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Top 10 storylines to watch at the Australian Open, more mail

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A quick mailbag before the first Slam of 2015.

There won't be a defending champ on the women’s side at the Australian Open. What else do I need to know? And who will win?
-- Mark G, Connecticut

• Check back later this week for seed reports and a preview video. For now, here are ten top-line items.

1. Novak Djokovic is your top men’s seed and I don’t see how you pick against him.
2. Roger Federer comes in having won a tune-up in Brisbane for his 1,000 career victory and, more important, he’s healthy and rested.
3. Rafael Nadal is playing his first big event in more than six months. That said, he should have won the title last year and his powers of recovery are well established.
4. Apart from Stan Wawrinka, keep an eye on Juan Martin del Potro. Good to have him back in the cast.
5. Nick Kyrgios won’t win but he could highjack the first week. He’s a dazzling young talent, locally harvested and a player that likes the big stage.
6. Serena Williams is your top seed and favorite on the women’s side. She looked flat this week, but “form entering” seldom has much predictive value with her.
7. When we talk about a contender named Williams more specificity is required. Venus is playing her best tennis in recent memory and while she’s seeded at No. 18, there are not 17 players with superior chances of winning.
8. Keep an eye on Maria Sharapova and another on Ana Ivanovic, two former Grand Slam champs who are in form.
9. For so many players—EugenieBouchard, Sloane Stephens, Madison Keys—the Aussie Open will tell us a lot about the states of their games. They are also three players (and there are many others) entering the season with new coaches.
10. Early forecasts indicate that it won't be as hot as last year. But heat—and thus scheduling— is likely to be a significant factor.

Under the radar players to watch in 2015

I noticed the conspicuous omission of Eugenie Bouchard from your projection of 2015 year-end women players. Considering her break out 2014 (two slam semis, one slam final) and the generally upward trajectory of her career, what do you see in store for her? What do you think will be the effect of her coaching change?
-- Roger T. Jones, Waterbury Center, Vermont

• This wasn’t meant as a knock on Bouchard. I would love to see data here, but anecdotally, so many players stagnate or regress in the year after their breakthrough. They have to adjust to new responsibilities. On account of the exposure, other players have gotten hip to their patterns and games, the equivalent of batters picking up pitchers’ tendencies. I know of multiple cases—though I don't believe it applies here—in which a player was offered a lucrative racket deal and needed several months to adjust to a new stick, at a cost to her ranking. I think we also tend to underestimate a) the difficulty of the jump from cracking the top ten to winning a major—which is the last step in Bouchard’s ascent; and b) the staying power of players like Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams and rest of the Big Four.

Long-range: I like Bouchard a lot. It’s hard not to. Not a lot of discernible weakness. A competitive zeal. No absence of self-belief. But if she can replicate her 2014—never mind win a major—this year, it would be awfully impressive.

Aces and Faults: Federer, Sharapova, Halep and Venus shine in first week

Looks like Venus added a new member to her team with Martin Colenbrander, then she wins the ASB Classic in Auckland. Much kudos to David Witt, but certainly Colenbrander helped a lot, too. Is this a long-term arrangement? I hope it is and I am still hopeful that Venus wins the Australian Open and another Wimbledon championship. It's a realistic goal, I think.
-- Nestor Cotiyam

• This sounds suspiciously like a plant. But we’ll happily play along. The Williams sisters have a gift for recruiting Australian players as hitting partners when they’re Down Under. Here’s Colenbrander. Serena often employed this guy. Long as we’re here, though, how about that Venus Williams? She’ll turn 35 this year and yet she’s playing some of her best tennis. It’s hard to imagine a player ranked No. 18 who will inspire more fear in the draw. Realistically, it will take a lot for her to win another major. (And it's been well over a decade since she’s won one outside of Wimbledon.) But a lot CAN go right, especially if she is healthy.

Go Figure: How Roger Federer got to 1,000 career wins

While both of Coach K’s and Roger Federer’s accomplishments are astounding, I have to give the edge to Federer. By physical exertion alone, his wins would be more impressive, and then add in the fact that he has to coach himself while in the lion's den, the 1000 wins are the most impressive.
-- Jeff Johnson

• Jeff is referring to our (admittedly apples-to-oranges) Twitter discussion re: whose 1,000 wins are more impressive, Coach K’s or Roger Federer? I’m with Jeff, not surprisingly. Winning a match in an individual sport versus winning game as a team sport coach? I know which one I would value more. (And Federer doesn’t get the gimme dates against Wake Forest.)

We’ve been talking about this all week on and Tennis Channel, but for all the milestones that are artificial, Federer’s 1,000th win is truly astounding. For most players, a 50-win season is sensational. Consider that Milos Raonic, squarely in the top 10, won 49 matches in 2014. Federer turned in the equivalent of 20 of those 50-win seasons.

Top 5 predictions, comparing Halep and Sanchez Vicario and more mail

When it comes to seeding doubles teams, the doubles ranking of both players is added up and then the teams are seeded from least to most points.  In the case a team has the same number of points, how is it decided which team gets the higher seeding?
-- Peter, Chicago

• Whichever team has the larger points haul.

I loved your top 5 list of songs for players to walk out to and can't disagree with No. 1. For Jarkko Nieminen, he'd have to walk to this great cover done by a band from his motherland. I can't stop listening to it.
-- Andy Pasternak, Reno, Nevada

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• Thanks. We say it once, we say it again: if a Finnish tennis player likes an AC/DC cover featuring a jug band, who are we to argue?

Shots, Miscellany:

Australian Open suicide pool, everyone in.  

• Ryan Harrison might miss the Australian Open main draw for the first time in six years. But his year has gotten off to an awfully nice start. The American won the Challenger last week in Happy Valley (Australia, not central Penn.), beating Marcos Baghdatis in the final. The good news: Already this year, he’s shaved 33 slots off his ranking. The less good news: he is still No. 160.

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• A reader notes: Now this is called a mega donation – Andre Agassi, Steff Graf gave $1.5 million for a local Las Vegas center that works on brain disorders.

• The USTA announced that it will add same-gender couples’ doubles tournaments to its 2015 adult competition tennis calendar. The Plaza Racquet Club in Palm Springs will be hosting the historic inaugural event on March 7-8. 

• David A Benjamin has announced his retirement from the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA), effective this July.

• Istraturist Umag, organizer of the Croatia Open Umag, has appointed Lawrence Frankopan, Founder and CEO of StarWing Sports Management as the new Croatia Open tournament director.

Here’s a look at Steve Johnson.

• From the South Carolina USTA, a touching story about Jill Stevenson, who lost her battle with cancer in November but was honored by her “Team Jill” teammates at the USTA South Carolina 65 and Over and 70 and Over State League Championships.

Our discussion of Wimbledon ticketing drew a lot of responses. A cross section from a reader named Joan:

 A word advocating standing in the queue, especially if you're traveling from the states: We did it the first time we went to Wimbledon and it was worth it. We got to queue around 5:00pm on a Thursday of first week (it was noon to us; we'd arrived in London that day).  We waited for about an hour and got the grounds pass for a total of about $25.00.  Once on grounds, we had access to the outside courts, where you can see players close-up (e.g Isner on his record-breaking court) and the experience itself, which is so worth it.

Plus, once you're in the grounds, Wimbledon re-sells tickets to Center Court from people who have those tickets but leave for the day -- all for 5 GBP (the money goes to charity)!  So we got to see Federer vs. Mannarino!  And when we were standing courtside on one of the other courts, two people leaving for the day just gave us tickets for Court 3, and we got to see Ferrer vs. Harrison. So…it can also be worth the wait too!

New changes at Margaret Court Arena include copper retractable roof

And from Michele: I read the question in your column today about getting tickets to Centre Court Wimbledon. I used Championship Tennis Tours to attend the French Open Final in 2007. The tickets were expensive and I was sitting in the last row, but it worked. I cannot specifically vouch for their Wimbledon tickets, but I believe they are a reputable agency.

One other note: There's another way to get tickets to Wimbledon that does not involve the lottery that I don't think enough people know about. It's no guarantee but I think you have better odds than the lottery. Ticketmaster releases a certain amount of tickets 24 hours prior to each day's play (this does not apply to the last four days of the tournament). But if you're in London and want to take a shot, this worked for me and I was able to go on the second Monday in 2012 and, best part, pay face value. Hope that was helpful.

And from Fiona: In response to one of your mailbag letters, I bought a travel package to Wimbledon in 2009 using Keith Prowse (I found the agency on the official Wimbledon website). It was expensive but pretty good. My package was two days with one day on Centre Court, the other day on Court one. There was also a hospitality tent in the lawns opposite Wimbledon, just a quick walk. You get lots of food and drinks, and a Wimbledon backpack full of goodies. I stayed in a hotel for three nights just a couple of tube stops from Wimbledon. It was where the players stayed, as I met a few of them in the hotel. Breakfast was included and you also get a free pass to the Wimbledon museum. Hope that helps.

• Ken Wells has this week’s Long Lost Siblings: Dave Grohl and Paolo Lorenzi.