Rafael Nadal during last year's final. Photo: Vince Caligiuri
1. Who will win the Australian Open men's singles?
Roger Rasheed: It's been taken out by the top four over a number of years so it's hard to go past them at the start of a calendar year. Roger [Federer] isn't in the top four so it will be interesting to see how he responds. We all think it will be in the elite manner he has done over his whole career. Right now you'd have to go with Rafa [Rafael Nadal] as the No.1 player in the world but the court obviously plays into the hands of a couple of other guys. Novak [Djokovic] loves that surface and has made it his own over the last couple of years so right now you'd have to say the top four guys are the ones to beat, as they have been for a while now.
Wally Masur: It's the same old story, it's hard to go past the top four. Novak has got himself a new coach and that can sometimes put a spring in the step of a player, but I'll pick Rafa. I've always felt over the last couple of years that on a hardcourt, where Novak plays his best tennis, he's probably the best player. But he's had a bit of trouble being ultra-consistent. That incredible year he had, he hasn't quite been the same since. His best tennis is awfully good but he hasn't been able to hang on to it for long periods of time, so I'll say Rafa.
High hopes: Samantha Stosur. Photo: Getty Images
Todd Woodbridge: I felt Novak was going to do it again but the last couple of weeks I've been hitting with the Open ball and it feels pretty lively this year. That is going to come ripping off Nadal's racquet particularly well. Given he wasn't here last year and the form he had last year in winning two slams, he's the one to beat.
Nicole Bradtke: You can't go past one of the top few, like your [Andy] Murray or Djokovic. But you don't really know what they've been doing in the off-season, they would have trained hard but not had many matches. Nadal obviously had a cracker at the end of the year … but it obviously comes down to the heat, too. A couple of the good men go to Miami to acclimatise but the heat isn't as bad there. On a good day, if it's hot, it comes down to just who can survive. I can't pinpoint one but any of those three are in the mix.
2. Who will win the women's singles?
RR: It's awfully hard to go past Serena [Williams] if she's firing and 100 per cent fit. She has a lot of assets the other women don't have, especially on that stage. The only one who can beat Serena at the Australian Open is Maria Sharapova. Maria has also got some weapons that can hurt Serena, the big thing will be whether she's had enough match play. She's been out with her shoulder injury and we'll see how it holds up. That's the only other legitimate challenger for the women's event.
WM: It's very hard to go past Serena. She's been so dominant and just seems so into it lately with the new coach she has, [Patrick] Mouratoglou. She's ultra-professional, looks fitter than she's ever looked and seems to want it so badly. After all of those injuries and operations, she knows what she had and what she might be missing out on. She's an incredible player.
TW: It's impossible to go past Serena. The only thing that would set her back is if she's had too much of a break and how her fitness may be. There hasn't been a stronger favourite for years and years. But I will say this is a much better opportunity for Sam Stosur to perform well. Given how she performed last year, she's got nothing to defend, there will be no expectation. She had some good tournament results to end the season so she will have a good summer.
NB: Serena had a great year and it's hard to go past her. Sharapova seems to pluck good wins from nowhere when she comes here but she's been injured in the second half of the year, so it will be tough for her. Hopefully Sam will have a good Australian Open.
3. Will there be an Australian in the second week of the tournament?
RR: If I look in the women's side, I've said every year that Sam will make her mark in the Australian Open. I've always felt this is a court where she can play extremely well. It hasn't happened so far but there's no reason it can't happen this year. The women's game is extremely open outside of one player, Serena. Sam has a great opportunity again and let's hope she can give to Australian fans what she's given to others all around the world. For the men, it's going to be a tougher task, they're not seeded. You look at where they sit in the draw as they're going to have to beat some quality along the way. Lleyton [Hewitt] will always back himself, he's fit and he's healthy, but it will be a tough task.
WM: We could. We could see Lleyton, Bernie [Bernard Tomic] and Sam, for sure. I've seen a bit of Sam and talked to her here and there and I don't think she will struggle with the pressure of playing at home the way she has in the past. She's been there and done that, it's almost like the worst has happened and she can now just play.
TW: I do. Unless Sam has a shocking draw, she will almost certainly be in the second week. The men will need help with a good draw, but both Bernard and Lleyton proved last year they could be in the second week. I'd like to think that a [Nick] Kyrgios or [Thanasi] Kokkinakis could get that far but that's unlikely. They certainly have the ability to win rounds and that's the first step they need to make. One thing that will happen sooner or later is that [Marinko] Matosevic will win matches. He's too good a player for that not to happen.
NB: Lleyton is an amazing man who keeps going, but to be honest it's not realistic. We don't have anyone seeded so that makes it tough. Tomic has been putting in the hard yards in recent weeks and could do well but again the draw needs to play out in his favour. They need to get wins on the board coming into the Australian Open, come in with some form.
4. Will Roger Federer win another grand slam before he retires?
RR: If Roger is healthy he can win another grand slam, for sure. He'll have to beat two or three of the big guys because his ranking puts him in a different part of the draw than what he's used to. There's no reason [he can't win] if he plays his best tennis.
WM: It's very hard to say no. I think Wimbledon is the one. I honestly thought that year he beat Murray, to win another major was beyond him. But when he beat Murray at Wimbledon last year he was in all sorts of trouble in the third or fourth round against [Julien] Benneteau, he wasn't quite there. A week later and he was holding the trophy. I'd be loath to say he can't because he may be stung into action after he lost to [Tommy] Robredo at the US Open. He was visibly dejected in the press conference and said that it's not good enough and he has to change the way he goes about things. So maybe he has been stung into action. You can never discount someone with that ability if he has that desire to prove himself one more time. [Pete] Sampras and [Andre] Agassi did it late in their career and there's no reason why Federer can't do that.
TW: Most definitely. It will be an intriguing month, to watch him in Brisbane and then the Australian Open. He's obviously asking himself questions and the confidence wasn't there as we're used to seeing from the great man. He's got a point to prove and I've learnt over the years, even through commentary, you don't want to say too much to rattle Roger because he'll come back at you … he has got one or two more slams in him, definitely. If I was to pick one he'd win, I'd say Wimbledon.
NB: It's hard to count him out but he needs to have an amazing two weeks and he needs everything to go his way, weather-wise and draw-wise. You can never count him out but as the years go by he is less likely to.
5. What are Bernard Tomic's prospects for next year?
RR: It's hard to gauge where Bernard is at, there's a lot said and different matters going on in the camp. I'm someone coaching against him but as a tennis lover and Australian, hopefully everything gets sorted out and he's in a place where he can concentrate on tennis and enjoy the sport he grew up loving. He's got a new coach, we don't know a lot about that relationship, and [father] John is also going to be involved. We'll just watch with interest from afar and see where that journey ends up.
WM: Bernie has been great in Australia, always has been. He seems to enjoy the surface. The conditions in Australia during the summer are hot, all of our tournaments are on the coast and it's always windy. He has a great skill set so with the courts being a bit faster in the heat he thrives on it and feeds off the pace. He's incredibly good at redirecting and changing pace. We talk about Sam not playing well in Australia because of the pressure but Bernie seems to love it. He plays well here and at Wimbledon, and is the defending champion at the NSW Open. He will play here but as for how he goes for the rest of the year, that's Bernie's great challenge. He is awfully good and he just needs to find that form on a weekly basis. If he does, his ranking is going to rocket and we'll see the best of him.
TW: We go back 12 months and he played some great tennis, won Sydney and we all thought this would be the consistent year that would entrench him in the top 20. It didn't happen. He certainly has the talent and has been working hard since his 21st, he's knuckled down and is getting the job done. It's a matter of him committing week in and week out in order to go deeper. In terms of slams, he loves the Australian Open and has great results there. I've got no doubt he will play well again there but it's a bit harder because he's ranked 50 in the world and won't be seeded. You don't want one of the big guys early on … it will spoil the party.
NB: It's all up to him really. He's still young, he's got a game that frustrates a lot of players but he just needs to be in the right head space. He will have to knuckle down and apply himself because they are wasted years going past. He's getting older, you can't rely on being young, he's got to get it together and get solid wins on the board. He's got big points to defend from Sydney so unless he wins that his ranking will drop. Hopefully he will do well.
6. Will Sam Stosur finally be able to perform under pressure at home?
RR: I truly feel the past is water under the bridge now. She's not coming here as a defending US Open champ, she finished off the year really strongly. If she just goes out and enjoys playing tennis, which I feel will happen this year, she will do good things … we are going to see a good year out of Sam and hopefully it's this year.
WM: She won the US Open a few years ago and became a player everyone was gunning for. From a technical point of view, some of the girls worked her out to a degree, they nullified the big serve and her forehand, and were hitting the ball hard and fast into the right parts of the court. She's addressing that now … and the fact she didn't live up to expectations here, it's like she's been there and done that. She realises now it's another match on a tennis court and being a bit older now I think she will be OK.
TW: There's no guarantee but if there's a year she can come in more relaxed, it's this year. Last year she had the foot surgery she didn't really talk about coming into the summer. This year it's been completely free of any of that, it's been good training. She's got a new coach and a good end to the year, lots of matches and momentum. The most important thing this time is she's changed her schedule. She'll play Hopman Cup where she is guaranteed three matches and is going to Hobart where, realistically, she could or should win. She will come into the Open more likely to do well.
NB: In the past it's not through not wanting to do well, it's how she handles it. She's tried different scenarios every year coming into the Australian Open and now she's going back to Hopman Cup, which is something different. She has a new coach, which can sometimes turn you around and give you a different perspective. She had a good latter half to the year and hopefully that will give her confidence.
7. Who will be the next Australian to announce themselves on the world stage?
RR: Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis are the two young guys at the front of the juniors coming through. I like the way they handled themselves with the pro players, they're not afraid to be on the court and they are not intimidated. There's a big development pathway ahead and we're always keen to see our players come on and do something quickly. The reality is the physicality of the game doesn't allow that. It used to be that you would go on and it would be all about your tennis but now it's so much about the physical part of your game. Until you can tick that, you won't make your way like in years gone by. The unknown will be how they will handle that because you're definitely exposed to another level in the senior game.
WM: Nick Kyrgios has done that to a degree. Thanasi Kokkinakis is awfully good. We've got a range of young players bubbling along even if they haven't had the stellar results those two have shown. It's hard to go past Kyrgios. Beating Radek Stepanek at the French Open and the way he played Davis Cup, he seems to have a combination of being big, strong and possessing easy power all over court. On top of that, he seems to like the big stage. The tennis he played against Stepanek was unbelievably good and in Davis Cup in the week leading up to the match, I heard you couldn't get him off the court. He wanted to be in everything and that's a good sign.
TW: It's Thanasi Kokkinakis. He got to the final of the Australian Open juniors, didn't play for nearly six months because of a stress fracture in his back and then quickly came back and made the final of the US Open juniors. He's still a bit underdone in the amount of tennis he's played in the last 12 months but he'll follow in the steps of a Nick Kyrgios by quickly doing well in the men's game.
NB: Kyrgios and Kokkinakis have a bright future. They've had a good career in juniors and now it's about taking that next step. On the girls' front you've got Ash Barty. I'd like to think in 2014 she will make headway in her singles performances, which has been a slow process for her. If she can get inside the top 100 by the Australian Open, that would be fantastic.
8. How long before Australia is a genuine chance of winning the Davis or Fed Cup?
RR: There's a better chance of winning the Fed Cup. In both competitions you need to have a big core of players, you need to go deep. In the men's at the moment we don't have a deep list … on the women's side we have a better chance because we've got Sam and Ash Barty coming on as a singles player. Casey Dellacqua and her have done extremely well in the doubles this year as well, so there's a lot going for them.
WM: Bernie is right there and Lleyton, if he hangs around for another year or two, will do some good things for us. But obviously he's the wrong side of 30 with a lot of surgeries and miles in the legs. If you look at Bernie and the likes of Kyrgios and Kokkinakis - and we'll need some other boys to come through - that's starting to look interesting, potentially a powerful and dangerous team …in the Fed Cup, someone like Jarmila Gajdosova, who has potential but has had some injuries, could be a tremendous player. Obviously Sam is a player for us and the wildcard is Ash Barty. She's an extraordinary talent and she's getting better at dealing with the size and power of the girls. She's capable of anything and when you look at her doubles partnership with Casey Dellacqua, it's an interesting team. Nothing is out of the question.
TW: They are a chance of winning the Fed Cup next year. Italy have won it the last couple of years and our team is every bit as good as Italy. We can do it if we get it right and have all of our girls in the best form. I'd be disappointed if, in the next two or three years with that team, they didn't go on to at least a semi. On the men's side we're about four or five years away from competing to win the Davis Cup.
NB: In the girls, you've got Sam who is ranked about 18 at the moment and it's a big drop to the next one. We need a few more girls who are ranked around 50 or 60. Each time, we rely on Sam to win both of those singles. We've got a great doubles combination in Casey and Ash, it's just the second singles. Sometimes they can win, like Ash did in Switzerland, but you'd like to pencil in a few more as a 'yes' or 'maybe'. The men have done a good job to get back into the world group but it's the same situation for them.