The first of the Tennis Grand Slams is nearly upon us with the Australian Open beginning from January 16 to January 29, 2012.
Defending Champion Novak Djokovic will once again be the man to beat after beating Andy Murray in the final last year 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 but he will face stiff competition from Rafa Nadal, Roger Federer, Juan Martin Del Porto and once again British hopeful Andy Murray.
Murray will continue his one man quest to become the first British man since Fred Perry back in 1936 to win a major Grand Slam title.
On the women’s side, Kim Clijsters of Belgian will be seeking to win her fifth Grand Slam major overall and her second consecutive Aussie Open championship.
This will be a special year for the organisers of the tournament as this will be the 100th edition of the Australian Open. Here’s a preview of the big names that will be hoping to lift the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup and The Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup on January 28 and 29 respectively.
Novak Djokovic – (Seeded 1st)
The reigning champion and the man to beat in most peoples eyes, If Djokovic can replicate the form he showed in 2011 then he could possible win all four grand slam titles this year but he would have to stay in top condition from now until the US Open which starts in August.
It was a record-breaking year for Djokovic as he ended the year with three of the four major Grand Slams with a win-loss ratio of 70-6 record and also won five ATP World Tour Masters titles during 2011.
However, cracks have appeared in Djokovic’s game in the last coming months of the tennis season with a recurring back injury hampering the end of his year.
Djokovic has decided against playing in the pre-warm up matches before the Australian Open which means he won’t have any match practise before his first match at the Australian open.
That means it will take a massive effort by him to retain his crown however I wouldn’t rule him for the championship just yet as he is the best player in the world right now but I feel Djokovic will be better prepared by the time the French Open comes around in May.
Rafael Nadal – (Seeded 2nd)
Despite winning his sixth French Open title in 2011 and in the process equalling Bjorn Borg’s record of six Roland Garros titles, you could say that Nadal under-achieved in 2011 as he lost two Grand Slam finals against Novak Djokovic, (Wimbledon and US Open) and was beaten in the quarter-finals against David Ferrer in the Australian Open last year which ended Nadal’s dream of holding all four majors simultaneously.
However, he did manage to win the Davis Cup with Spain beating Argentina in the final, winning both of his singles matches in the final.
Nadal as always will provide a threat against all the top players in the world but the question for Nadal is if he meets Djokovic in the final again, will he have right mentality to forget about the last two Grand Slam finals and defeat Djokovic? It promises to be a big tournament for the Spaniard.
Roger Federer – (Seeded 3rd)
It really is amazing to think it has been two years since Roger Federer last won a grand slam, the 2010 Australian Open and he will be hoping that he can end his drought by winning this tournament.
Arguably, Federer finished the season the best out of the “big four” as he won the Barclays ATP World Finals in London beating Tsonga in the final and also crushed Nadal in a space of a hour en route to the final.
Federer however, has suffered a scare ahead of the start of the tournament as he had to withdraw from the Qatar Open with a back injury ahead of his semi-final against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Beforehand, Federer was on a 20 match unbeaten run prior to that semi-final with Tsonga and Federer also admitted that he might not be at 100% before the tournament begins.
Nevertheless, if Federer can produce the form he showed at the end of 2011 season and gets his back injury checked properly, he’s my tip to win the Australian Open and his 17th Grand Slam of his career.
Andy Murray – (Seeded 4th)
Is this finally the tournament that Andy Murray accomplishes his dream and wins his first Grand Slam of his career? There’s no doubt in my mind that one day Murray will win a Grand Slam and the most likely chance of him winning one is on the hard courts. Murray has been runner-up in the past two Australian Open finals and in both finals he was outclassed by both Roger Federer in 2010 and Djokovic in 2011.
Murray has always had the game to win Grand Slams but he seems to lose his cool on big points and his new coach Ivan Lendl will hope to change his attitude on the courts towards certain points. I’m confident that Murray will eventually win a Grand Slam at one point during his career but I have a feeling for this tournament that the other three men ahead of him in rankings will have too much for him on the big points……again.
Other contenders and news:
Former US Open champion Juan Martin Del Porto will be a big threat towards the “big four” as he looks to win his second Grand Slam title of his career. The Argentine has had to recover from a serious wrist injury in the past which kept him out for nearly 6 months and he has the tools to surprise a few down under in Melbourne.
David Ferrer will hope to go one better and reach the final of the Australian Open this time after being defeated by Andy Murray in the semis last year while Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, finalist back in 2008 will hope to keep his good form going after winning the 2012 Qatar Open.
A player to watch out for could be Alexandr Dolgopolov from Ukraine who lost to Andy Murray in the Brisbane International final last week but he has the potential to upset some of the big names down under this year.
Carrying the hopes for Australia in this tournament will be Lleyton Hewitt and the new young star in Australian tennis, Bernard Tomic, who got to the Wimbledon quarter-finals last year at the age of 18.
Unfortunately, former fifth seed in the rankings, Robin Soderling withdrew from the Australian Open from illness while former semi finalist Marin Cilic withdrew due to a patella tendon injury. For Irish interests, Conor Niland will be competing in the men’s singles qualifying for the tournament and he will face off against Stéphane Bohli of Switzerland in the first round.
For the second year running, the two Williams sisters will not be competing together at the Australian Open after Venus Williams was forced to pull out through illness.
Another doubt for the start of the tournament is 2011 champion Kim Clijsters after she retired halfway through her Brisbane International semi-final against Slovakia’s Daniela Hantuchova with a hip injury but she is reportedly winning her battle and should be fit to start the tournament.
Current number one Caroline Wozniacki will hope that she can break her Grand Slam duck this year while Li Na of China who won the French Open title last year but lost in the final of the Australian Open last year against Clijsters will hope she can go on a similar run this time around.
Another woman who will be determined to win back a Grand Slam will be Russia’s Maria Sharapova who last won a Grand Slam back in 2008 while the bookies have Petra Kvitova as the favourite to win her second Grand Slam title after her recent major success at Wimbledon in 2011.