2012 Australian Open: Why the Top 3 Might Be Torn Asunder Down Under

Gideon ResnickContributor IIIJanuary 13, 2012

Tsonga is the only top ten player that legitimately threatens the Djokovic-Nadal-Federer Triumvirate
Tsonga is the only top ten player that legitimately threatens the Djokovic-Nadal-Federer TriumvirateLucas Dawson/Getty Images

There’s no doubt that a 70-6 record is an astonishing accomplishment in any sport, on any stage and at any time. Yet, as the Australian Open looms in the not-so-distant future, it is difficult to so readily assume that the title will automatically belong to the man referred to as "The Djoker."

Roger Federer, the aging titan of yesteryear, went out with a proverbial bang in 2011, winning the BNP Paribas Masters and crushing Rafael Nadal on the way to a record sixth ATP World Tour Finals title. However, what remains to be seen with Federer is not whether he can compete with the greatest players of this generation, but whether he can do so in five-set matches in Grand Slams.

Cracks in his armor were exploited at both Wimbledon and the US Open, where he relinquished two-set leads and allowed Novak Djokovic and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, respectively, to defeat him. With the sort of year that Djokovic was having, it came as no surprise that he was eventually able to get past Federer in a stunningly close and exciting US Open semifinal. However losing to Tsonga, albeit a remarkably strong competitor, in the same fashion demonstrated how Federer’s mental lapsing in five-set matches is preventing him from grabbing an elusive 17th Grand Slam.

So, if Djokovic doesn’t have it in the bag, and Roger Federer is as unpredictable as global-warming-stricken weather, will the bullish Spaniard Nadal sweep in for the victorious spoils?

Judging by his lack of success on the hard court at the end of the 2011 season and the fact that Djokovic completely stumped Rafa in Grand Slam finals (as well as on his beloved clay turf), it’s tough to pick the Spaniard as an early favorite. And when Andy Murray serves as a perennial letdown to a country pleading for tennis hope, all eyes turn towards Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

The current No. 6 player in the world is one of a minuscule group that can pose problems to the seemingly indestructible Top 3. Besides coming back from a two-set deficit in the Wimbledon quarterfinals against Federer, Tsonga challenged players like Nadal on the hard courts in 2011 and has proved that he can compete with the best in Grand Slams.

Perhaps enthusiasm for a new champion has somewhat fueled this opinion, but the Australian Open has always proved to be an interesting and challenging tournament for players as they emerge from tennis hibernation.

Novak Djokovic is unequivocally the best tennis player in the world at the moment, but the crown is being eagerly hunted by Nadal, Federer and Tsonga—the last of whom has emerged as a physical presence that can be victorious in a Grand Slam.