In a little over a week, the Australian Open—the first Grand Slam event of 2013—will begin and Novak Djokovic will begin his defense of the title he won last year as he aims to complete what will be a remarkable run of three straight titles in Melbourne.
Retirements and withdrawals in 2012 stripped the field of a number of Grand Slam winners—Rafael Nadal being the most high profile. However, if the US Open and the World Tour Finals are anything to go by, competition for the title will be strong.
Andy Murray—currently defending the title he won in Brisbane last year—is the current US Open and Olympic champion. Roger Federer—having skipped Doha this year to rest and prepare—is an inevitable contender for the title as evidenced in his romping Cincinnati win and World Tour Finals performance against Djokovic, while David Ferrer and Juan Martin Del Potro both enter 2013 confident following their strongest seasons in a few years.
Dark horses such as Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (an injury doubt) and Tomas Berdych (recently lost in Chennai as top seed) are probables, while the big servers such as Milos Raonic, John Isner and the talk of late 2012 Jerzy Janowicz are names people will be looking to avoid.
Realistic challenges for the title from outside the Big Four are unlikely, but not totally impossible. Federer in 2013 is still much of an unknown quantity, Murray traditionally takes a while to find his feet, and Djokovic has already lost this year albeit in a non-ranking event. Accordingly, there is room for one or two players to spring a surprise and make a deep run.
Much still depends on the draw, which will be released Friday, Jan. 1, but going by early signs, Andy Murray would be my pick as Djokovic's most daunting challenger for the title. I'd even go so far as placing him as a slight favorite ahead of Djokovic for the title.
Who do you think will be Djokovic's biggest challenger in Melbourne? Will Roger Federer make a surprise run?
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