The 2012 Australian Open main draw starts on Monday from Melbourne Park.
In the men's tournament, one of the favorites to win outright is Andy Murray of Scotland. He is considered the third favorite behind both Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, two players who have combined for six singles titles at the first Grand Slam of the calendar year.
Murray's draw at the Australian Open starts with a tricky first-round match against the young Ryan Harrison of the USA. Harrison, 19 years old, is considered the future of American tennis and you have to think that Murray might have been happier with drawing an easier opponent.
Surviving that match, as he should, Murray's draw actually gets easier in my opinion. In the second round he can face no one more talented than Xavier Malisse, the 31-year-old Belgian. Malisse is probably less likely to beat Murray in the second round than Harrison is in the first.
The Belgian is 0-4 lifetime against Murray and Malisse has never really been a factor in any Australian Open.
The nearest seeded player to Murray is Alex Bogomolov Jr. of Russia, a name that Murray has to love seeing near his own name in the draw. The Russian, despite playing well enough in the last year to earn a seed in Melbourne Park, is hardly a Grand Slam giant slayer.
His fame is such that even though he's both ranked in the Top 40 and seeded at the 2012 Australian Open, the official IBM site for the event hasn't even put his photo up on his profile page.
What round will Murray be eliminated in?
Bogomolov Jr. is 5-12 in Grand Slam singles matches lifetime and he's hardly a lock to make the third round. Murray will probably face either Ernests Gulbis or Michael Llodra, two players who have not made it to the third round at the Australian Open to date.
In the first three rounds, Harrison actually looks like the toughest out in Murray's path with the Scot's draw getting progressively easier after that—at least until the fourth round.
At that point, Murray can't face anyone more talented than either Gael Monfils or Viktor Troicki. Neither of those players is an 'easy-out' by any stretch and few will forget the scare that Troicki gave Murray at Roland Garros last season, as the Scot had to charge back from a deficit of two sets to love.
Monfils on his day has been able to defeat the Scot as the Frenchman is 2-3 against the current world No. 4. However, the Australian Open is Murray's best major while Monfils has struggled just to make the fourth round in years gone-by.
While Monfils and Troicki are strong enough to capture Murray's attention in a match, it is difficult to picture either of them pulling off the fourth-round upset.
The quarters, the semis and the final look like a high mountain for Murray to climb over.
To win his quarter Murray might have to beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, a player who has enjoyed success at Melbourne Park before. Also a former finalist, Tsonga has played the best tennis of his career in the last year and should they meet in the quarters, Murray might be just a mild favorite.
Murray's semifinal match should be against Novak Djokovic and that's where the Scot's tournament should end. Murray lost in the final to Djokovic in 2011 in pretty routine straight sets. If both players are playing their best—and they should be if they are both in the semis—then you have to give Djokovic the nod to make the final.
Murray's chances of making the final again at the Australian Open this season would have looked a lot better had he shared a semi with Rafael Nadal as opposed to Djokovic.
Things as they are, the two-time runner-up looks absolutely fantastic to make at least the quarters in Melbourne Park; however, his chances of making the final or winning the tournament outright look low. His draw looks reasonably kind in the first few rounds and arduous in the last few rounds.
All in all, the Scot is capable of beating anyone in the tournament and he is one of the players that you could seriously mention as a potential champion.
However, his chances at the 2012 Australian Open would improve if the likes of Tsonga or Djokovic suffered shocking upsets, something that is hard to foresee—especially for the world No. 1. If Murray is to make the final again, he'll probably have to do his own dirty work against the reigning champion.