Eight Croats will be on display in Melbourne at tennis’ first Grand Slam of the year, the Australian Open. Croatia’s players will hope to beat last year’s Aussie effort, where there were three wins in the first round (Cilic, Dodig, Vekic) and two in the second (Cilic, Dodig). World #34 Ivan Dodig enters the tournament as the top ranked Croat, and their only seeded player. The first round begins Monday (Sunday afternoon in the US), with six out of the eight Croatians in action, including Ana Konjuh against #4 Na Li on the televised Hisense Arena.
- Novak Djokovic is looking for his fourth consecutive Australian Open title, Belarusian Victoria Azarenka is seeking her third in a row
- A total of $33 million in prize money is up for grabs
- 2014 Men’s Top Seeds: 1. Rafael Nadal 2. Novak Djokovic 3. David Ferrer 4. Andy Murray 5. Juan Martin Del Potro 6. Roger Federer
- 2014 Women’s Top Seeds: 1. Serena Williams 2. Victoria Azarenka 3. Maria Sharapova 4. Na Li 5. Aga Radwanska 6. Petra Kvitova
Ana Konjuh was the lone Croat (out of 8) to advance through all three rounds of qualification. Konjuh, 16, is making her Grand Slam debut, after winning the junior tournament in Melbourne last year. She received an unquestionably difficult draw, and will face #4 seed and last year’s runner-up Na Li on Sunday.
Highlights from Konjuh’s 2nd qualifying win over Mathilde Johansson
In addition to her three consecutive wins in the qualifiers, Konjuh showed she can play with the best in her “warm-up” tournament, the ASB Classic in Auckland, where she took down the #1 seed, world #14 Roberta Vinci in the first round. Konjuh will be out for 3-5 months after the tournament, as she undergoes elbow surgery, in the hopes it will end a long term problem that has affected her game.
For better or worse, there will be at least one Croat in the 2nd round, as Ivan Dodig and Ivo Karlović were drawn together. Both players got off the the 2014 season on the wrong foot, losing to players outside of the top 100. Dodig and Karlović have met three times in the past, with Dodig taking all three, including a grueling five setter in the first round of the 2011 Australian Open. The winner of the Croat duel has a great chance of advancing into the 3rd round, as they will face either the 104th or 188th ranked player in the world. Dodig is Croatia’s only seeded player, at #32.
It was one year ago at the Australian Open that Donna Vekić, then 16, made her Grand Slam debut, impressing in a 6-1, 6-2 win over #66 Andrea Hlavackova. In the year since, she has moved from #111 in the world to #93, advancing to her 2nd WTA final in the process. Vekić has been labeled as a slight favorite in her first round match against qualifier Lucie Hradecka of Czech Republic, to be played on Sunday.
Ivan Dodig and Marcelo Melo will be seeded 4th in the doubles tournament. Dodig and his Brazilian partner Melo had a breakout year in 2013, which culminated in a finals appearance at Wimbledon.
The 2014 Australian Open will be Marin Čilić’s first Grand Slam since his 2013 doping suspension, which was reduced from nine to four months. Čilić has been hit and miss since his return, with a 3-2 record in two tournaments. He has a tough, but winnable first round match against Spaniard Marcel Granollers, who ranks 36th in the world and is on a two match losing streak. The Croat has taken five of the six meetings between the two. Who is Marin Cilic?
Ajla Tomljanović, Croatia’s top ranked female
Three other Croatian women will be in action at Melbourne Park. Petra Martić and Mirjana Lucić-Baroni will play a pair of Germans on Sunday, with Martic matched up with world #54 Annika Beck and Lucić facing #15 seed Sabine Lisicki. Ajla Tomljanović will play a fellow 20 year old Balkan, Slovenia’s Tadeja Majeric on Monday. At #75, Tomljanović is the highest ranked Croatian woman, and following her win over #32 Daniela Hantuchova last week, she will be favored to advance.