Is it early to predict the Australian Open?November 04, 2016

Not at all.

This year's tour was virtually over, and there seemed to be a changing of the guards. The Williams sisters haven't played a full schedule during the last few years, yet it took some time before Angelique Kerber would play consistently (and became number one in the world). On the other hand, it remained to be seen if Novak Djokovic could recapture his winning form.

Let's look at the five players who have a good chance of making it to the finals of the Australian Open. The blistering summer heat could influence the results, but past performance would speak for itself. Here they are:

Dominika Cibulková. She would be a veteran at this stage, as she was part of the group that included Victoria Azarenka and Agnieszka Radwańska. She was ranked outside the Top 50 before the season began, and she would finish it off by reaching the Top 5 for the first time. The Slovak would be a diminutive player, but her height could fool anyone. She turned out to be one of the top offensive players (on the WTA Tour), and she won her biggest title in Singapore last Sunday. Cibulková reached the finals of the Australian Open two years ago, her best showing in a Grand Slam event. She could do better next year, as she could keep Kerber from playing her A-game. Radwańska was known to be a defensive player, and she played her best during the final months of the season. What about Serena Williams?

Serena Williams. Some observers would be superstitious, pointing out the American's victory in Melbourne during the odd years. And Williams had her most success Down Under. Health could be her biggest issue, and her appearance in Auckland might not be an indicator. There have been instances when a brilliant display of power tennis in an earlier round would be followed with an erratic performance from her. Unless Williams and Cibulková found themselves in the same bracket, then there would be a good chance that both players could square off in the finals.

Madison Keys. She came close to a title (or a finals appearance in a major event) many times during this season, such that it seemed unlikely that she would suffer a slump next year. There was no doubt that she would succeed the Williams sisters. (Some might raise Sloane Stephens, but she has yet to make a deep run in the Premier Mandatory and Premier 5 tournaments.) She reached the semifinals at Flinders Park last year, and she could do it again. It may be next year.

Andy Murray. The reigning Wimbledon champion has been a runner-up in Melbourne five times. And he has a good chance next year. It's too early to bet on Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, but it's a different case with Novak Djokovic. He'll be aiming for a seventh men's singles title, an all-time record. And his game suits the hard courts of Flinders Park. But he had a dip in form these past months. He's not the clear favorite as he used to. On the other hand, Murray is on a winning streak. He may be too tired, but he's becoming too good.

Marin Čilić. The 2014 US Open champion parted ways with Goran Ivanisevic last summer, which turned out to be another turning point in his career. He won his first Masters 1000 tournament last August, and then another ATP 500 title in Basel last weekend. He would play in London (for the second time). He would be a Grand Slam contender next season. He won't need luck if his serve would be clicking most of the time.

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