Australian Open 2012 Bracket: 5 Sleepers You Need to Put on Your Radar

Carlos TorresContributor IJanuary 16, 2012

Australian Open 2012 Bracket: 5 Sleepers You Need to Put on Your Radar

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    The Australian Open is under way and 128 men and 128 women start their quest for the year's first Grand Slam title in the next two days.

    We will be able to see all 64 seeds and their challengers take on the courts at Melbourne Park.

    On the men's side defending champion and world's No. 1 Novak Djokovic is the favorite to make it back-to-back titles. But Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray would like to have a say on that.

    Back on the women's side, is the defending champ Kim Clijsters. But so are the top four seeds, Caroline Wozniacki, Petra Kvitova, Vitoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova.

    Let's not forget the ever present Serena Williams—whether she plays or not.

    Injuries have riddled top players like Nadal, Federer, Wozniacki, Clijsters, Sharapova and Williams. This could leave the door open for possible surprises.

    The favorites are just that, and that's why everyone watches them. But there are points in history where, names not that known or better known as sleepers, caused a surprise with deep runs in the tournament, sometimes reaching the finals stage.

    Those are also players who we like to seek though the brackets and identify the.

    Here, I give you a list of five players you must put on your radar now, and when they make it deep in the tournament, you won't be surprised like the rest.

Jie Zheng CHN

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    FIRST ROUND OPPONENT: Madison Keys USA

    SEED TO FACE FIRST: Samantha Stosur AUS (6)

    SEED TO FACE ON QUARTERS: Petra Kvitova CZE (2)

    Zheng didn't play the Australian Open last year due to a wrist injury and started playing back in February.

    Once she hit the hard courts season, from the Mercury Insurance Open in Carlsbad on, she started to get deeper in the tournaments.

    She had some quality, three-set losses to the likes of Serena Williams and Samantha Stosur at the latter part of the 2011 season.

    Zheng then won the ASB Classic in Auckland as her prep to the Australian Open. She defeated Svetlana Kuznetzova and Flavia Pennetta on her way to the final.

    She jumped 10 slots in the world rankings to 38th and is on the rise. She is one player worth keeping an eye on.

Kaia Kanepi EST (23)

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    FIRST ROUND OPPONENT: Johanna Larsson SWE

    SEED TO FACE FIRST: Vera Zvonareva RUS (7)

    SEED TO FACE ON QUARTERS: Maria Sharapova RUS (4)

    Estonian Kaia Kanepi, just won the Brisbane International tournament with a dominating performance over Daniela Hantuchova.

    It was only her second WTA title, and it helped her move up eight slots in the world standings to 26th.

    On her way to the final, she defeated players ranked 20th, 16th, 11th and 10th in the world.

    She lost in the second round last year to Germany's Julia Goerges in three sets.

    Kanepi has been making deep runs in the tournaments lately and has reached two finals in her last three tournaments and could replicate that here.

Philipp Kohlschreiber GER

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    FIRST ROUND OPPONENT: Juan Monaco ARG (25)

    SEED TO FACE FIRST: First-round opponent

    SEED TO FACE ON QUARTERS: Roger Federer SUI (3)

    Philipp Kohlschreiber has never lost in the first round of the Australian Open. It's the Grand Slam where he has a winning percentage—63.16 on 12 wins and seven loses.

    This year, he was rewarded with the task of facing the 25th seed Juan Monaco in the opening round. He should be grateful; it could have been Novak Djokovic.

    The 28-year-old German has made it to the fourth round twice—in 2005 and 2008.

    Should he replicate his best showing and make it to the fourth round, he would likely face Argentinian Juan Martin Del Potro, with whom he has played very close matches.

    This could be the year the German makes his deepest run here.

Bernard Tomic AUS

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    FIRST ROUND OPPONENT: Fernando Verdasco ESP (22)

    SEED TO FACE FIRST: First-round opponent

    SEED TO FACE ON QUARTERS: Roger Federer SUI (3)

    The prize for 19-year-old Bernard Tomic being the highest-ranked Australian player and biggest promise in years for his country? A first-round match at Rod Laver Arena.

    The bad news? A tough-seeded opponent in Spain's Fernando Verdasco.

    The only time they've met, Verdasco beat him handily. But that was two years ago.

    Tomic's game has evolved, and it shows with his win at the AAMI Classic, where he defeated two Top 10 players and a Top 15.

    Since the grass season started last year. Tomic's performances on the tournaments started to get deeper and better.

    He will have the support of the home crowd. That could be a double-edged sword, but he could ride that wave of support deep this year.

Milos Raonic CAN (23)

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    FIRST ROUND OPPONENT: Filippo Volandri ITA

    SEED TO FACE FIRST: Andy Roddick USA (15)

    SEED TO FACE ON QUARTERS: Novak Djokovic SRB (1)

    Canada's Milos Raonic rode his big serve to a win at the Aircel Chennai Open. He defeated Serbian Janko Tipsarevich in the title game.

    He then lost hist first match at the AAMI Classic to Mardy Fish.

    Raonic has come a long way since last year's Australian Open.

    He was a a lowly qualifier ranked No. 156 in the world. He then broke through and reached the fourth round losing to David Ferrer in four sets.

    But that jump started his season which ended up with ATP Tour newcomer of the year honors.

    One year later, he's ranked 26th in the world and with a lot more confidence and experience.

    This year, he could give us another deep run. Watch out.