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Australian Open 2012: Men's Draw Underdogs Worth Watching in Tourney

Carlos TorresContributor IJanuary 16, 2012

Australian Open 2012: Men's Draw Underdogs Worth Watching in Tourney

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    The 2012 Australian Open started on Monday and most matches went as expected.

    The lower part of the draw on the men's side and the upper part on the women's side played and no major upsets were seen on the Melbourne Park courts.

    As usual, the favorites get all the media attention and coverage. But there are also the challengers to those favorites who are worthy of watching play, as they move through the draw in search for the upset.

    They get barely noticed under the radar, as the bigger blimps on the screen—those big, media-hogging favorites—get most of the exposure.

    And the attention favorites like Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray get is well deserved. They dominate men's tennis, and we like to watch domination.

    But there are other very good players out there. Very capable of giving the favorites a run for their money, on any given match. Sometimes they are those just below the top favorites, and sometimes even further.

    Those who often make that surprise run into the finals, and then capture our attention.

    Let's take a look at some of those underdogs, who are worth watching play at this tournament. And that if you are not paying attention, would slip by you and be in the finals on the last day of competition.

Grigor Dimitrov BUL

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    Grigor Dimitrov is a 20-year-old from Bulgaria who is a former world's No. 1 junior player. He won the Wimbledon and US Open Junior tournaments back in 2008.

    He has been compared to Roger Federer, mostly because of the similarity on their ground strokes. He is still eons away from being compared based on their success on the court, but he has been improving this past year.

    He recently had his first win over a Top 10 player. He smoked Mardy Fish at the Hopman Cup 6-2, 6-1.

    In his most recent play against top players like David Ferrer, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Tomas Berdych, he has taken at least one set from them, making them sweat for their wins.

    Dimitrov is just a step away from improving enough to start fulfilling his potential. He already started the tournament avenging his loss in the French Open against Jeremy Chardy.

    His next opponent is 10th seed Nicolas Almagro. That will be his next big test and we should be watching, as that could be the very first upset of a Top 10 seed.

Bernard Tomic AUS

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    Bernard Tomic is the highest ranked Australian player. He is just 19 years old, but he is starting to play his best tennis right on time.

    Before the Australian Open, Tomic won the AAMI Classic and defeated two Top 10 players on his way—Tomas Berdych and Mardy Fish.

    The home crowd went nuts today as Tomic came from two sets down to defeat 22nd seed, Spain's Fernando Verdasco.

    He showed a lot of resiliency and determination on his win today,  and showed he can overcome a tough situation on the match.

    Tomic has the support of the home crowd, and should continue to ride that support and feed from it.

    He is worth the price of admission, and is on a collision course against Roger Federer in the Round of 16.

    Stay tuned.

Philip Kohlschreiber GER

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    Before the tournament started, I wrote about Philipp Kohlschreiber never losing in the first round of the Australian Open. I also stated this could be the year he makes his deepest run.

    He has made the fourth round twice—in 2005 and 2008. This is the only Grand Slam where he has a winning record: 13-7.

    Well, he played his first round today against the 25th seed, Argentinian Juan Monaco, and that prediction is still alive.

    He had to go to the maximum five sets, but prevailed providing Monaco with a bagel-to-go in the final set.

    He has Spain's Pere Riba in the second round, and should get into the third round with a possible match against American Mardy Fish.

    They have not played in seven years, but even when Fish is playing the best tennis of his life, his style fits Kohlschreiber.

    It's not a lock he will win against Fish, but he has his best chance to reach the fourth round again.

    I will surely be watching it happen.,

Milos Raonic CAN (23)

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    Big-serving Canadian Milos Raonic comes into the Australian Open riding high in confidence.

    He won the Aircel Chennai Open, and although he then lost his first match at the AAMI Classic to Mardy Fish, he is playing a high level of tennis right now.

    Last year, he was a qualifier ranked No. 156 in the world and reached the fourth round, losing to David Ferrer in four sets.

    This year, he is ranked 26th in the world and seeded 23rd in the tournament.

    That big leap in the rankings has shown on his game and makes this one underdog worth watching progress through the men's draw.

    His opening match is against Italy's Filippo Volandri.

John Isner USA (16)

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    Big John Isner has one big weapon: his serve.

    He used that weapon to win the Winston-Salem tournament. And then carried that momentum to achieve his career-best Grand Slam finish in his next tournament—the US Open—all the way to the quarterfinals.

    He lost there to Andy Murray.

    In his next three tournaments, Isner lost in the first round, lost in semifinals and lost his first match. Just for that I would say he is due for another deep run.

    But seriously, before last year's US Open, his best run in a Grand Slam was the Australian Open last year, and his improvement through the year has been constant.

    He already won his first match against Benjamin Mitchell, and his second-round match will be against Argentina's David Nalbandian.

    He is 0-2 lifetime against Nalbandian, but coming off his best year, he is poised to keep improving his runs on the big tournaments.

Gael Monfils FRA (14)

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    Arguably the best athlete in tennis, France's Gael Monfils has some mad skills and physical condition.

    Here we have a player whose performance has never caught up with his athletic abilities.

    Last year, he reached his highest world ranking ever, seventh in July. Fast forward six months and he is down to 15th.

    To start the year, he reaches the finals of the Qatar ExxonMobil Open losing to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. But not before beating Rafael Nadal for just the second time in his career—both times in Qatar.

    Then at the AAMI Classic, he defeats Andy Roddick and then loses to Jurgen Melzer and Bernard Tomic.

    His performances have been like a roller coaster, and it's that exact unpredictability—and skills—that makes worth watching "La Monf."

    You don't want to miss it when he makes that big performance.

Alexandr Dolgopolov UKR (13)

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    Just Ukraine's Alexandr Dolgopolov shots are worth watching.

    His opponents can rework the memorable Forrest Gump quote about the box of chocolates and use it to describe Dolgopolov's play.

    "Alexandr Dolgopolov is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get."

    His unorthodox style is uncomfortable to most players, but he keep improving and becoming a bigger contender on the men's side.

    After his loss in the Brisbane finals to Andy Murray, he reached a career-high world ranking at 13th.

    He is on the upswing, and could take some big names before he is done in the tournament.

    He started by winning his opening match at the Australian Open against Aussie Greg Jones. His next opponent is Germany's Tobias Kamke.

Gilles Simon FRA (12)

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    France's Gilles Simon reached the US Open fourth round last year. He was the one to eliminate Juan Martin Del Potro.

    In prior tournaments he had taken out the likes of David Ferrer, Nicolas Almagro and Gael Monfils.

    Then after the US Open his speedy and mental game went into a state of inertia.

    At one point, he lost in three straight first-round matches, but then came alive again at the Brisbane International.

    He lost in the semifinals to Alexandr Dolgopolov.

    He seems to be back playing the kind of tennis that took him to success in the summer.

    He faces Thailand's Danai Udomchoke in the first round.

Juan Martin Del Potro ARG (11)

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    2009 US Open Champ Juan Martin Del Potro has been slowly but surely climbing up the ranks after his comeback from a wrist injury in 2010.

    He is back to 11th ranked in the world.

    Del Potro is still not fully back to the dominating force that took him to win the US Open and get as high as fourth in the world at the beginning of 2010.

    But he has shown some flashes during the past year, that reminds us how he became that feared player on tour.

    Gifted with maybe the best forehand in the game and a great baseline game, we have to watch him play because we don't want to miss the moment Del Potro gets back to being his old self.

    Just to watch him rip this potent forehands is reason enough to watch him advance.

    He won his first-round match against France's Adrian Mannarino. He faces now Slovenian Blaz Kavic.

    Del Potro beat Kavic in last year's French Open in the second round in straight sets.

Tomas Berdych GER (7)

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    German Tomas Berdych is seeded seventh in the Australian Open.

    And if you are looking for someone who could best use the word underdog here and make a special deep run to the finals, it is Berdych.

    Berdych is in a position in the draw where he can at least make it to the quarterfinals and face Rafael Nadal.

    If Nadal is not at his best—he came in bothered by a sore left shoulder—or doesn't make it to the quarterfinals, Berdych can be in the semifinals.

    There he would probably face-off against Roger Federer. He has beaten Fed-Ex three times in his last five meetings.

    Many might think this is a stretch, but that is how things happen when special runs like the ones Rainer Schuettler, Marcos Baghdatis, Fernando Gonzalez and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga have done in recent memory.

    Make sure you are watching carefully, or you may miss it.

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