The Australian Open is perhaps the most unpredictable of the tennis Grand Slams, with its position at the start of the calendar year denying players the chance to find form and momentum before the tournament begins.
The 2018 Australian Open will have commentators and analysts scratching their heads when making predictions about what will happen, with many of the leading players on the ATP tour plagued by injuries in the back end of 2017 and the WTA tour blown wide open by the absence of a dominant Serena Williams.
So it can't be nice being one of those poor souls tasked with writing predictions about what will transpire in a sunny Australian January. Fortunately, this article will focus on the less contentious topic of reminiscing about some of the most memorable moments from the tournament's history.
This will not be a definitive list but rather a celebration of just some of the weird and wonderful tennis moments from the Slam down under. At no point will I try and predict what will happen in 2018's tournament.
A Rivalry Reignited
After all, who could have predicted that 2017's ATP final would be contested by the tennis heavyweights Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal? This unlikeliest of likely matchups produced a compelling final, a battle across a quintet of sets that saw Federer prevail to claim a fairly impressive 18th Grand Slam title.
Of course, much of the recent era of tennis has been defined by the dominance and rivalry between Federer and Nadal, but most tennis observers had resigned themselves to the fact that great finals between the two were a thing of the past.
How foolish they look now, especially considering that Federer and Nadal ended up sharing the Slams between them in a staggering defiance of suggestions of tennis being a young person's game...
This final was made particularly possible by the failures of the two best players in the world (in theory), Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic. Murray's defeat in four sets in the fourth round to the serve and volley maestro Mischa Zverev raised a few eyebrows, although Zverev has established himself as a tricky customer on tour with his increasingly rare style enough to propel him to the world's top thirty.
Djokovic has fewer caveats to his defeat, blowing a 2-1 set lead in the second round to succumb to the charms of the 117th best player in the world (in theory), Denis Istomin.
Djokovic and Murray would go on to endure difficult years, but Federer and Nadal used their riveting battle in the final as the springboard for successful campaigns.
Those sterling seasons are why Federer and Nadal head to Australia as strong favourites, with odds of 5/2 and 3/1 respectively, as of December 18th. Some might say it's a cop-out to use literally the most recent match played at the Australian Open as one of its most memorable moments, but anyone who says that didn't watch the final.
The 1995 quarter-final clash between Pete Sampras and Jim Courier is a remarkable and heartbreaking example of the confluence between sport and things that truly matter. Sampras had recently discovered that his friend and coach, Tim Gullikson, had been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer.
The two had enjoyed a fruitful sporting partnership, with Gullikson's tutelage guiding Sampras' ability to the top of the rankings. The news about cancer left Sampras devastated, but he resolved to play his match against Courier.
Courier took the first two sets in a brace of tie-breaks, and it would have taken considerable resolve to respond against a player of Courier's calibre in any circumstance. Popular stories regarding the match suggest that a fan shouted encouragement to Sampras to do it for his coach, and the tide began to turn.
Sampras has since refuted actually hearing such encouragement, but that tide turned nonetheless. He began to display his distraught visibly, with Courier concerned and willing to complete the match the following day.
But Sampras rallied in stunning fashion, focusing on his game that he had honed so successfully alongside Gullikson. Sampras went on to take the next three sets 6-3 6-4 6-3, and would become the runner-up in the tournament behind Andre Agassi. However, it was that quarter-final match which serves as a poignant reminder of perspective within sport.
The Kids Are Alright
In 2003, Andy Roddick and Younes El Aynaoui engaged in a titanic quarter-final clash that pushed both players to their physical limit. Roddick would take the final set 21-19, a scoreline which seemed unbeatably epic in 2003 but that would be sneered at by John Isner and Nicolas Mahut.
Roddick and El Aynaoui grew so weary that they took a breather while allowing ball boys to rally. The quality dipped somewhat with the change of players, although their exuberant celebrations are right up there with the giants of the game.
Hats Off To Capriati
Jennifer Capriati won three Slams in her career, and two of those came in consecutive years in Australia. Her first title in 2001 was impressive, defeating the top two seeds in straight sets and becoming the lowest seed to win the title. This Slam marked a return to top form for Capriati, but few expected her to consolidate in the manner that she did.
The current probable top seed for the Australian Open is Simona Halep, who can be backed as a fourth favourite with odds of 8/1 as of December 18th Punters clearly do not favour the Romanian to establish herself as the leading WTA player, an indication of how there are several talented players vying for supremacy.
Capriati returned to Australia in 2002 as top seed courtesy of Lindsay Davenport's withdrawal. Capriati did prove to be the top player, but she didn't go about it the easy way.
Martina Hingis probably wasn't too thrilled to play consecutive finals against Capriati, but with a 6-4 4-0 scoreline in her favour, she was presumably warming to the idea. Vengeance is mine, she may have mused before each of her three match points.
But Capriati's clutch playing forced a third set via a tie-break, and breezed to victory by taking the deciding set 6-2. Capriati was volatile at times during the match, and criticised some decisions with unsavoury language. But all was forgotten as she savoured a consecutive Australian Open title, having clawed back from the brink of defeat.
Novak Outlasts Rafa
Nadal is renowned for his unwavering spirit and seemingly relentless stamina, so it took a magnificent performance from Novak Djokovic to defeat the Spaniard in what became the longest Grand Slam final in history. The match ebbed and flowed for five hours and fifty-three minutes, which is enough time in which to watch this video of Sam Querrey dancing 3530 times. I wouldn't recommend it, however.
As mesmerising as the moves of a famous Djokovic vanquisher are, they are incomparable to the five-set epic that saw 2012's finest male tennis players leave everything on the court in a match of supreme quality. Djokovic can be backed at odds of 7/2 as of December 18th to take the title in Australia once again, but he'll need to have a resurgence of sizeable proportion to rediscover the form he showed in 2012.
Rather than failing to do the match justice with words, here's a handy highlights package from the Australian Open YouTube channel with the completely unbiased title 'The Greatest Final Ever!' Here's hoping the 2018 Australian Open can deliver such a spectacle, although the bar has been set rather high here.
The 2018 Australian Open is now well and truly underway - check out our top tips and best bets throughout the competition here...
*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*