One of the more perplexing myths about the sporting calendar is that the year begins with the Australian Open tennis, which starts on Monday morning, Melbourne time.
Sure, some of the more polite sports take a genteel break over the Christmas holidays, but ask any football fan when the sporting year began for them, and the answer may well be while it was still dark on New Year's Day, when the long drive to a distant part of the country began. England's "cricketers" may have some thoughts on the topic too.
Still, whether the Aussie Open raises the curtain on 2014 (Sports) or not, of one thing is sure - the Serbian tennis machine Novak Djokovic, available on Betfair at 2.226/5 to win it, will not be extending his run of three straight titles in the tournament. And here's why...
No one has ever recorded four straight titles in the Australian Open era
True, before Djokovic's third title, no one had won three straight either, but the Open era stretches back to 1969 and in spite of certain players enjoying sustained periods of dominance in the event, a run of four has escaped them all. Andre Agassi dominated the Australian at the beginning of the century, but could only manage three titles in four years, likewise Roger Federer. And neither had rivals as formidable as Rafael Nadal (the winners in Agassi and Federer's respective "off" years were Thomas Johansson and Marat Safin), yet they still couldn't put a four together.
This tournament is rarely won by the second seed
Although only the oldest spectators at Melbourne Park can remember Djokovic's last defeat there, the Serb still has to endure the ignominy of only being second seed. Nadal is number one. Indeed, the second seed hasn't won the Australian Open since 2004, with the title going to the top seed in six of the last eight years.
Djokovic goes into the tournament with a new coach
Switching your tennis coach is like changing your hairstyle - just because it's new it doesn't mean it's going to work - and Djokovic has made a particularly bold decision in his choice of instructor. Boris Becker - who has never coached before - has been given the task of guiding the world number two up a step. There are plenty of examples of new coaches taking time to bed in and for their techniques to bear fruit. Similarly there are plenty of instances of new coaches only serving to pave the way for more new coaches, as players work their way through trainers in a desperate search for that missing ingredient.
Also, Becker has been hired to add more aggression to Djokovic's game, and move him away from his grinding style and help extend his career by winning matches faster. The risk is that Djokovic abandons the very strength that has propelled him to the top. Becker's hire is also to help him win more slam titles away from Australia, which might come at the price of winning fewer titles in Australia.
Rafa Nadal has won their last three Grand Slam encounters
Assuming the one and two seeds make it all the way to the final, Djokovic, for all his Australian Open form, may well go into it as the underdog. He may have beaten his nemesis in their last two meetings (in Beijing and indoors at the ATP finals in London), but Rafa is the man for the big stage, having beaten Novak in their last three Grand Slam matches; in the US Open final, the Roland Garros semi-final, and the final of Roland Garros the year before that.
How have the 'Big Four' men's tennis players fared in this competition in the past, and how does that compare to their current odds of lifting the trophy? Matt Isherwood takes a look:
(click the image to enlarge)