Australian Open 2013: Players Outside the Big 3 Who Will Challenge for Title

Stephen FenechCorrespondent IJanuary 15, 2013

Del Potro's familiar with the tennis world's biggest stages.
Del Potro's familiar with the tennis world's biggest stages.Robert Prezioso/Getty Images

While the overwhelming opinion is that a member of the Big Three will win this year's Australian Open, the chances of a few big hitters should not be discounted. 

Novak Djokovic is the favorite to win in Melbourne, as he is the two-time defending champ. The top-ranked Serbian is playing with confidence and is arguably the best hard-court player in the world. 

Roger Federer is the second seed, although oddsmakers like third-seeded Andy Murray's chances to win the Aussie Open more than the all-time Grand Slam king. 

The defense played by Murray and Djokovic separate them from the pack, which has become an even bigger advantage in recent years due to the transition to slower courts. However, the courts in Australia may be quicker this year, even if only marginally so. 

Even without Rafael Nadal in the draw, the thought of a floater winning the title is unfathomable to both experts and casual fans alike. 

If a surprise winner is crowned, it will likely be one of the following power baseliners. 


Juan Martin del Potro

One of five men in the draw to have a Grand Slam title on his resume, Juan Martin del Potro is always dangerous. 

For a man his size, Delpo moves surprisingly well, which is an often overlooked aspect of his game. The Argentine is best known for his booming serve and forehand, as he has the firepower to blow even the best defenders off the court on certain days.

The problem for Del Potro has been his consistency in recent years, although recent history suggests he is ready to become a perennial threat at the Slams again. 

Del Potro beat Federer twice to end last season, which could serve him well if he can reach the semifinals. In order to do so, Delpo will likely need to upset Andy Murray in the quarterfinals. 

In his first-round match, Del Potro steamrolled Adrian Mannarino in just 76 minutes. After the match he recognized how difficult it will be to win a Slam this year, as he said the following (h/t Fox Sports):

I'm trying to do (win a Slam) this year. But (the Big Four) are playing really good tennis, and it's not easy. They are so far from me at the moment. The last 33 Grand Slams (have been won by) the same names, the same players.I know how tough it is to win a Grand Slam. But I know the way to win a Grand Slam, also.

In the quote, Delpo makes sure to show the proper deference for the world's best but also reminds everyone that he has won a Slam. His big-match experience and explosive game make him the most dangerous non-Big Three member in the draw. 


Tomas Berdych 

This one may be a bit of a stretch, as Tomas Berdych would likely need to upset Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals to make a deep run. However, in order to win a Slam these days, Djokovic needs to be reckoned with, as he is the best player in the world. 

Berdych plays a clean and powerful game, although he has never found success against Djokovic. In fact, Berdych has only beaten the world's top-ranked player once. 

With that said, Berdych faces a favorable draw up until the quarters, as 11th seed Juan Monaco was upset in the first round. With an open draw ahead of him, Berdych should cruise into the quarters. 

Berdych has the talent to win a major, but everything would need to go right in order for it to happen at this year's Australian Open. That sentiment cannot be said of anyone though, as the pool of realistic contenders is shallow. 


Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 

The excitable Frenchman is one of the tour's most interesting players to watch, as his fiery demeanor and explosive game are worth the price of admission. 

Tsonga made his deepest run at a Slam in Australia in 2008, when he upset Nadal in the semifinals before succumbing to Djokovic in the final. 

The way in which Tsonga attacks opponents makes him a threat, just ask Federer about Wimbledon 2011 if you don't believe me. 

When he's on, Tsonga can be too much to handle, as he doesn't mind aiming for lines when his back is against the wall. At this point in his career, Tsonga has the confidence to make a deep run.

Federer has the misfortune of having Tsonga in his quarter at this year's Aussie Open. The conditions surrounding the match will go a long way in deciding the winner, as Tsonga would be better off playing in hotter, quicker conditions. 

Predicting a deep run for Tsonga would be ambitious, but he's got the weapons to pull off an upset or two if his head is screwed on straight. 


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