Reigning Champion: Novak Djokovic
Coming off last year’s record-breaking Australian Open Final, which lasted 5 hours and 53 minutes, Novak Djokovic looked unbeatable. Djokovic won thanks to a new commitment to conditioning, and the discovery of a gluten intolerance. This made the game’s best defender on hard-court even more dangerous.
Despite the historic victory, Djokovic never seemed to find his rhythm and faded through the middle of the season and lost his number one ranking. However, his game is probably the most balanced and complete in professional tennis and he is always a threat to reach the finals, especially if he serves well.
Additionally, Djokovic is the game´s most successful hard-court player the last two years, posting a 75-5 win/loss record in that stretch including back to back Australian Open titles. This has made him the favourite to win it all this year.
My Pick: Andy Murray
Andy Murray is my pick to win the title in 2013. He has made the final two of the last three years, narrowly missing out last year in an epic five set loss to eventual champion Novak Djokovic. He is also coming off of his first Grand Slam championship, and should be able convert that momentum into a good run in Melbourne.
Murray spent the offseason training hard and has come back noticeably more muscular, which can only help in the modern era of power tennis. He has also proven that he can beat Djokovic, the odds-on favourite, on the biggest of stages which gives him as good a chance as anyone to win, considering that the road to the championship will almost certainly run through the world number one.
Dark Horse: Kei Nishikori
I’ve picked 22-year-old Kei Nishikori as my dark horse candidate despite nagging injuries have kept him from achieving the highest levels of his game in the past. Despite this, he had a relatively healthy second-half of 2012 where he won his second career tournament and climbed the rankings to 15, the highest ever for a male Japanese player. This untapped talent led Rafael Nadal to state “he has amazing potential. I think he has enough potential to be in the top 10.”
Nishikori brings a blend of counterpunching and speed that resembles other good, small players such as David Ferrer. He also packs a surprising amount of punch in his 1.78 m, 68 kg frame. This has allowed him to score victories over players like Novak Djokovic and Jo-Wilfred Tsonga. And if you get a chance to watch him, check out his second serve to the ad-side of the court, it is an unusually effective weapon for him, especially considering his size.
Kei Nishikori is my pick for dark horse this year at the Australian Open. This doesn’t mean that I think he will win, or even go on a massive run like Tsonga’s in 2008. But I do think that he will announce his presence and go reasonably deep into the draw.
Disappointment: Janko Tipsarevic
This one feels a bit hollow, as I don’t think that there are many that regard Janko Tipsarevic as a truly elite player. However, he is in the top 10 and will therefore get a high seeding. While he is fun to watch and his game is crafty and surprisingly efficient, he only won one tournament in 2012 and went a measly 3-10 against other players in the top 10. He has also had only limited success in major tournaments, going a collective 25-13 in Masters and Grand Slams combined last year. He is a pretender among the tennis elite and will likely disappoint any high hopes at this year’s Australian Open, especially with a questionable first round matchup with Lleyton Hewitt, against whom he has a 1-3 win/loss record.
Hewitt or Tomic?
Despite his demolition of Thomas Berdych at the Kooyong Classic, Lleyton Hewitt is not the player he was, and a big part of me expected him to retire at the end of last year. His veteran poise and fan support give him a chance to be successful, but, as a scrambling counterpuncher who has already lost a step, it is unlikely that his aging body will comply. As a result, Tomic, who is 11 years younger than Hewitt should go further in the Australian Open. Tomic was inconsistent almost all of last year, but had his best showing at the AO where he reached the fourth round. Tomic is the future of Australian tennis and has proved repeatedly he can play with the big boys; he should go further than Hewitt this year.
Most Successful Non-Seeded Player: Ryan Harrison
Ryan Harrison is a very talented, up and coming player from the United States and is currently ranked 69. Like most American players, especially those from the Bollettieri Academy, he features a big serve and powerful forehand. These are tools that give him a good chance to win early on especially if he can find his range early. He had the unfortunate luck to draw Del Potro, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic in the first rounds of 3 different Grand Slams. If he can avoid playing a high seed in the first round, he has a chance to succeed.