Last Years Winner: Novak Djokovic
Coming into the 2013 season, Djokovic will again be the man to beat at Melbourne Park. His strong finish at the ATP World Tour Finals with a big victory over Roger Federer put the icing on another stellar year. His three victories at the Australian Open are based on the best defensive game in men’s tennis, as well as his ability to turn this into an explosive offence. His success against big hitters in previous victories in Melbourne such as Murray, Nadal and Tsonga is aided by the surface, where a lower bouncing and slower court nullifies the strengths of these opponents. As such, he is my pick for his 4th title at Melbourne Park.
Form Player: Andy Murray
We could say that Djokovic is the in-form player, which no doubt he is, but I believe Andy Murray is at the same level coming into the tournament. You could only take away player of the year credentials away because his form wasn’t as convincing in the first half of the year, but with career defining wins at the Olympics and the US Open one could argue Murray has turned the corner. Always a confidence player, his mental strength would seem to disappear in crucial matches throughout his career, but this may be a thing of the past with these massive wins. With previous finals appearances at Melbourne Park in 2010 and 2011 you could argue that this is his best surface. Like Djokovic, his defence will serve him well at this tournament, but also his explosive groundstrokes from both wings can swing any rally into his favour.
Dark Horse: Juan Martin Del Potro
Always a danger to the top seeds, Del Potro comes into the Australian Open in good touch, with some great results at the exhibition tournament at Kooyong. He has been drawn in the same quarter as Andy Murray, someone who he has had trouble with in the past, but I believe has the game to take it to Murray. A reccurring theme in losses by one of the top 4 is a hard hitting game-plan that takes time away from their opposition. Del Potro with his 198cm frame can wind up huge groundstrokes that punish players who like a ball sitting up for them. Reaching 3 grand slam quarter finals last year, Del Potro is certainly on his way to regaining his full game seen before his career threatening wrist injury, and can potentially derail Andy Murray’s aspiration for his first Australian Open title.
Disappointment: Milos Raonic
The past year has been a mixed bag for Raonic. He has shown much promise in many matches, but usually when it comes to the bigger matches he seems to come up short. This is despite his serving statistics that are quite frankly mindboggling. 1st in aces per match at (15), points won on first serve (82%) and service games won (93%). Sitting comfortably in the world’s Top 20, these statistics suggest he has no trouble overcoming lesser ranked players, but struggles to make inroads into those above him. Quite simply, these higher ranked players are much better returners who can make grind out a break on the Raonic serve. Another factor which is quite obvious is his mobility, which is crucial in getting big results in the bigger matches. Until Raonic develops the leg strength and defensive game to compete with the big guns, he will struggle to be more than a 4th round player.
Hewitt or Tomic?
Both of these players are in fine form heading into the Australian Open. With Hewitt reaching the Kooyong Classic final taking out big hitters Tomas Berdych and Milos Raonic along the way, the Hewitt of old is back to bring pain and misery to his opponents. Bernard Tomic has spent the past 2 weeks sending murmurs through the locker-room, with big wins over decent names including Novak Djokovic, Tommy Haas, Jarko Nieminen, Florian Mayer and Andreas Seppi (twice). Victories like these show he might be ready to take the next step and break into the top 20 in the near future.
So with both of these players in fine form, it comes down to the draw to see who will progress further. Unfortunately for Tomic, his great run should come to a halt at the hands of Roger Federer in the 3rd round. Yes he’s in better touch than he was last year, with an improved serve and better movement, but its Federer. He made a mockery of Tomic in the 4th round last year, and will most likely do the same. Hewitt on the other hand has a much more favourable draw. Meeting Janko Tipsarevic in the first round may seem quite a handful on paper, but Hewitt has the game to beat Tipsy, as shown by his 3-1 record over him. Not to dissimilar of a player to Tomas Berdych, a big serve and big groundstrokes shouldn’t bother Hewitt too much, and with the Australian crowd behind him on what should be a packed Monday night stadium, his experience should see him through in a tough match. From here, his draw opens up to a potential 4th round encounter with Nicolas Almagro who he could match up quite well with. I don’t see him progressing any further than a quarter final with David Ferrer, who is basically the exact same player, but add 25% to every category.
If Tomic had any other player apart from the top 4 early on, I would have picked him to go further, but I think Hewitt will this time, and for the last time.
Most Successful Non-Seeded Player: David Goffin
A trend you might see as the season goes on, or until he becomes a seed, is the rise of David Goffin. While he ended the year on a bit of a low which you could attribute to burnout from the 22 year old, his amazing run at the French Open certainly turned heads. Taking the first set of Federer in their 4th round encounter with some breathtaking play, he has the game to take it to any player. A typical clay court player who is comfortable 4 metres behind the baseline, but he is very comfortable stepping up in an attacking position and spreading his opponent to either side of the court. Goffin has Fernando Verdasco in the first round, who is always a bit of an unknown, especially after losing to Tomic in the first round last year. If Goffin can move Verdasco around the court, varying his depth and not letting Verdasco hit the same ball twice, he is a decent change of an upset. From here, it is a potential fourth round match with Tomas Berdych, who may not even be in enough form to make this round. Goffin may be the Australian Open’s big surprise this year.