The first Grand Slam event of 2012 is almost upon us, and the stage has been poignantly set for a tournament like no other.
The Big Four should now be well aware of who they might or mightn't meet, who they should and shouldn't be worried about and, more importantly, of their chances going into the Australian Open.
Perusing the draw, World No. 3 Roger Federer seems to have gotten the worst of it, with the likes of Juan Martin Del Potro, Alexandr Dolgopolov and Mardy Fish in his quarter—not that he isn't expected to progress from that quarter. Meanwhile, World No. 2 Rafael Nadal seems to have come off the best, with the only player of note—relatively speaking, of course—being seventh-seeded Tomas Berdych.
Here's a slightly more detailed look at the big four contenders for the title:
Coming into the Australian Open as the "people's" tournament favorite, Novak Djokovic faces a pretty daunting task as he tries to win a third major in a row. That being said, and as I've pointed out previously, people seem to have conned themselves into believing that Djokovic cannot be sufficiently dominant in 2012 to keep the chasing pack behind him. Well, the honest truth is that Novak has more Slams in him. And even though we may not know when or where he will win those slams, we know he will win again—he's that good. As such, you write him off at your peril.
Nadal's performance in Doha two weeks ago was so much better than the performance we all saw at the World Tour Finals in November last year. His movement was better, he seemed to hit the ball a little more flush and he seemed up for a fight.
However, that he is doing these things means nothing for his chances at Melbourne, like some may want to think. It's nothing special that Nadal has finally decided to move his feet or that his passion for the game has finally returned. Special is winning the Australian Open or losing to Novak Djokovic in the final.
Will Federer exit before the quarterfinal stage? Unlikely. Could he be out before the quarterfinal stage? Yes. Am I writing Federer off? No. Am I being realistic about the situation surrounding his age and the competition? Yes. Does the situation surrounding his age and the competition write Federer off? You tell me.
Ivan Lendl had this to say about his new charge:
I think what is important is to focus on the long term and let results come to you. A player needs to mature and I believe Andy is getting there.
He was heavily criticized for losing to Djokovic at the start of the year but look what a year Novak had. If that had happened later in the year nobody would be criticising Andy the way they did.
Will Andy Murray win the Australian Open? No. John Isner will.
Is Andy Murray the Australian Open favorite? Yes.
Why? Who in the Big Four has been more "able" so far in 2012?