The Tennis Space guide to who to back at the opening grand slam of the year.
Novak Djokovic is the clear favourite to win the Australian Open for the third time and though Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray may disagree, it really does seem as if it’s the Serbian’s title to lose.
At the end of 2011, having won three of the four grand slams and dominated the tour in a way few people thought possible, Djokovic was struggling with a shoulder injury and looked jaded. But the short off-season appears to have rejuvenated him, he looked great in the post-Christmas exhibition event in Abu Dhabi, when he made mincemeat of an underdone Roger Federer. His confidence will not have been affected too much by the injury – he knew his losses were only because of that – and on his favourite hard courts he is so difficult to beat. The top price off 11-8 is not going to make you rich but it’s a fair reflection of how far ahead of the rest he is.
Andy Murray, heartbroken after defeat by Djokovic last year, has done everything right in pre-season and should be lifted by the presence of Ivan Lendl as his new coach. Drawn to play Djokovic in the semi-finals, maybe playing him in a semi-final might allow him to relax a little more, but though 5-1 is good value in terms of his ability, beating both the world number one and, probably, Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal in the final is still an enormous task.
Of Federer and Nadal, I think it’s fair to say that the Spaniard would have been the happier of the two that they were drawn together. Tennis at the top level is all about match-ups and Nadal has had the better of Federer while the Swiss doesn’t mind playing Djokovic but the world number one seems able to cope with Nadal. Murray is close behind the top three.
Federer also goes into the tournament after a back injury forced him out in Doha, a rare withdrawal through injury for the former world number one who has stayed in great shape throughout his career. The Swiss is 4-1 at best while Nadal is perhaps the best price of all at 15-2. The former champion gave everyone a scare when he said he is to take off February to give his shoulder rest, but he looks absolutely fully fit and it’s just a question of whether he can handle the mental side of things against Djokovic, who beat him in six finals last year, including two grand slams.
Outside of the top four, there’s a big gap to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at 20-1 but the Frenchman may have to get past Murray, Djokovic and Nadal/Federer. But if you’re looking for an outside tip, then former US Open champion Juan Martin Del Potro could be the one to follow at 20-1.
Having missed the whole of 2010 with a serious wrist injury, the Argentinian stormed back to finish last year ranked 11 and has been showing signs that he could ready to return to the top five. He could play Federer in the fourth round and that’s a match I think he would feel pretty confident he could win. If he does, he will be enormously dangerous and at 20-1, he is good each-way value. And look for Bernard Tomic to enjoy another run and give Federer a run for his money in the fourth round.