Open begins on Monday 16 January?
Known as the ‘Happy Slam’, the Australian Open has a history stretching back to 1905. It was then known as the Australasian Championships and then the Australian Championships, before becoming the Australian Open in 1969. The tournament has been staged in five Australian and two New Zealand cities before finding its current home in Melbourne in 1972, when it was played at the Kooyong Lawn Tennis Club before moving to Melbourne Park in 1988. This was when the event switched from grass to its current surface of hard courts.
Roger Federer will return to action at the 2017 Australian Open (Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
Melbourne Park's main stadium is the Rod Laver Arena, seating nearly 15,000 people and equipped with a retractable roof. The Margaret Court and Hisense Arenas round out the major stages at the tournament.
Almost every legend of tennis, past and present, has lifted either the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup or the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Trophy at the Australian Open. Until recently, Roy Emerson held the record for most men’s titles, winning his first of six titles in 1961 before dominating the tournament with five consecutive titles between 1963 and 1967, but he was joined in 2016 by Novak Djokovic when he claimed his sixth title (2008, 2011-13, 2015-16). Djokovic already held the record for most consecutive titles won in the Open Era and could become the all-time most successful male singles player at the Australian Open if he triumphs once more in 2017. Andre Agassi and Roger Federer follow Emerson and Djokovic with four Australian Open titles each.
On the women's side, Margaret Court won the Australian Open an incredible 11 times, including four times in the Open Era, finishing in 1973. 21-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams, with her six Australian Open titles (2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2015), holds the record for most women’s titles in the Open Era, while Margaret Court (1969, 1970, 1971), Evonne Goolagong Crawley (1974, 1975, 1976), Steffi Graf (1988, 1989, 1990), Monica Seles (1991, 1992, 1993) and Martina Hingis (1997, 1998, 1999) are tied for the most consecutive Open Era titles.
The last Australian to win the men’s title was Mark Edmonson in 1967, while Chris O’Neil in 1978 holds the honour for the women.
All the greats of recent Australian Open history - Novak Djokovic, Serena Williams, Andy Murray, Roger Federer, Angelique Kerber - will be back in action when Grand Slam tennis returns to Melbourne in 2017, for a fortnight of intense tennis action. Will you be watching when the 2017 Australian Open begins on Monday 16 January?
Watch and bet on all the best action from the Australian Open 2017 live via mobile, computer or tablet from 16-29 January.