2014 Australian Open: Serena, Djokovic Eye History Down Under

History will be on the service line as tennis’ best assemble in Melbourne Park for the sport’s first major of 2014.

Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams -- the betting favorites -- as well as Roger Federer and Victoria Azarenka all have a chance to pen history at the Australian Open, which ESPN’s varied outlets and Tennis Channel will chronicle over the next fortnight.

Djokovic, the three-time defending champion, is looking to add a fourth consecutive title Down Under (he won his first major there in 2008). A 2014 triumph would separate Nole from Andre Agassi (1995, 2000, 2001, 2003) and Federer (2004, 2006, 2007, 2010) and give him a record fifth Happy Slam crown, the most on the men’s side during the Open era.

For his part, Federer, the men’s all-time majors’ man with 17, could steal Djokovic’s thunder and burnish his own legacy, but it would take a major upgrade in the form the Swiss Maestro displayed during a Slam-less 2013. The 32-year-old Fed two weeks ago lost -- his balky back again proved troublesome -- in the Brisbane final to Australia’s native son, Lleyton Hewitt.

To do so, Federer will have to navigate the heat and the top half of the draw that includes most of the game’s leading contenders: top-seeded and 2009 winner Rafael Nadal; No. 4 and Wimbledon champ Andy Murray, who is recovering from back surgery; and the resurgent No. 5 Juan Martin del Potro, the only man to break the Big Four’s stranglehold on the past 35 majors (the 2009 U.S. Open). Nadal, who missed last year’s tourney with a left knee injury before recovering to run roughshod over the men’s game until the fall, meets Australian Bernard Tomic in a high-profile opening match.

That leaves Djokovic, who outlasted Nadal in their epic 5:53 hour match in the 2011 final and beat Murray in 2010 and 2012, to battle with Swiss Stanislaus Warninka in a potential quarterfinal match. Last year, Nole beat Stan 12-10 in the fifth, which ranked near the pinnacle of 2013 matches. No. 3 David Ferrer and No. 7 Tomas Berdych should also be factors in the bottom half of the draw.

On the women’s side, most roads lead to the top-seeded Williams. Already the Open era record-holder with five Australians on her mantle, Serena can join Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert with 18 Slams apiece, as she continues her climb to the sport’s pantheon.

Williams begins her quest against Australian teenager Ashleigh Barty. She has another Aussie, Samantha Stosur, who beat Serena in the 2011 U.S. Open final, and two-time Melbourne finalist (2011, 2013) Li Na, in her half.

World No. 2 Azarenka is looking to secure her third straight Slam Down Under, a three-peat feat that would match such notables as Margaret Court (1969-71), Steffi Graf (1988-90), Monica Seles (1991-93 )and Martina Hingis (1997-99). Court (1973) and Graf (1994) both count four Australian Opens among their respective record Slam hauls of 24 and 22.

In the bottom half, Vika will look to emerge from a group that includes No. 3 Maria Sharapova, who is looking to rebound from an injury-racked 2013. Fifth-ranked  Agnieszka Radwanska, No. 8 Jelena Jankovic, fast-rising, No.11 Simona Halep, and No. 13 Sloane Stephens, the young American who ousted Williams here last year, could also prove to be factors.

However it all plays out, ESPN and Tennis Channel will deliver over 130 hours of live action, plus encores for those who have to work and/or can’t stay up/wake up to watch the matches that originate 16 hours before the eastern time zone in the U.S.  ESPN and Tennis are now in the seventh year of their TV alliance for the season’s first two majors – the former is the  primary rights-holder and takes the production lead in Melbourne, while the independent net sets the play in Paris with the French Open. Together, the doubles partners will again provide near round-the-clock coverage.

Starting Sunday, Jan. 12, the Bristol behemoth will again provide U.S. tennis fans with 100+ live hours on TV and 500 live hours from the seven TV courts on ESPN3.  Most of play will air on ESPN2, but for ESPN’s 30th consecutive Australian Open the men’s semifinals and both finals will air on ESPN (schedule below).

Action continues each night and into the morning, plus encore presentations the following afternoon, through the women’s championship Saturday, Jan 25, and the men’s championship Sunday, Jan. 26; the championship matches premiere at 3 a.m. (ET) with encores set for 9 a.m.  All telecasts are also available through WatchESPN online at WatchESPN.com, on smartphones and tablets via the WatchESPN app and streamed on televisions through ESPN on Xbox LIVE to Gold members, Apple TV and Roku.

With Hall of Famer, Davis Cup captain and two-time Australian Open winner Jim Courier part of its on-air talent roster, Tennis will have a nightly presence during the network's two-week coverage, which begins Monday, Jan. 13. Courier will appear in a series of special segments from the tournament grounds in Melbourne. All told Tennis will dedicate more than 180 hours to this year's Australian Open, with 30 hours of live match play, another 60 hours of encore replays, more than 80 hours of Australian Open Today and nine hours of daily highlights.

As with previous tournaments, Tennis will carry 10 straight nights of live primetime matches from Jan. 13, through Wednesday, Jan. 22, beginning at 7 p.m. nightly (schedule follows). Coverage spans the first round through the singles quarterfinals, and will be followed by live coverage of a mixed-doubles semifinal and the mixed-doubles final, and the men's and women's doubles finals later in the week. Morning highlight-and-encore show Australian Open Today will run daily from Monday, Jan. 13, through Wednesday, Jan. 22.

ESPN AUSTRALIAN OPEN 2014 (All times are Eastern, and each day “begins” at 6 a.m. (ET))

Tennis Channel's Live Australian Open Match Schedule (all times ET)

Date                                                    Time                           Event                                                 

Monday, Jan. 13                                 7 p.m.-9 p.m.               First Round

Tuesday, Jan. 14                                 7 p.m.-9 p.m.               Second Round

Wednesday, Jan. 15                            7 p.m.-9 p.m.               Second Round

Thursday, Jan. 16                                7 p.m.-11 p.m.             Third Round

Friday, Jan. 17                                    7 p.m.-9 p.m.               Third Round

Saturday, Jan. 18                                7 p.m.-9 p.m.               Round of 16

Sunday, Jan. 19                                   7 p.m.-9 p.m.               Round of 16

Monday, Jan. 20                                 7 p.m.-9 p.m.               Men's and Women's Quarterfinals

Tuesday, Jan. 21                                 7 p.m.-9 p.m.               Men's and Women's Quarterfinals

Wednesday, Jan. 22                            7 p.m.-9:30 p.m.          TBA

Thursday, Jan. 23                                11 p.m.-3 a.m.             Mixed Doubles Semifinal

   and Women's Doubles Final

Saturday, Jan. 25                                5:30 a.m.-7:30 a.m.     Men's Doubles Final

Sunday, Jan. 26                                   12 a.m.-2 a.m.            Mixed Doubles Final