Australian Open: Djokovic-Federer On Collision Course?

It was the 2014 Australian Open that ushered in some changes at the top of the men’s and women’s tennis world.

When Ana Ivanovic upset Serena Williams in the round of 16, 2014 began an uneven year for the world No. 1, who also suffered early exits at the French Open and Wimbledon, before she regained her form and captured the U.S. Open. In between, former Slam champions Maria Sharapova  (French) and Petra Kvitova (Wimbledon) added majors, while Simona Halep and Eugenie Bouchard burst onto the scene.

Ivanovic’s victory in Melbourne Park opened the door for Li Na to take home the title. With the Chinese player retiring from the sport, a new woman will be crowned Aussie queen.

Stan Wawrinka beat three-time defending champion Novak Djovokic in the quarterfinals, returning the favor for a marathon loss against the Serb Down Under in 2013. The long-time No. 2 Swiss player then surprised Rafael Nadal to win the championship.

Bookending the year of upsets, Martin Cilic, who will miss the Happy Slam with ani njury, beat the rising Japanese player Kei Nishikora  in the final of the U.S. Open. Wawrinka and Cilic thus joined 2009 U.S. Open king, Juan Martin Del Potro, who also had to withdraw on the eve of the tourney with his lingering left wrist problem, as the only men to interrupt the decade-long Grand Slam domination of the "Big 4": Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Andy Murray.

This year, world No. 1 Djoker and No. 4 Wawrinka could meet in a semfinal rubber match, while a recovering-from-multiple injuries Nadal might see old foe Roger Federer in the bottom half.

How happy would executives at the worldwide leader be if that form held at the Happy Slam. Starting on Sunday, Jan. 18 at 7 p.m., ESPN 2 and ESPN will combine to present more than 100 live hours on television, while ESPN3 will serve up to 800 more digitally, as fans will be able to choose from action on up to 13 courts.  ESPN’s 31st consecutive Australian Open will culminate with the women’s and men’s championships live on ESPN at 3 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 31, and Sunday, Feb. 1, with an encore presentation Super Bowl morning at 9 a.m.

As part of its Grand Slam alliance with ESPN, Tennis Channel is in the game Down Under for an eighth consecutive year. Tennis Channel will have 11 consecutive days and 40 hours of live coverage. Adding encore replays, highlights, a special preview and the new daily preview show Live at the Australian Open, the network will devote close to 200 hours over the fortnight.

Under their alliance, ESPN produces the Australian Open for both networks, with each utilizing its own commentators and cross-promoting their combined television offerings. Conversely, Tennis handles production when the networks play as a doubles team at Roland Garros.

Unlike many Grand Slams, the 2015 Australian features several intriguing opening-round battles. Nishikora will battle former top 10 player Nicolas Almagro, while Nadal meets the veteran Mikhail Youzny.

Distaff interest will center on the former two-time champion Victoria Azarenka’s encounter with Sloane Stephens, a rematch of their controversial and contentious 2013 semifinal that followed the American's elimination of her idol Williams. By the by, Azarenka, Stephens former world No. 2 Vera Zvonareva, Williams' 2014 French and Wimbledon conquerors Garbine Muguruz and Alize Cornet, plus Jelena Jankovic and Dominica Hantuchova are all in Serena’s part of the draw.

Williams, should she survive her perilous path, could meet friend Caroline Wozniacki -- seeded eighth but suffering from a wrist injury -- in the quarters. A Williams' title would be her 19th singles Slam, surpassing the 18 trophies also held by Chris Evert and Martina Navritilova. Fourth-seeded Kvitova is slated to meet No. 6 Aga Radwanska in the other quarter in the top half of the draw.

The bottom half features the possible confrontation between Halep and Ivanovic, this year’s third and fifth seeds. The last quarter could showcase the telegenic twosome of No. 2 Sharapova and  Bouchard, the comely Canadian, who succumbed to Na in last year’s semis.

On the men’s side, if the seeds hold up, Djokovic would meet No.8  Milos Raonic, the hard-serving Canadian, and Wawrinka would engage his U.S. Open vanquisher, No. 5 Nishikori.

In the bottom half, No. 3 Nadal’s path would take him into No. 7 Tomas Berdych, while the second-seeded Federer might match with No. 6 Murray, who lost to the Swiss in last year’s quarters and the 2010 final and to Djokovic in the 2011 and 2013 championship matches.

Shoule Nole or Fed win they would set the Open era record with five men's Down Under diadems.

ESPN2 tosses the first ball into TV play on Jan. 18 at 7 p.m. (ET) and will present daily, marathon, overnight telecasts from Melbourne, primarily starting at 9 p.m. through the women’s semifinals. At the money end of the tourney, coverage switches to ESPN (see schedule below). WatchESPN, now available to some 75 million homes, will stream all of the action on the two networks to authenticated viewers.

The worldwide leader is bringing its veteran tennis team Down Under: Australians Cliff Drysdale and Darren Cahill; the McEnroe brothers, Patrick and John, and three named Chris: Fowler, Evert and McKendry. Additionally, former players and coaches Pam Shriver, Mary Jo Fernandez, Brad Gilbert and Jason Goodall are scheduled to appear, as will essayist Tom Rinaldi.

As it does with the other majors, Tennis Channel will introduce a review/preview show with this year’s Aussie tourney.

Hosted by Emmy Award winner Brett Haber, Hall of Famers Jim Courier and Navratilova, and Sports Illustrated’s Jon Wertheim  Live at the Australian Open will air most nights from 6 p.m.-7 p.m. immediately preceding the start of the day’s play Down Under. 

The network’s on-air team also includes Bill Macatte, Justin Gimelstob and Lindsey Davenport.

Tennis' schedule calls for 11 consecutive days spanning 40 hours of live coverage at this year’s Australian Open (see schedule). With encore replays, highlights, a special preview and the new Live at the Australian Open, the network plans to present some 200 hours linear hours.

Hybrid digital service, Tennis Channel Plus, combining TVE accessibility and bonus match coverage, will home in on one court during the tournament's second week, streaming the action to its subscriber base.


Tennis Channel’s Live Australian Open Coverage (all times ET)

Date                                                    Time                           Event                                                 

Sunday, Jan. 18                                   6 p.m.-7 p.m.              Pre-Tournament Welcome

Monday, Jan. 19                                 6 p.m.-9 p.m.              FirstRound

Tuesday, Jan. 20                                 6 p.m.-9 p.m.              SecondRound

Wednesday, Jan. 21                            6p.m.-9 p.m.              Second Round

Thursday, Jan. 22                               6 p.m.-11 p.m.              ThirdRound

Friday, Jan. 23                                    6 p.m.-9 p.m.              ThirdRound

Saturday, Jan. 24                                6 p.m.-9 p.m.              Round of 16

Sunday, Jan. 25                                   6 p.m.-9 p.m.              Round of 16

Monday, Jan. 26                                 6 p.m.-9 p.m.              Men’s and Women’s Quarterfinals

Tuesday, Jan. 27                                 6 p.m.-9 p.m.              Men’s and Women’s Quarterfinals

Wednesday, Jan. 28                            6p.m.-9:30 p.m.         TBA

Thursday, Jan. 29                               10 p.m.-3:30 a.m.       Mixed Doubles Semifinal, Women’s Doubles Final

Saturday, Jan. 31                                5:30 a.m.-8 a.m.         Men’sDoubles Final

Sunday, Feb. 1                                    12 a.m.-2 a.m.            Mixed Doubles Final