Now the dust has settled on the 2016 tennis season, with the players enjoying a well-earned break, we're able to reflect on an extraordinary year for the sport. In a most unpredictable of campaigns, both the men's and women's game saw three different Grand Slam winners, while Puerto Rican Monica Puig delivered one of the great Olympic shocks by claiming gold in Rio.
The surprises didn't end there either. It seemed almost inconceivable when the ATP and WTA Tours got underway in January that the two 'invincibles' - Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams - would surrender their respective world number one rankings. But thanks to the remarkable campaigns enjoyed by Andy Murray and Angelique Kerber, that is what transpired.
After such a dramatic season with so many talking points, there is the temptation to revel in its glory and dwell on past events. But there simply isn’t the time – we need to start looking forward. Even with Christmas still ahead on the horizon, and jubilant cheers still echoing around the O2, the top professionals are out on the practice courts gearing up for 2017.
Just a day after the final New Year's fireworks fizzle out over Sydney Harbour, the ATP Tour gets underway up the coast in Brisbane. Already, by this point, the women will be deep into their First Round matches at the WTA's Auckland Open, 2,000km to the east. With tournaments getting underway in Chennai, Qatar and Shenzhen on the same day (January 2nd), there's no easing in whatsoever – it's full blast from the get-go.
The reason for this, of course, is the upcoming Australian Open. Everyone is eager to hit their straps before 2017's opening Grand Slam gets underway in Melbourne on January 16th. The early scheduling of this much-coveted Major offers huge incentive to maintain conditioning during the off-season – and that's what everyone will be striving for. Success at the Rod Laver Arena is, first and foremost, a monumental career feat, but it's also the perfect way to alleviate pressure on tournaments later in the year.
New world number one Andy Murray would dearly love to add the Australian Open to his career résumé after the painful trauma of five defeats in the final. Who would bet against him right now? Reigning champion Djokovic is the obvious threat, with Milos Raonic, Stan Wawrinka and Kei Nishikori also worthy of attention, but if Murray can maintain his late-2016 form he will command the favourite's tag.
Speaking of favourites, could 2017 be the year that the great Aussie hope Nick Kyrgios finally knuckles down and delivers on his potential? If the bad boy of world tennis can control his volatile temperament and focus on delivering on-court, he has every chance of making a Grand Slam breakthrough. He's clearly got the ammunition - where better to finally fire than on home soil in front of a partisan Victorian crowd?
Over in the women's draw, Kerber and Williams – the two previous winners – will be most fancied to claim another Major. Still, it's worth noting that the Australian Open has delivered five different champions in the last six years, with Li Na, Victoria Azarenka and Kim Clijsters all succeeding here in the noughties. And as the then-unknown Johanna Konta showed with her superb run in 2016, there are huge opportunities for the mid-ranking and lower seeds in Melbourne.
As a long-time supporter of men's and women's tennis, we can't wait for the 2017 season to get underway in Australia. As ever, Sportsworld will be offering VIP hospitality packages for the upcoming Grand Slams, giving you the chance to enjoy a fantastic spectator experience at these world-class tennis tournaments. To make a group or individual booking, call 0208 971 2966 today.