Roger Federer heads to 2013 Australian Open in search of his 18th career Grand Slam singles title. However, unlike so many times in the past, he's not the favorite. Top seed Novak Djokovic earned that honor, followed by Andy Murray and Federer.
The draw didn't do the Swiss Maestro any favors. In order to win the season's first major, he will have to survive a journey that includes likely matchups with wily veterans, rising stars and his chief competition, Murray and Djokovic.
Federer starts the tournament against Benoit Paire, a French youngster who's currently ranked 43rd in the world. Certainly not the type of walkover first-round match the top players hope for when the draws are released.
They met once before, on a hard court in Basel last season, and Federer picked up an easy victory. He dropped just four games and didn't face a single break point. While that shows it's a match he should win handily, the world's No. 2 player must hit the ground running.
Next up would be a likely encounter with Nikolay Davydenko. The 31-year-old Russian started his season on a high note by reaching the finals of Doha, where he was defeated by Richard Gasquet. He did upset David Ferrer in the semifinals, though.
Luckily for Federer, he's faced Davydenko 19 times and lost just twice. Not only does he have a good read on him, but Davydenko lacks the firepower necessary to keep pace in a best-of-five match unless Federer is off his game.
The third round would bring a potential meeting with Bernard Tomic, who's playing in his home Slam. Another possibility is No. 27 seed Martin Klizan, but if Tomic plays up to his potential, he should emerge from their probable second-round matchup.
Federer met Tomic in the Aussie Open's Round of 16 last year and won in straight sets. But the 6'5'' junior star has plenty of upside and features enough pop to make life difficult on Fed. He also hasn't mastered the mental side of things quite yet.
Should Federer continue to advance, and he should, there's a good chance big-hitting Canadian Milos Raonic will be waiting in the fourth round. This would be the first match where the fan favorite would be in serious danger.
Although he's beaten Raonic in all three of their encounters, each match went the distance and Federer dropped the opening set in each. The 15th-ranked player is nearing a major breakthrough and beating Federer at a major would be a huge step.
If Federer survives that challenge, there are a couple options for the quarterfinals. A pair of Frenchman, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Richard Gasquet, lead the pack in the top portion of the quarter, making one of them the likely opponent.
The Swiss star would probably prefer to face Gasquet, who he's beaten 10 times in 12 times. Tsonga has had a little more success against him with three wins in 11 tries. The charismatic 2008 Australian Open finalist is also capable of a higher level of play.
A trip to the semifinals would probably result in another meeting with Murray, who holds the edge in the all-time series at 10-9. That includes a victory in the gold-medal match at London Olympics shortly after Federer beat him at Wimbledon.
One of the biggest questions before the draw was which two of the three big names would land in the same half, and it turned out to be Federer and Murray. If things do hold according to seed, fans would be in for another classic.
Finally, there are 64 players Federer could face in the final, but the odds are it would be Djokovic. The three-time Aussie Open champion, which includes the last two, received the most promising draw of the three superstars and isn't likely to squander it.
So there's the probable path to victory for Federer. It's not easy by any stretch of the imagination, but that's what it takes to win a Grand Slam event. Nobody knows that better than him.
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