Roger Federer is a four-time champion at Melbourne Park, having most recently won the Australian Open in 2010. This year the Swiss Maestro is the third seed at the event and he has picked up a draw in Melbourne that he has to love for several reasons.
Firstly, Federer has picked up a qualifier in the first round, an opponent who is yet to be determined. While qualifiers have done damage in Grand Slam events before, typically they exit very early once in the main draw. They are generally inexperienced in five-set matches or they are veterans whose best tennis is well behind them.
In the second round, Federer could face no one more talented than Andreas Beck, a player who, to date, has never won a second-round Grand Slam match in his life. Federer could face Eric Prodon instead of Beck. However, that would only make the Swiss Maestro's path to the third round all the more easier: Prodon, at 30 years old, has never actually won a Grand Slam singles match yet.
The seeded player nearest to Federer is 31st-seeded Jurgen Melzer. The Austrian enjoyed a strong season back in 2010 and he is a former Top 10 player. However, Melzer's best tennis looks as though it is behind him and he is only seeded thanks to higher-ranked players withdrawing from the event.
Federer has typically enjoyed success against Melzer, especially on the hard-court surface where the Swiss Maestro is 5-0 in sets played against the Austrian.
Federer should be into the fourth round in Melbourne without the drama he saw last season in the Australian Open early rounds. Tennis fans will recall that Gilles Simon took Fed to five sets before the Swiss Maestro prevailed in the second round of the 2011 Australian Open.
But all things considered this year, Federer should be into the second week at Melbourne Park having only played nine sets of tennis. He should be relatively well rested heading into the fourth round and that is precisely what the 30-year-old needs in order to stay in stride with what should be much younger competition in the second week.
In the fourth round, Federer's most probable opponents are Alexandr Dolgopolov, Bernard Tomic or Fernando Verdasco.
Verdasco would probably be light-work for Federer as the Spaniard has not played his best tennis in quite a while. Additionally, he is 0-4 against Federer lifetime and Verdasco is just 3-10 in fourth-round Grand Slam matches in his career.
Dolgopolov or Tomic could prove to be tricky and I don't think Federer would be a lock against either player. However, Federer still can't be unhappy with possibly facing either of those two in the fourth round as they are still developing.
Federer's quarterfinal could be pretty easy pickings. Mardy Fish and Juan Martin Del Potro are the high seeds in that section of the draw, however that spot in the quarters looks wide open.
If you were to pick a player for Fed to face in the quarters, it might reasonably be Del Potro. He is the most talented player in that 'eighth' of the draw, he's the most proven player in that section as well having won the 2009 US Open, and he's mentally tough.
But what has Delpo proved post-wrist injury? His short-term form is unconvincing and he enters Melbourne Park coming off of a straight sets loss to Marcos Baghdatis in Sydney. Also Del Potro's 2011 Grand Slam results were insignificant.
Fish, the eighth seed in the tournament, is also a player that you can't have tons of confidence in. He is a tremendous Grand Slam underachiever as the American has only made three quarterfinals in his career and he lost all three.
With Fish and Del Potro question marks, you actually have to wonder if Federer is going to be staring down a pretty inexperienced opponent in the quarters.
Federer might face someone like Gilles Muller, Philipp Kohlschreiber, Juan Monaco or Florian Mayer. None of those four players has ever made a Grand Slam semifinal before with Muller and Mayer the only ones with quarterfinal appearances in majors.
Federer sharing a semi with Rafael Nadal is precisely what the Swiss Maestro needed. While Nadal is always a tough out in a major, Federer has to prefer the Spaniard to Novak Djokovic, the player who has eliminated Federer from the last three hard-court Grand Slam tournaments.
Truthfully, I do not think that Nadal is a lock for the semis anyways, but even if the 2009 champion at Melbourne Park suffered an upset, that would probably make Federer's draw all the more easier.
If Federer faces Djokovic in the final, the most probable final in my opinion, then the Serb would look great for a fifth Grand Slam title.
Due to that, Federer fans should be hoping that Andy Murray upsets Djokovic in the other semi. The Scot is capable of pulling off that upset and he is more prone to succumb to the pressure that is accompanied with playing in a Grand Slam final.
Murray is 0-9 in sets played in Grand Slam finals, he faces a lot of pressure as a representative of British tennis, and he lost to Federer in the 2010 Melbourne Park final. Fed could play more mind games pre-match with Murray than he could ever pull off against Djokovic and that could help Federer jump out to a lead against Murray.
The Scot might be a little tougher in a final than he was in either 2010 or 2011 and if he gets any confidence going, he might beat Federer as well. However, Murray has a hump to get over while Djokovic would have confidence right from the opening serve of the championship match.
Championship final prediction: Djokovic defeats Federer.
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