As the tennis season begins with the first slam of the year kicking off on Monday, let’s take a look at your trusty panel of Tennis Grandstand writers and their predictions for the Australian Open. We discuss dark horses, seeded players crashing out early, first round upsets, and potential quarterfinalists and champions for both the ATP and WTA tours. You won’t have to look anywhere further than our comprehensive coverage!
Melissa Boyd: Milos Raonic. Coming off his second ATP title in Chennai, Raonic couldn’t have asked for a better start to 2012 coming back from hip surgery last year. He is tennis’ fastest rising star and his serve will scare anyone. He landed in a tough section of the draw with a potential match up with Hewitt or Roddick in the third round and Djokovic in the Round of 16. Regardless, these are two matches I would love to see.
Lisa-Marie Burrows: Juan Martin Del Potro. Despite an early loss to Marcos Baghdatis in the third round of the Australian Open, Del Potro could well be the dark horse who has a good chance of becoming the crowned champion and lifting the trophy. He is the only other player outside of the top three who has previously won a Grand Slam (the US Open in 2009), and he finds himself in the bottom of the draw with potential meetings with Fish, Dologopolov and Federer. Should Del Potro remain injury-free and his wrist remains healthy the world number eleven may have a good chance of adding another Slam to his name.
Romi Cvitkovic: Bernard Tomic. The young Australian will be riding a steady wave as he beat Gael Monfils and Tomas Berdych at the Kooyong Classic this week. With all the hype around the nineteen-year-old, he hardly seems like a “dark horse” but could easily find himself taking on Federer in the fourth round.
Lindsay Gibbs: Alexandr Dolgopolov. The crafty Ukranian has had success in Australia in the past, and with a decent draw and Federer’s questionable back lingering down the road, the 13th seed could cause some major upsets.
Andrea Lubinsky: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Tsonga had his best career result in Melbourne in 2008 and he’s currently playing better than ever. He had some great wins in 2011 against Top 10 players, including Federer and Nadal. He knows he can beat the best players on the big stage and could be dangerous if he gets some momentum in Australia.
Mike McIntyre: Kei Nishikori. The just-turned 22 year old is ranked 26th in the world at the moment and has seen his fortunes quickly rise over the past year. In 2011 Nishikori had wins over Mardy Fish, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and most impressively, Novak Djokovic towards the end of October in Basel. This week at the Kooyong Classic he stepped in as a replacement for Milos Raonic and scored impressive wins over Tsonga again as well as Andy Roddick. Nishikori has a good draw with no troublesome opponents in the first two rounds and then potentially Gilles Simon in the 3rd before a rematch perhaps with Tsonga in the fourth. If I were in his shoes I’d be feeling pretty good about the opening week in Melbourne.
Van Sias: Kei Nishikori. We’ve seen what he’s capable of, especially on hard courts. A lot depends on his health as he has proven to be injury-prone. If he and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga meet in the fourth round and Tsonga’s showing signs of being burned out, Nishikori’s capable of an upset.
Kelyn Soong: Milos Raonic. The big-serving Canadian has tremendous upside and could muscle his way deep into the tournament. Coming off his second career ATP title in Chennai, the 21-year-old is eager to make up for time lost last year due to hip surgery. A potential third-round clash with Andy Roddick would be a nice treat for all those serve enthusiasts.
Maud Watson: Juan Martin del Potro. Even when he was first returning from injury, nobody wanted to see the big-hitting Argentine on the opposite side of the net. He’s located in the weaker half the draw, and if he plays even remotely close to his best tennis, he shouldn’t face his first real test until the quarters against Federer. Most importantly, he’s the only potential dark horse candidate who knows what it’s like to be the last man standing at the end of a Grand Slam event.
Boyd: Agnieszka Radwanska. I feel bad choosing a Top 10 seed as my dark horse, but it also seems we just assume Radwanska will live up to her seeding and then get knocked out by one of the contenders. A win over Wozniacki in Sydney, her first over a World No. 1, should give her a nice confidence boost heading to Melbourne. She has tough first round match against Mattek-Sands, but if she gets through, she could be headed for a quarter-final showdown with Azarenka.
Burrows: Victoria Azarenka. She has just been crowned Champion at the Apia International Sydney tournament after defeating Li Na and is quite comfortable allowing the top two players to shoulder all of the expectation and pressure for the first Slam of the year. The third seed would relish an opportunity to lift her first Grand Slam and continue her good start to the 2012 season.
Gibbs: Agnieska Radwanska. Since her first round upset at the U.S. Open, Radwanska has been on fire, most recently upsetting Caroline Wozniacki in Sydney. The 8th seed is due for a big breakthrough in a Grand Slam.
Lubinsky: Victoria Azarenka. With the WTA being the way it is at the moment and all the hype around Azarenka’s game, it’s a wonder she hasn’t made it to a Grand Slam final yet. She won the Apia International in Sydney this week and had to get through players like Li Na and Agnieszka Radwanska on the way.
Sias: Kaia Kanepi. She’s always had the game; now it’s starting to look like her fitness and mental focus are matching up with her talent. Serena Williams will have to be on guard if they meet in the round of 16.
Soong: Agnieska Radwanska. The 22-year-old has never reached past the quarterfinals at a Grand Slam, but 2012 could be her year. Radwanska defeated both Andrea Petkovic and world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki at the Sydney International before falling to eventual champion Victoria Azarenka. With no clear-cut favorite on the women’s side in Melbourne, Radwanska has a chance to go all the way.
Watson: Francesca Schiavone. Admittedly, she might seem a longer shot than others, but who would have thought she’d back up her 2010 Roland Garros title with a run to the finals in 2011? She’s played some good ball down under, and she’s in one of the softest sections of the draw. Couple that with an old-school game that throws off opponents and a personality the crowd will embrace, and she could ride the wave to the title.
Higher-ranked/Seeded Player Crashing Out Early
Boyd: Andy Roddick – Roddick faces a tough draw and has only one match under his belt coming into Melbourne. He faces a tricky opponent in Robin Haase to start and then could face Hewitt, who could be playing his final Australian Open, in the second round. Not to mention that Milos Raonic and Novak Djokovic loom in his section of the draw as well.
Burrows: Fernando Verdasco. World number 24 Fernando Verdasco could be a potential early exit as he faces home crowd favourite and rising young star, Bernard Tomic in the first round. The Spaniard will be looking for a better start to the year and make a bigger impact on the Tour once again. However, for Verdasco it will be difficult. Not only is he playing against a rising player full of confidence, he is also playing against the Australian crowd.
Cvitkovic: Mardy Fish. He’s had a fairytale year climbing all the way to #8 in the rankings after his most successful year on tour, but time is catching up with the thirty-year-old. He’s lost in the first three rounds the last four years of the Australian Open and he’ll see his dreams dashed again this year.
Gibbs: Gilles Simon. The 12th seeded Frenchman meets his soaring country-man Julien Benneteau in Round 2, and should have a hard time making it any farther in the draw.
Lubinsky: Andy Roddick. It seems Roddick may have gotten an early copy of the draw. That’s the only explanation for his horrid new haircut. He plans on scaring his opponents into submission. The 29 year old ended the year outside of the Top 10 for the first time in nearly a decade and he’s just not as consistent as he used to be. He’s still got the game to go deep into a second week at a Slam, but it won’t be this one. Roddick would have to get through Robin Haase, Lleyton Hewitt, Milos Raonic, and Novak Djokovic just to make the quarterfinals. Better luck next time, Andy.
McIntyre: Andy Roddick. I would not hold my breath for Roddick advancing deep in this year’s Aussie Open. He will be turning thirty this year but will find that milestone far less agreeable with him than Roger Federer did last summer. Roddick will very likely be facing Aussie veteran Lleyton Hewitt in the second round and that match could really go either way. Even if he were to get beyond Hewitt, a fresh-faced Milos Raonic could likely be waiting and the young Canadian has really come a long way in the past year.
Sias: Andy Roddick. His matchup with Robin Haase first up has to be as close to a bad-case scenario as it gets. Roddick’s coming in with only two matches under his belt on the year, and that’s in exhibition play. Haase didn’t exactly bounce back from having Andy Murray on the ropes at the U.S. Open last year, but he has the talent to play with the big boys. It’s a new year, and he has to realize he can pull off an upset.
Soong: Andy Roddick. The 15th-seeded American showed he still had some gas left in his tank with a quarterfinals appearance at last year’s U.S. Open but fell out of the season ending top-10 for the first time since 2001. Roddick has a tough first round match in Dutchman Robin Haase and could face off with rival veteran Lleyton Hewitt in the second. It doesn’t get easier from there as he is in the same quarter as Novak Djokovic and David Ferrer.
Watson: Mardy Fish. Fish deserves a lot of respect for reinventing himself in 2011. But despite what we’ve seen in Kooyong, we also saw an alarming amount of the old Fish at the Hopman Cup. He’s got a tricky first round against Gilles Muller, and a handful of other consistent opponents lurking in the wings that could pose problems for Fish if he doesn’t have his game cleaned up and his head on straight.
Boyd: Samantha Stosur. Perhaps it is the pressure of playing on home soil, but Stosur doesn’t seem to play well Down Under. Early losses in Brisbane and Sydney certainly won’t help her cause either. The reigning U.S. Open champion won’t have the chance to ease her way into the tournament, as she is set to meet the talented Romanian, Sorana Cirstea in the first round.
Gibbs: Vera Zvonareva. The Russian has been struggling lately, and with the dangerous Kaia Kanepi lurking in her draw I can’t see the 7th seed getting past the third round.
Lubinsky: Samantha Stosur. Unless the player is named Serena, a Grand Slam title on the WTA tour nearly guarantees a big letdown in the future. The added pressure of coming in as a recent Slam champion and performing at home in Australia should be enough to set her on edge. She flew under the radar in New York, all the way to the title. She won’t be able to do that in Melbourne.
Sias: Samantha Stosur. There won’t be any hometown heroics from last year’s U.S. Open champ. Her first two matches should be easy, but going against Nadia Petrova in the third round will be a difficult contest. Nerves and a game Petrova should end her run.
Soong: Samantha Stosur. The hometown hope now has the additional pressure of being a Grand Slam champion. When Stosur is on her best, she is tough to beat (as evidenced with her decisive win over Serena Williams at last year’s U.S. Open final.) But she can seemingly lose to just about any player when her game is off.
Watson: Caroline Wozniacki. She’s got wrist problems, and she’s been struggling to win matches since the start of the season. A fit and confident Wozniacki might be penciled in to the quarters where Clijsters or Li might clip her, but in her present form, you have to give players like Safarova and Jankovic more than a fighting chance to knock off the current No. 1.
First Round and Potential Second Round Matches to Watch For
Boyd: Tomic vs. Verdasco. This year’s Australian Open is a huge opportunity for young Tomic and what a way to make a splash at a Grand Slam in your own backyard than taking out a former Top 10 player. There promises to be lots of great points in this match and it will be interesting to see how Tomic can use his shot-making skills up against the Verdasoco “fearhand”.
Burrows: Andy Roddick vs Robin Haase. Andy Roddick is looking to find his form of old and is keen to have a good year on Tour to deter any further suggestions of an impending retirement. With his new, short, mo-hawk hair do, Roddick is set to repeat his only meeting against curly-haired Robin Haase, for a repeat of last years 3rd round match where the players met for the first time at the Australian Open. Haase reached his career high ranking of 40 in 2011 and is seeking to have a good start to the new season to regain and improve this once more. Both players have a lot to gain – and also a lot to lose.
Cvitkovic: Viktor Troicki vs Juan Carlos Ferrero. Troicki is known to suffer from occasional inopportune meltdowns as he did in Cincinnati last year against Fabio Fognini. Ferrero is a marathon man pushing higher-ranked players into the deep end and we shouldn’t expect any less drama from this match.
Gibbs: Janko Tipsarevic vs. Dmitry Tursunov. These two wildcards have a 2-2 head-to-head, splitting their most recent meetings last fall. You never know what to expect from either player, but a five-setter would be an exhausting treat.
Lubinsky: Lleyton Hewitt vs. Andy Roddick. Two ATP veterans. Both Grand Slam winners. In 2005, this was a much anticipated semifinal, in which Hewitt prevailed. Now it’s a second round match that some doubt will even occur. At the very least this match should be dramatic (if they both manage to make it to the second round.) Roddick and Hewitt both seem to have a bit of a propensity for drawn out five set matches. While they’ve played 13 times with fairly even results, Roddick has prevailed in their last six meetings, but the matches have been quite competitive.
McIntyre: Richard Gasquet vs. Mikhail Youzhny. A second round match between the two has five sets written all over it. Youzhny leads their head-to-head 3-2 and that includes two victories here at the first Grand Slam of the year. Their last meeting at the Aussie Open was a five set win for the Russian in 2010 that included three tiebreaks to settle it.
Sias: Janko Tipsarevic vs. Dmitry Tursunov: If you’re a fan of shot-making, this is the one for you. Both of these players are capable of hitting winners from anywhere at any time. Tipsarevic has steadied his game and should come out of this first-round encounter, but he’s going to have to earn it.
Soong: Andy Murray vs. Ryan Harrison. This match-up immediately jumped out for me as it pits the established Murray against the rising American Harrison. Both can be a little cranky on court and if nothing else, fans will likely be entertained by their on-court self-talk.
Watson: Murray vs. Harrison. Murray most likely wins this one, and he may even do so in three. But Harrison is a talented player, and Murray has a tendency to let things get complicated in the early rounds of majors. Throw in the quick tempers of the pair of them, and you can be sure that the entertainment value of this match will stem from more than just the tennis coming off their racquets.
Boyd: Azarenka vs. Watson. While I ultimately think Vika will win this match, I think it will be a high quality one. At 19, Watson is a young, up and coming player who isn’t afraid of the big stage. In 2011, she reached the second round at Roland-Garros and went toe-to-toe with Maria Sharapova in the first round of the U.S. Open, showing great fight in a tight three set loss. It will be interesting to see if she can do the same thing against an in-form Azarenka.
Gibbs: While Maria Sharapova vs. Gisela Dulko is certainly the most eye-catching first round match, you can’t beat Anna Chakvataze vs. Jelena Dokic for pure sentimentality.
Lubinsky: Victoria Azarenka vs. Heather Watson. The British teen had the unfortunate luck of drawing Maria Sharapova in the first round of the US Open and now she’s got Victoria Azarenka in the first round of the Australian Open. Watson was able to really push Sharapova at the US Open and she’s got the potential to do the same to Azarenka. The Belarusian will likely prevail, but things could get interesting.
Sias: Madison Keys vs. Jie Zheng. Jie has an Australian Open semifinal result on her resume and has advanced that far at Wimbledon, too. Plus, she’s already won a title this year. Playing Keys first up will be difficult as the powerful young American will be going in eager to grab a big scalp. Keys gets the upset here.
Soong: Laura Robson vs. Jelena Jankovic. Robson proved that she belonged in the main draw with three straight-sets wins in the qualifying rounds. At only 17-years-old, the fast rising Brit is turning heads and should put up a good fight against the experienced Jankovic.
Watson: Sharapova vs. Dulko. In Sharapova’s prime, she wins this match easily, as their head-to-head record will attest. But fans will remember that the last time these two played, it was Dulko who emerged triumphant in three on the lawns of Wimbledon. Sharapova is also a question mark coming in, having played little tennis since the end of last season due to injury, and a player who gets as many balls back as Dulko could prove a real challenge.
First Round Upset Special
Boyd: Haase over Roddick. You never know what you’re going to get from Haase, but if he comes to play, he could give Roddick trouble, especially since the American is short on match play in the past several months.
Cvitkovic: Bernard Tomic d. Fernando Verdasco. No support is really needed here, is it? Verdasco hasn’t been able to deliver consistently enough since pushing Rafael Nadal to five sets here back in 2009. Tomic, on the other hand, is a 6’5’ force powering his way to the top jumping from #208 to #37 in just the last year.
Gibbs: Gilles Muller d. Mardy Fish. Muller, ranked 54, is always dangerous and has been improving steadily over the past year and 8th seed Mardy Fish did not look good in Hopman Cup. If Muller serves well he has a real shot.
Lubinsky: Bernard Tomic d. Fernando Verdasco. Fresh off a tournament win in Kooyong, the young Aussie will certainly have the confidence to own the big stage in Melbourne, and if he does, he’ll be getting plenty of attention.
McIntyre: Michael Russell over Juan Ignacio Chela. Between both veteran players, I’ll take Russell’s level of fitness in the Aussie heat and on a hard-court I never feel like Chela has much to offer despite being the 27th seed here.
Soong: Yen-Hsun Lu d. Florian Mayer. It would not be the most earth-shattering upset, but Lu has struggled since upsetting Andy Roddick to reach the 2010 Wimbledon quarterfinals and now sits at world No. 78 compared to Mayer’s ranking of world No. 22. The 28-year-old Lu could start off the 2012 season on a good note with a win over the 20th-seed German.
Watson: Tomic vs. Verdasco. Provided Tomic doesn’t fold under the expectations on his shoulders, he’s playing too well and Verdasco too poorly for the Aussie not to find some way to come out the winner in this one. His performance in Kooyong should only increase his confidence as he takes on the mentally fragile Spaniard.
Boyd: Dulko over Sharapova. Sharapova has been handed a brutal draw. Of all the top seeds, the 2008 Australian Open champion definitely got the short end of the stick. She’ll play her first match on a wonky ankle against Gisela Dulko, who beat her in the second round at Wimbledon in 2009. Despite all that, it would be very much like Maria to claw her way into the second week with the odds stacked against her.
Gibbs: Christina McHale d. Lucie Safarova. The 43rd ranked American teenager Christina McHale has never been afraid of a big win on a big stage, and with Safarova’s unpredictability this is a great chance for the nineteen-year-old to begin her quest for a Top-32 seed at the next Slam.
Lubinsky: Madison Keys d. Zheng Jie. Zheng Jie may not be seeded, but she was a semifinalist in 2010 and just won her first singles title in over five year. There’s a real possibility that Keys could take the wind out of her sails.
Sias: Gisela Dulko over Maria Sharapova. It’s going to be a lot to expect with Sharapova having had such limited match play over the past few months, and Dulko’s enough of a veteran player to take advantage of a rusty top seed. She’ll make Sharapova work, and if they end up playing a hot day match where it’s evident the Russian doesn’t have her legs under her, Dulko can pull off the upset.
Soong: Christina McHale d. Lucie Safarova. The 19-year-old McHale is currently the second ranked American at world No. 43, behind only Serena Williams. McHale plays with a quiet confidence far beyond her age and showed her poise last year by reaching the third round at the U.S. Open. Her matchup against 24th-seed Safarova won’t be easy but is certainly winnable. I would not be surprised if McHale reaches the third round or beyond.
Watson: Stosur vs. Cirstea. Stosur has easily won their two previous matches, but in the first events of the season, the Aussie has shown incapable of coping with the pressure of playing in her home country. Cirstea knows how to play good tennis, and a shaky Stosur could so easily be her next big victim.
Boyd: 1st quarter: Djokovic/Tipsarevic – I would love to see another match between the Serbians. Tipsarevic played his compatriot so tough for the U.S. Open last year until an injury forced him to retire. I feel like he deserves another chance at a Grand Slam quarter-final. 2nd quarter: Murray/Tsonga – This duel has “match of the tournament” written all over it. Both players are coming off titles, Murray in Brisbane and Tsonga in Doha, and both are playing at a high level right now. Let’s hope it happens. 3rd quarter: Del Potro/Federer: I think we are due for a rematch of the 2009 U.S. Open final, don’t you? I like DelPo to get through Fish’s section of the draw as the American doesn’t seem like he has recovered from a grueling 2011 season and seems like a candidate for an early exit. 4th quarter: Berdych/Nadal – This quarter may be the least attractive on paper. Nadal could play three qualifiers in a row before a potential fourth round encounter with John Isner, a match that could blow this section of the draw wide open. Berdych has a relatively easy path to the quarter-finals.
Burrows: Djokovic vs Ferrer. A mouthwatering prospect as Djokovic has the ability to trade from the baseline against ‘the wall’ that is Ferrer. They have played against each other eleven times and Djokovic leads the head to head 6-5. However David Ferrer won the last match in the World Tour Finals in straight sets. Murray vs Tsonga could see two former Australian Open finalists battle it out for a place in the semis. Murray may have the advantage with head to heads, but the Frenchman is very comfortable on the surface. Juan-Martín Del Potro vs Roger Federer could be the potential tenth meeting between the two. Although Federer has won their last meeting, Del Potro won the previous two, including his defeat over the Swiss Maestro at the US Open. Many will hoping for another chance to repeat that fantastic final at the quarter-finals in Australia. Nadal vs Berdych will be a likely quarter-final thanks to a relatively easy passage to the quarters as the world number two has a wide-open draw as he is surrounded by qualifiers in the bottom half.
Cvitkovic: Djokovic/Ferrer or Tipsarevic – It’s a tough call between Ferrer and Tipsarevic as the two haven’t played each other since the 2008 Summer Olympics, but the matchup for Djokovic shouldn’t be a test if he is 100% fit and ready for battle. Tsonga/Murray – Both players could experience initial challenges in the form of a tough first round opponent, Ryan Harrison and Denis Istomin, respectively, but the next three rounds will allow each room to breathe. Del Potro/Federer – It’ll only be their second meeting since 2009 and with a healed Del Potro and ailing Federer, this matchup of styles is sure to leave our jaws dropping to the floor several times in disbelief at the talent on court. Nadal/Berdych – In what may be considered the easiest quarter of the draw (7 of the 16 qualifiers in this quarter alone!), Nadal could potentially face qualifiers in the first THREE rounds. Astounding. Sometimes it’s hard to argue against those who question rigging of the draw.
Gibbs: Djokovic/Ferrer, Tsonga/Murray, Del Potro/Dolgopolov or Federer, Nadal/Berdych
Lubinsky: Novak Djokovic/David Ferrer – The 2011 champion won’t have much trouble getting to the quarterfinals. He will breeze through the first few rounds and really shouldn’t have any trouble getting to the semifinals. Ferrer’s path to the quarterfinals is nearly as open. He’s in good form having just won a title in Auckland. His biggest test will come in the form of 9th seed Janko Tipsarevic, but he should be able to make it through. Andy Murray/Jo-Wilfried Tsonga – Both men have the potential to go all the way in Australia this year. Tsonga had his best career result at the Australian Open in 2008. He had an excellent 2011 and should have little trouble winning his first four rounds. While Murray’s draw isn’t exactly cushy, as a finalist for the last two years, it would be a surprise if he bowed out before the quarters. Roger Federer/Juan Martin del Potro – Everyone would like to see this rematch of the 2009 US Open final. Federer’s got a questionable back and del Potro hasn’t quite shown us the consistent power play he did in that match. Del Potro will need an excellent start to the match to overtake Federer. Tomas Berdych/Rafael Nadal – It would be a real shock if Nadal didn’t make it through the mass of qualifiers in his section. Berdych has a tougher draw, with the possibility of meeting Kevin Anderson and Marcos Baghdatis en route to the quarterfinals, he’s probably the safe bet.
McIntyre: Djokovic/Youzhny: Nobody is going to stop Djokovic from attaining the quarters despite it being several months now since his U.S. Open victory. Meanwhile I see Youhnzy picking up some momentum if he gets by Gasquet in round two. Monfils/Tsonga: Murray will be feeling enormous pressure (as per usual) to win that elusive first Grand Slam, although Melbourne is probably his best bet to eventually break through. I’m really impressed with the rise of Monfils however, and see the Frenchman being more than capable of the upset to reach the quarters against compatriot Jo-Willy Tsonga. Del Potro/Federer: No suprises here unless 19 year old Bernard Tomic can push Federer should they meet in the fourth round. Should be a fantastic match between the 2009 U.S. Open finalists and one I’m sure Federer would relish for a little revenge. Nadal/Berdych: On paper it looks like an easy route to the quarters for both Nadal and Berdych. Neither John Isner or David Nalbandian is likely to challenge the Spaniard while Berdych even if he is playing mediocre, doesn’t have any serious threats in his quadrant.
Sias: Djokovic vs. Ferrer: Ferrer’s steadiness carries him to this point, but his run should end here. Murray vs. Nishikori: Tsonga was seeded to play Murray in the quarters, but if healthy, Nishikori derails that plan. Mayer vs. Federer: Every year, someone sneaks up at the Australian; this time it’s German Florian Mayer’s turn. Baghdatis vs. Nadal: Baghdatis usually starts off the season in fine form, and a quarterfinal run isn’t out of the question. Then in the semis, Murray over Djokovic and Nadal over Federer.
Watson: Djokovic vs. Ferrer – With the possible exception of Tipsarevic spoiling the party, it’s hard not to see these two meeting in the final eight. Ferrer is a never-say-die competitor, but he’s going to need something special to knock Djokovic off course if the Serb is anywhere near his 2011 form; Murray vs. Tsonga – Tough call on this one. Murray has been in the final the last two years, but if he continues to play too passive, an aggressive, “in-the-zone” Tsonga possesses the firepower to emerge victorious. Still, gotta give the edge to Murray’s consistency; Del Potro/Federer – Given their history and Federer’s back issues, Del Potro has a good shot in this one, but hard to bet against the guy with sixteen majors. Berdych vs. Nadal – This is of course assuming Isner doesn’t find a way to end Nadal’s run a round earlier. Berdych has big enough game and a tall enough frame to hang with Nadal, but you’d be wise to favor the Spaniard’s overall fitness and mental toughness to see him through to the semifinals.
Boyd: 1st quarter: Wozniacki/Clijsters – Depending how her writst feels, I think Wozniacki’s steadiness will get her through the not always consistent likes of Safarova and Jankovic into the quarter-finals. Playing her final Australian Open and considering the locals love affair with their “Aussie Kim”, it seems only fitting that she make a run in the second week if only her hip will let her. Na Li could very well put a wrench in that fairytale ending as the Sydney finalists looms dangerously at the bottom of this section. 2nd quarter: Azarenka/Radwanska – Both are playing well, Azarenka is coming in hot having won Sydney on the weekend and Radwanska beat Wozniacki at the same event. This is a good opportunity for both to reach the quarters at the first Grand Slam of the year. 3rd quarter: Kuznetsova/Williams – With Williams, Sharapova and Kuznetsova, a trio of Grand Slam champions, this is arguably the toughest section of the draw. Even on bad ankles, Maria and Serena will battle for every point, but only one of them can make it through this section of the draw. Kuznetsova showed good form in Auckland and if she carries that over into Melbourne, I think she will take Sharapova’s place opposite Serena in the quarter-finals. 4th quarter: Bartoli/Kvitova – I think Kvitova has a quarter-final berth on her racquet if she plays at the level she wowed us with in 2011. This is her quarter to lose. By all accounts, Bartoli is rested, healthy and motivated to be better in 2011. I think she is poised for week two Down Under.
Burrows: Wozniacki vs Clijsters – both players have difficult contenders in their quarter in the form of Li Na for Clijsters and Jelena Jankovic for Wozniacki. Should both players survive these possible fourth round matches (and remain injury-free), an explosive battle for the semi could be a treat for all. Azarenka vs Radwanska is a likely match up in the second quarter. Radwanksa may face some tough challenges with a possibility of going toe-to-toe with Wickmayer or Schiavone, but should she battle past these players, Radwanksa could prove a good challenge for Azarenka. Williams vs Sharapova would be a fantastic line up in the quarters as the former Champions would strive to life the trophy once again. Despite being well known for their screams as well as their talent on the court, both players are renowned for their strong mentality and battling demeanor when the going gets tough. Both players are searching to find their top form and have equally challenging opponents to face if they are to make it to this stage of the tournament. Stosur vs Kvitova, aka current Us Open Champion vs current Wimbledon Champion. In her fourth appearance at the Open, Kvitova could seek once again to make her second consecutive appearance at the quarter-finals and may find she takes on home crowd favourite and US Open champion Samantha Stosur. Stosur may not have had ideal preparation towards her Australian Open campaign, but no doubt she will use the crowd and home support to spur her on past her best result to date, the fourth round.
Gibbs: Wozniacki/Clijsters, Vika/Radwanska, Serena/Sharapova, Bartoli/Kvitova
Lubinsky: Caroline Wozniacki/Li Na – Wozniacki is No. 1 for a reason. She’s consistent. Li Na may not have the consistency that Caroline Wozniacki does, or the No. 1 after her name on the draw, but she has something better, a Grand Slam title. Li will have to take out Kim Clijsters on her way to the quarters, which is no guarantee. Victoria Azarenka/Agnieszka Radwanska – As two of the WTA’s rising stars, both are due for a career defining performance in the near future and both appear to be in winning form. Serena Williams/Sabine Lisicki – Lisicki may be a questionable choice, but if she’s healthy, there’s real potential for a star performance. Serena Williams, on the other hand, seems to be a safe bet even on an iffy ankle. Marion Bartoli/Petra Kvitova – Petra Kvitova may be the hottest player on tour at the moment and even though her draw is stacked with tricky players like Maria Kirilenko, Ana Ivanovic, and Anna Pavlyuchenkova, she will likely navigate her way to the quarterfinals and beyond.
Sias: Clijsters vs. Wozniacki: Wozniacki’s Slamless drought doesn’t end at this year’s Aussie. Azarenka vs. Radwanska: They’re both at their best on hard courts; this is worthy of a Grand Slam final. Williams vs. Kerber: Provided she’s not too drained from her fourth-round matchup, this could be a bit of a breeze for Serena. Bartoli vs. Kirilenko: Kvitova was seeded to be here, but Kirilenko is going to be at this tournament in upset mode. For the semis, Azarenka over Clijsters and Williams over Kirilenko.
Watson: Jankovic vs. Li – Going to go out on a limb in selecting these two as quarterfinalists instead of Wozniacki and Clijsters, who just haven’t been solid enough this season. Li has been to the finals here last year, and she’ll take one step closer to a repeat against the Serb; Azarenka vs. Schiavone – Azarenka has the bigger game and comes in off a tournament victory. But assuming she hasn’t had to log too many hours on the court up to this point, I’ll back my dark horse to slice and dice her way under Azarenka’s skin and find a way to cross the finish line; S. Williams vs. Lisicki – Much of this will depend on Serena’s form, but don’t be surprised to see her advance without breaking a sweat. The last time these two played, it was a blowout in favor of the American; Bartoli vs. Kvitova – I love Bartoli and all her quirks, but assuming the Czech doesn’t succumb to the pressure, no reason she shouldn’t be able to slug her way to the next round.
And the Winner is …
Boyd: Novak Djokovic. It seems that Djokovic is healthy again and winning the Abu Dhabi exhibition was a good springboard for a season in which he has a boat load of points to defend and retaining his Australian Open title would be a good start. Federer was the only player to beat Djokovic in a five set match last season, so it’s hard to pick against the World No. 1 even though the calendar has changed years.
Burrows: Rafael Nadal. The Spaniards victory for Spain will have reignited his passion for the sport and his desire to continue winning at the highest of levels. He has recently stated that his shoulder “…is in perfect condition” and would no doubt like to start the year as he means to go on and dispel of his confidence issues, which plagued him towards the end of the calendar year, particularly in regards to Djokovic. He has less pressure and expectation on his shoulders this year, which has all been dumped heavily on the shoulders of the Serbinator and world number one, Novak Djokovic, to see if he can repeat and extend last year’s remarkable feat.
Cvitkovic: Andy Murray. Not only is the Scot long overdue for his first slam, but with the top 3 somewhat already in ailing condition and the Scot in the self-proclaimed best shape in his life, it’s time for the Scot to follow-through in heavy expectation. He’ll seal the deal finally.
Gibbs: Andy Murray. It just feels like the Scot’s year.
Lubinsky: Roger Federer. The back may be an issue or it may not. Federer has always managed his schedule well and he will come to Melbourne ready to play. It certainly won’t be an easy two weeks, but he’s won this tournament four times and after not winning a Grand Slam title in 2011, he’ll be on the hunt to start 2012 with a win.
McIntyre: Novak Djokovic. I’d be crazy to not pick Djokovic as the repeat champion this year. He played well in Abu Dhabi to start the year and appears to be over the shoulder problems that plagued him towards the end of 2011. He’ll have a lot of pressure on him to duplicate the seaason he just had but should certainly be able to at least start strong down under.
Sias: Murray over Nadal. He has to win a Slam at some point, why not now?
Soong: Novak Djokovic d. Roger Federer. Not exactly the boldest prediction, but these two players are the most consistent players on the big stage. Sitting on opposite ends of the draw, a Djokovic-Federer finals showdown could be another epic chapter in their rivalry.
Boyd: Serena Williams. With so many injury questions surrounding the women’s draw, it will be Serena’s superior talent over the rest of the field that rises to the top after what is shaping up to be an eventful and unpredictable Australian Open fortnight. Would we want it any other way?
Burrows: “Aussie Kim” Clijsters. If she can withstand her recent injury scare, her experience and tenacity may help her to successfully defend her title and earn her nickname.
Gibbs: Petra Kvitova (The health of Serena and Kim is the big question-mark)
Lubinsky: Petra Kvitova. It’s always tough to predict a winner on the WTA tour, but Kvitova has proved that she doesn’t intend to be a one slam wonder.
Sias: Serena Williams tops Victoria Azarenka. This Slam might as well be played in Serena’s backyard she’s so comfortable in Australia.
Soong: Victoria Azarenka d. Petra Kvitova. These two young stars could very well be the future faces of women’s tennis. Both possess powerful ground games and strong on-court tenacity. Look for Azarenka to win her maiden Grand Slam title.