The road to the Australian Open: A sneak previewDecember 22, 2016

The 105th edition of the Australian Open would be a few weeks away, yet Australia's most promising juniors are playing their hearts out for a wildcard. Veteran Marinko Matosevic's chance of returning to the main draw suffered a setback after losing to rising star Omar Jasika. Ajla Tomljanovic would likely sit out the entire summer, as she hasn't recovered fully from an injury. And Sam Groth lost to Chris O'Connell in a dramatic five-set encounter. Jasica edged O'Connell to book his place in the finals of the wildcard playoffs.

There would be a number of warm-up tournaments across Asia and the Pacific, which might give fans an idea of which big names could make a deep run in the Australian Open. Don't count on Victoria Azarenka, as she doesn't want to rush her comeback (after giving birth). She won't be able to defend her Brisbane International title, but the women's singles would be stacked with talents. Here's a preview:

The 2017 Brisbane International would kick off the new season. Milos Raonic defeated Roger Federer in the finals early this year, and he would be the top seed in the men's singles. (Federer will participate in the Hopman Cup.) Stan Wawrinka opted not to play in Chennai, India and found himself in the bottom half of the draw. A Raonic-Wawrinka final could happen, but both players must watch out for Rafael Nadal. (The 14-time Grand Slam champion included Carlos Moyá in his coaching staff.) Raonic or Wawrinka might meet Nadal in the quarterfinals, and either one has to play third-seed Kei Nishikori. If Raonic's serves are clicking, then no one can prevent him from defending his title successfully. On the women's side, Dominika Cibulková's new-found confidence (after winning the WTA Finals) will be put to the test. She can meet Angelique Kerber in a rematch of the finals in Singapore. The German would likely win this one, but a major event could be another thing.

The Apia International Sydney, which would be held the week before the Australian Open, doesn't attract the big names in the men's tour. Viktor Troicki, the third seed, would be aiming for a hat-trick while Dominic Thiem had the top seeding. The young Austrian could win his first title of 2017 in NSW Tennis Centre if he wouldn't let the match go the distance. The women's side would feature six Top 10 players, which wouldn't include Serena Williams. (Venus and Serena will be the top two seeds in the ASB Classic in Auckland.) Petra Kvitová would be seeded seventh, which could be lowly for a player of her caliber. The two-time Wimbledon winner could win this tournament if she recovers from her injuries. Otherwise, Svetlana Kuznetsova will win this warm-up tourney for the second straight year.

How about the Qatar ExxonMobil Open? Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic chose to warm up in the Middle East, as the two best players on the ATP Tour would compete in Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex in Doha. Boris Becker won't be in Djokovic's team, which could intrigue fans. The Serb might be saving his best for Melbourne, as he aims for a record seventh title. A motivated Murray will win his third title (and first in eight years).

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