1. MIGHT MURRAY?
Phew. No longer the best current player not to have won a major. Sigh. The end of a 76-year drought for British men in grand slams. Four months after his punishing five-set US Open breakthrough against Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray will attempt a sequel on the Melbourne Park hardcourts he believes suit his marvellously varied game even better. The Scot is a two-time finalist, his body is supremely fit and in its prime, his mind steeled by uncompromising coach Ivan Lendl. And now the burden of history has been lifted, that one precious slam could well become the first of several.
2. PLAY IT AGAIN (JUST NOT LIKE YOU DID LAST YEAR, PLEASE) SAM
Remember that '90s dance-pop tune “Things Can Only Get Better?” Sam Stosur declared before her 11th Australian Open – the 10th remembered as a “disastrous” failure to deal with the heightened expectations of her US Open triumph four months earlier – that whatever happens this January, it could not be any worse than the last. Having never previously passed the fourth round, the 28-year-old is desperate to perform well here, knows she can, perhaps wants it almost too much. “I've got my fingers crossed that during this Australian circuit you play your best tennis, and that's what we want to see,” John Newcombe recently told Stosur in a function room packed with former greats. “So go out and get it done.” Quite.
3. CAR CRASH AVERTED?
So. Positive thoughts. Bernard Tomic, the Gold Coast lad with the love of fast cars and hot spas, puts his troubled 2012 behind him, shows just why and how he got to where he did (a Wimbledon quarter-final at 18, a peak ranking of No.?27 by 19), discards both the Ferrari and the Tank Engine and revisits some of his form from a year ago.
Then: a debut ATP semi-final in Brisbane as the warm-up to a gutsy day-one Australian Open fightback against Fernando Verdasco that went the five-set distance and launched “Our Bernie” on a run that it took Roger Federer to halt in the fourth round.
Now: adrift outside the top 50, having not beaten a player ranked above him since last January, and suspended from Davis Cup play for slacking off and giving up.
First stop, Hopman Cup (and never mind the incongruity of the nation's out-of-favour son pocketing a hefty appearance fee at a Tennis Australia-managed event). And best to buckle up. It's been quite the ride so far.
4. WORK IN PROGRESS (1): MELBOURNE PARK RENOVATION
Construction has started on the expansion and roof for a third court (Margaret's), which will be ready for the 2015 Open, as work remains well ahead of schedule on the $366?million first stage of a pricey redevelopment that has secured the tournament's home until at least 2036. In addition to the eight new Italian claycourts built to tutor the emerging generation, there are eight indoor and five outdoor Plexicushion courts that will be in use for practice during the Open, some of them with observation decks for spectators. The final span of the new Edwin Flack footbridge has been heaved into place over Olympic Boulevard and patrons will notice improved access and entrances as a taster to more and bigger changes. What's not to like?
5. WORK IN PROGRESS (2): MARINKO MATOSEVIC
Ah, yes, Marinko. The semi-reformed wild man himself. As his coach, Josh Eagle, remarked on Newk Medal night: “It's a roller-coaster ride, there's no doubt about it .?.?. yeah, he can be a pain in the arse at times, a big pain in the arse, but, Marinko, your commitment, your work ethic absolutely paid off.” Whatever it says about the state of the local game, the 27-year-old's rise from outside the top 200 to a peak of No.?47 and the nation's top ranking should inspire those determined to improve and willing to do whatever it takes to succeed. And, let's be honest, Australia needs a few more of them. (See No.?4.)
6. WORK JUST STARTING: ASHLEIGH BARTY
An instinctive, natural player regarded as the most gifted Australian female prospect in a long time, the 16-year-old Queenslander is already the second-youngest player inside the world's top 200 – and is rising fast. For less compelling reasons we also await with, ahem, thunderous expectation the development of a Barty contemporary, the bold and beautifully-named Storm Sanders, who will be among the locals contesting the Australian Open juniors, along with exciting talents such as Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis. Younger still is promising Destanee Aiava, just 12. Soon she may be destined to, well, play up a storm.
7. AT HER 50TH GRAND SLAM, ONE OF THE GREATS, AFTER ONE OF THE GREAT HALF-SEASONS
Serena Williams has won four Australian Opens among her 15 singles majors but it was an unthinkable first-round wipe-out at the French Open that steeled the 31-year-old champion for a 31-1 rampage through the second half of a year that left tennis followers in awe and opponents devastated.
Wimbledon: tick. The Olympics: double gold, including a finals monstering of Maria Sharapova. A fourth US Open title. Then another year-end WTA Championship. “If I'm playing well and doing everything right, it's pretty difficult to beat me – without trying to sound too full of myself,” said Williams, almost modestly, after a season she ended as the unofficial, but undisputed, No.?1. “And I hate to lose.” We know.
8. MERCIFUL GLOBAL RELEVANCE
Not that we don't love our footy and, really, who could fail to anticipate the next breathless update on the ingrown toenail of some nobody on the Collingwood rookie list? But, enough. Time for a breather. For two weeks this and every January, some of the world's best male and female athletes are in Melbourne to contest a significant sporting event that actually interests the rest of the world, too. A grand slam. One of just four on the planet each year. Enjoy. Appreciate. Savour. (Refer No.?10.)
9. ROGER FEDERER
You know why. Just because.