Australian Open 2013: 10 Early Predictions for the Year's First Major
The new year is almost upon us, with the first major of the year—the 2013 Australian Open—only a few weeks away from kicking off.
Players from both the men's and women's tournaments alike will be keen to start off the season with the best result possible, meaning that we're bound to see plenty of fantastic matchups and results.
What exactly can we expect to see from the 2013 Australian Open? Read on for 10 early predictions for the year's first major tennis tournament.
Williams Sisters Dominate the Doubles
At their best, Venus and Serena Williams are two of the most dominant women in modern tennis and a truly lethal force when combined together in women's doubles.
The pair have won 13 Grand Slam tournaments in their illustrious career as a doubles pair—including 10 Grand Slams on hard court surfaces—and have a genuine chance to chalk up trophy No. 14 when they take the court at the 2013 Australian Open.
They won the French Open and Wimbledon in 2012 as well as a gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics, and will be in good form entering the Australian Open—a tournament that they have won four times since their maiden victory in 2001.
Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka stand as the pair most likely to beat the Williams girls, but they won't be able to stop the all-American pair when they've got their confidence up, which they no doubt will heading into the 2012 Australian Open.
As Do the Bryan Brothers
After losing the final to Leander Paes and Radek Stepanek in 2012, expect Bob and Mike Bryan to be back again in the trophy hunt come the end of January.
The American duo have been the most dominant doubles pair in the history of the sport—winning 12 Grand Slams and sitting as the world No. 1 pair for over 300 weeks straight. Their career is parallel to nobody else in the sport and thus, are the natural favorites heading into the 2013 Australian Open.
They have made the final in seven of the past eight Australian Opens—winning the tournament itself five teams—and simply will not be beaten in Melbourne this year.
The pair are too strong and too dominant, and anything short of a brilliant game won't even come close to toppling the Bryan brothers. Expect them to be crowned Grand Slam champions once again this year.
Maria Sharapova Gets Eliminated Early
Russian star Maria Sharapova is always in contention when it comes Grand Slam time, having won four Grand Slams in her career and reached three other finals.
However, 2013 will not be the start that Sharapova will be looking for, with an early elimination looming for the hard-hitting 25-year-old.
Ears everywhere will rejoice as one.
Heather Watson's Breakthrough Major
Heather Watson won her maiden WTA tour last year—the first for a British woman in over 20 years—and will use the momentum and experience gained in 2012 to have an even stronger and more confident 2013, starting with the Australian Open.
The 20-year-old's on-field aggression and willingness to attack her opponents will bring her great reward in Melbourne, with good reward to be found for strong shots.
She won't make it through to the quarterfinals—perhaps a spot in the last 16 seems more appropriate—but don't be surprised at all to see Watson's name still in contention towards the end of the first week, particularly if she's already claimed a top scalp in the opening few rounds.
Definitely an underdog player to watch out for.
Victoria Azarenka Repeats 2012 Success
As far as champions go, it's incredibly difficult to go past Victoria Azarenka to repeat her 2012 success and clinch back-to-back Australian Open titles.
The Belarusian simply blew the competition away last year in Melbourne, and with a strong season behind her, she will enter this year's tournament full of confidence and as the player to beat.
The likes of Petra Kvitova in particular will push the world No. 1, but there will be no stopping Azarenka en route to her second Grand Slam title and further claim to be the greatest player currently in existence in the women's game.
Sam Stosur Finishes as Runner-Up
Australian Sam Stosur will enter her home Grand Slam as her nation's best chance at the title, having already clinched a Grand Slam earlier in her career.
The muscular power-hitter always provides close and fascinating matches for her opponents and will rarely be beaten easily—something that will hold her in good stead for the upcoming Australian Open.
But buoyed by the home crowd, Stosur will make it all the way to the final—only to be undone in the end by the brilliance of Azarenka. I've got the Aussie going down in a tough, three-set affair that will stand as one of the greatest women's finals in Melbourne ever.
Just you wait.
Bernard Tomic Plays Well Again
Flipping over to the men's side of the draw but keeping with our Australian edge, Bernard Tomic stands out as another key player to watch out for throughout the tournament.
The youngster had a breakout time at the 2012 Australian Open—beating several seeded players including Fernando Verdasco and Alexandr Dolgopolov—before going down to Swiss legend Roger Federer, and Tomic will use that wisdom to have an even stronger campaign in 2013.
Tomic has been the subject of several off-court issues in 2012 and will be keen to focus on his tennis—putting the negative press behind him and rewriting the public image of himself.
Performing well in your home Grand Slam is the perfect place to start that rewriting process, and with the home crowd behind him, Tomic is primed for a strong campaign here.
Rafael Nadal Won't Make the Final
When we look ahead to see who out of the big four will be the biggest danger for the 2013 Australian Open title, Rafael Nadal is perhaps the name we can rule out first.
That might seem harsh for a former Australian Open champion and a man who is one of the greatest modern players ever to play the game, but with a season dominated early by inconsistency and then marred by injury, Nadal doesn't seem like much of a threat this year.
The Spaniard is yet to play a professional tournament since Wimbledon in June and pulled out of an ATP event in Doha this weekend with an injury (per Sydney Morning Herald).
Nadal won't make it to the final at the 2013 Australian Open. That is, if he even makes it to the Grand Slam tournament in the first place.
Neither Will Roger Federer
However, current world No. 2 Roger Federer won't be there in the final either, with the Swiss maestro bound for a quarterfinal or semifinal exit in this year's competition.
Arguably the greatest player ever to grace the sport, Federer has proven he can perform at Melbourne—winning the Australian Open four times—but has not made the final of the Grand Slam since 2010, where he beat Andy Murray in straight sets.
Yes, the Fed Express is currently the world No. 2 and proved to many doubters that he still has what it takes to be competitive last season, but I just don't see him hanging around for the Day 14 this year at the 2013 Australian Open.
The target on his back looms larger every year—as does the desire for every player on tour to topple Federer—and the Australian Open will be one where Federer is eventually beaten. He will no doubt have his fun in the sun, but he simply won't take that final step towards the title.
Novak Djokovic Plays and Beats an Outsider
That honor, will fall to Novak Djokovic.
Djokovic has been the most consistent performer at the Australian Open in the past few years and will once again prove himself to be the best player in the game with a win at the 2013 Grand Slam.
The Serbian has won the past two Australian Opens—beating Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal respectively—and having also reached the final of Wimbledon and the US Open last year, he will carry great momentum into the first Grand Slam of the year.
With Nadal and Federer both predicted to miss the final, Djokovic could play an outsider in the final this year—somebody not considered in the Big Four of the men's game.
Juan Martin del Potro looms as the obvious inclusion, though a player like Kei Nishikori could also be a surprise contender to make the final two.
Whatever the case, expect more Australian Open glory for Djokovic in 2013.
What do you think will happen at the 2013 Australian Open?
Comment below or hit me up on Twitter: Follow @dantalintyre