Simon Reed

Why the Australian Open is my favourite Grand Slam

Simon Reed

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Each Grand Slam is different - and the Australian Open is the one I enjoy the most.

Everything around it feels almost like an exhibition tournament until the moment the players step on the court - then you know it is a true Grand Slam.

Everyone is smiling. It helps that a lot of people haven't seen each other for two or three months, with everyone at different warm-up tournaments, as they are all then reunited in Melbourne.

That's true for journalists and commentators but particularly players, who are invariably in a very good mood. The media access to them is also much better in Australia than at other Slams – in fact it is way out of proportion to the other majors.

It has a lovely unique feel about it but it has also established itself as the equal of the other three tournaments, which wasn't necessarily the case 20 or 30 years ago when it was a Grand Slam in name but not on merit.

I also think it is the tournament that has produced the best tennis over the last four or five years – certainly in the men's event.

The evening sessions are particularly special. The atmosphere is raucous and really good fun. One of the great thrills of my career was watching Federer v Nadal courtside last year – it was just fantastic, as was the final.

The Australian fans are very knowledgeable and there is also a young crowd there which I like – the average age is way, way lower than at the other Slams, particularly in comparison to Wimbledon.

This year's men's event could be a classic too – the big three of Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray are almost inseparable.

It is interesting to hear Murray say he is more motivated than ever before and I can understand that. Winning the US Open will work fantastically well for him and I'd be very surprised if he is picked off early.

I also think the pressure is off Djokovic somewhat. His 2011 was so spectacular that he was always going to have a bit of a regression in 2012 and yet he still won plenty. He didn't always play his best tennis last year but he still produced some unbelievable performances full of resilience and spirit.

Djokovic has a clean run to the final without any of the 'big three' of Federer, Murray and the absent Rafa Nadal in his half of the draw. However that could also work in Murray's favour, as he cannot play Djokovic in the semis where they would probably have knocked six bells out of each other - and then whoever moved through had a huge task to recover to win the final.

I wouldn't entirely discount Federer, although a lot of people have written him off and I do feel he is unlikely to win it.

The heat is another factor to consider and on the first few days it is forecast to be scorching hot. The heat has caused problems for Murray in particular in the past and he does not want to be exposed to it for long in the early stages despite his incredible fitness.

It is always a bonus to be scheduled to play in the evening and be out of that afternoon heat. You don't want to be caught out in it against an unseeded player who is playing out of his skin – someone like Nikolay Davydenko, for example. That would be horrible. Thankfully for the major players, they often get put on in the evening.

The women's draw is easier to predict: I simply can't see Serena Williams losing a match over the next two weeks. In fact I can't see her losing a Grand Slam match all year! She could win the whole lot this year.

It is hard to even pick out players you could see challenging her. Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka would be top of the list; maybe Angelique Kerber if she is at the very top of her game. I can't see Agnieszka Radwanska as a potential winner, even after her run to the Wimbledon final and tournament win in Sydney.

Petra Kvitova is a dangerous player but she has lost all confidence and I don't think she is in 100 per cent shape - although I don't think she was when she won Wimbledon either, so look out for her if she suddenly clicks into gear. But going on what we see at the moment - for example her first-round loss in Sydney - we would need to see a few impressive wins from her in Melbourne before calling her a contender.

The home hopes will rest with Sam Stosur. We have been here so many times before with her: she played so badly in Australia last year and was horrible in Sydney both this year and last year, so expectations are low. The times she has impressed, like when she beat Serena in the US Open final, there was not a great deal of pressure on her.

And what we have seen in the past is that she simply cannot cope with the pressure of playing at home. I'd love her to do well as she seems like a cracking woman and it would be great for the Aussies, but it is hard to give her much of a prayer. I suspect the Aussies might have given up on her too, and that might be the only thing working in her favour.

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