With age working against Roger Federer, a challenging draw will wear him down and leave him unable to challenge the other elite players in the 2013 Australian Open.
As the 31-year-old Federer proved with a resurgent season last year, he is still capable of playing a brand of elite tennis that makes him nearly unbeatable. He took home his 17th major title at Wimbledon and regained his No. 1 ranking, which he has since lost to Novak Djokovic. He was a tough out in every competition.
However, the fact that Federer's season drew accolades and he only walked away with one major is both telling and a testament to his greatness. He just couldn't keep his high level of play rolling through the rigors of a Grand Slam.
This problem will present itself again in the Australian Open. The No. 2-seeded Federer's two biggest competitors in this event figure to be No. 1 seed Novak Djokovic and No. 3 seed Andy Murray.
As you can see in the full draw, if things go according to seeding, Federer would play Murray in the semis and Djokovic in the finals. That is a daunting task at any time, but impossible for Fed after the tough road to get there.
Frenchman Benoit Paire awaits Federer in the first round. In the second, a likely date looms with Nikolay Davydenko. While it would be nuts to predict either of these men to upset Federer, they are talented enough to make him earn the win. Davydenko just made the final in Doha.
Then we get to the point in the tournament where an upset is a real possibility. Bernard Tomic looms in the third round. Tomic is playing well, and if he gets on a roll can play with anyone. In the fourth, Federer is lined up to face 13th-seeded Milos Raonic and then seventh-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarterfinals.
This is a path Federer can navigate, but he will be challenged. This is going to be to taxing on Federer's body.
There is little separating Djokovic, Murray or Federer at the talent level, which leaves almost no room for error when these guys face each other. Federer won't be able to overcome the wear and tear he sustains battling toward the finals of the year's first major.