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Chandrakant Bhonsle By Chandrakant Bhonsle, 15th Jan 2012 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL http://nut.bz/ml0z0955/
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Preview of Australian Open 2012. Previewing the chances of top players analyzing their strengths and weakness along with their probability of winning the tournament.

Australian Open 2012 Preview

Favourite at 11/8, Novak Djokovic is the top pick to win this year’s Australian Open. Djokovic’s era of dominance started last year in the scorching heat of Melbourne which led to a season of unparalleled success when he ended up winning three out of four majors in a single season much like the Roger Federer of 2005-2007. Losing only one game in Grand Slams last season, Djokovic’s prowess and his evolution as a tennis player became ever more evident since he first won the Australian Open in 2008 and then had to encounter a slump of sorts. Year 2011 was a testament of Djokovic talent and the promise shown by him as a tennis player finally coming true. Djokovic, in my opinion, is the first all court player after Federer even though his preference for baseline play maybe encountered by sometimes erratic display while approaching the net unlike Federer. However, the fact remains that even though Federer was the only person to beat Djokovic in the Grand Slams last year, Djokovic did manage to beat the likes of Federer and Rafael Nadal thrice and twice respectively in Grand Slams. The maturity in Djokovic’s game was highlighted to the core in the epic semifinal duel with Federer at Flushing Meadows in New York in the US Open where despite being two sets down, he came back from the dead to dispose of a legend who was dumbfounded to say the least at Djokovic’s resilience. Even in the Wimbledon finals, Djokovic was least flustered when Nadal began his resurgence in the third set. It is resilient displays such as these which make Djokovic the best player in the world at present. Sure he may not have the artistic skills of a Roger Federer or the brute strength and unrelenting stamina of a Rafael Nadal but Djokovic as he proved throughout the entire length of 2011, has the desire to win which is second to none. Worried by a shoulder problem as he steps in to begin the campaign for his third Australian Open Crown, Djokovic knows that the time belongs to him as he resumes his battle with his biggest challengers at his favourite hunting ground.
For the first time in his career, Rafael Nadal is facing serious questions regarding his career. Shoulder problems have plagued the former World No. 1 ever since the Wimbledon 2011 finals along with the complaints of tendonitis, a cause for the limitations in his movements round the courts these days. The victory in the titanic and perhaps the best ever final in Wimbledon 2008 where Nadal ended the dominance of Federer also had a toll on the Spaniard’s body and in spite of becoming only the seventh player in history to win all four majors, Nadal had become more injury-prone ever since that majestic final of 2008. With odds of 6/1, never before I have since Nadal having such long odds to win a tournament where he has suffered some of the biggest defeats of his career especially the one handed by Andy Murray last year. Nadal, for once, will be hoping for an injury free season this times around but his chances of winning at Melbourne are very slim given his lack of match practice and the very hard hitting fact that Djokovic has defeated Nadal in twelve of their last fourteen meetings including the Wimbledon and US Open Finals last season. Though it will be great to see a fit again Nadal running around and ruling the baseline play once again and setting up that mouth-watering semifinal with Federer as the draw promises, but speaking in realistic terms Nadal would rather be more focused on reaching the semifinals and anything after that would be a bonus for the Mallorcan Matador.
Is he really back and hungry once again? Millions of questions were asked when Roger Federer won the ATP World Tour Finals in London towards the fag end of last seasons after not being able to win a single Grand Slam in a year for the first time since 2003. Losses in the semifinals of the Australian and US Open and the finals of the French Open could be considered an otherwise fantastic season for any other player but for Federer it was nothing less than a failure. The only man to defeat Djokovic in Grand Slams last season had to take the bitter pill of losing to Djokovic twice in the semis of Australian and US Open. Billed at 7/2, Roger Federer has been troubled by back spasms as of late forcing him to even withdraw from the final of the Doha Open recently. At nearly 30 years of age, Federer is perhaps longing for a season on the lines of 2005-2007 and even though his play is silken as ever his troublesome and somewhat weaker back hand play has been exploited by opponents as of late. The aura of Fed Express will need a lot of restoring and victory at Melbourne will do just that. By the luck of the draw, Federer will avoid both Djokovic and Murray but will have to duel with his arch nemesis Nadal if the Spaniard can make it that far. However, Federer has recently been undone by big servers such as Tsonga and Berdych who have all but pummeled his back hand with huge serves and rip roaring forehands. During the ATP World Tour Finals win, Federer exemplified the scares of backhand play have been dealt with but his defense will be put through a major litmus test. In my opinion, Federer can reach the finals of the tournament if and only if his backhand can survive all the hard hitting as it is guaranteed to face.
With the great Ivan Lendl as his coach, Britain’s best hope Andy Murray will be hoping that third time is the charm after having lost in two previous finals at Melbourne. After starting the season with a bang when he disposed of Nadal in a rather cruel fashion, Murray had all the momentum going into the finals only to tamely surrender to Djokovic. He would later on suffer scathing defeats to Nadal in the French Open and Wimbledon where his ability to choke in a supposedly winning position came to the fore. Murray is an excellent talent and his rivalry with Djokovic can perhaps in the years to come equate to that to Federer and Nadal but for this purpose he needs to be in the right frame of mind and the victory at Brisbane International a week or so ago marked a remarkable start to the Murray-Lendl partnership. As for any weakness apart for the groin injury which curtailed his season last year, Murray has none and it is a question of him being in the right mindset towards the latter part of the tournament for I believe, with the way he has started the season, the first Grand Slam is his tournament to lose.
Apart from the “Fabulous Four”, Jo-Wilfred Tsonga and Juan Martin Del Potro are the two dark horses of the tournament. More so Tsonga because he is coming of what was his best season to date. He accounted for Roger Federer in Wimbledon and has reached the finals of Australian Open before in 2008. He also made it to the finals of ATP World Tour in London losing to Federer only to win in Doha when Federer retried with a back spasm. Tsonga being in the same draw as Federer and Nadal can send a few shockwaves across the tennis circuit if he can upset any of the two legends. Del Potro, much like Nadal, will be hoping for an injury free season so that he can capture the same form which won him the 2009 US Open. Del Potro has the same draw as Djokovic and Murray and has the chance of proving that he belongs with the elite group of tennis.
If I were to wager on the Australian Open, I would have gone with Novak Djokovic two months ago but his shoulder troubles have changed the game and even though he is favourite to win, I believe he can have tough games against the likes of Del Potro and Murray. Federer and Murray are primed to pose the toughest challenge to Djokovic but if Nadal has put his fitness worries behind him, which he claims to have, this could be the beginning of a season which will define tennis in the years to come by and it all begins in Melbourne tomorrow.

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