Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Et Al: 10 Men Who Could Win the Australian Open

JA AllenSenior Writer IJanuary 11, 2011

Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Et Al: 10 Men Who Could Win the Australian Open

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    The Australian Open begins on Monday, Jan. 17, in Melbourne, Australia. 

    The draw for the first Grand Slam of the season will not be held until Friday, Jan. 14. 

    Until that time, no one will know who they will be facing in the first round or which potential opponents might be waiting down the road.

    According to oddsmakers, Rafael Nadal is slightly favored to win the title over Roger Federer.

    So what do these betting gurus know?

    They know about past patterns of behavior and predictable outcomes based on certain incontrovertible factors. They know about odds of winning. 

    "Beating the odds" means winding up with an unexpected outcome.

    This is the crux of betting—figuring out which players may beat the odds.

    Nothing is a given, although based on recent history it is not unreasonable to expect either Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal to win the championship in Melbourne.

    It is almost inevitable that one of them will be in the final.

    But that did not happen in 2008, and who is to say that 2011 could not repeat that aberration?

    According to this author's research, following are the 10 players with the best shot at winning in Melbourne...

No. 10: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

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    The 25-year old Frenchman is perhaps one of the purest athletes playing tennis today.

    With his movement on court, his brilliant net play and his powerful serves, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has all of the tools necessary to win the Australian Open.  

    In the past few years, the Frenchman has shown his best major results in Melbourne.  

    In 2007, at his first Australian Open, Tsonga lost his opening round match to Andy Roddick.

    In 2008, unseeded, Tsonga made it all the way to the finals where he faced the No. 3 seed, Novak Djokovic. 

    At the start of that tournament, Tsonga shocked the tennis world by upsetting No. 9  seed Andy Murray in the first round.

    Prior to that first match, Murray was touted as one of the favorites to win the Australian Open in 2008. 

    After dispatching Murray, Tsonga beat all opponents standing in his way including the No. 2 seed Rafael Nadal in the semifinals. 

    The Frenchman won the opening set against Djokovic before the Serb took control, winning the match and his first Major championship.

    In 2009, Tsonga lost to a surging Fernando Verdasco in the quarterfinals, disappointed not to have recaptured his glory of 2008.

    In 2010, the Frenchman had another splendid Australian Open tournament, making it all the way to the semifinals where he lost to Roger Federer, the eventual champion. 

    Ironically, Tsonga had defeated Novak Djokovic in five tough sets in the quarterfinals.  

    The last three years Tsonga had outstanding results at the Australian Open.  He is healthy and fit again this year and there is no reason he cannot succeed.

    Much depends on the draw and the Frenchman's level of confidence, which should be very high in 2011. 

    He will be considered a dark horse at 40-1, but definitely someone to watch as the Australian Open gets underway.

9. Andy Roddick

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    Will this be the year and the tournament when Andy Roddick finally wins his second slam title? 

    The 28-year old American has not captured a major trophy since the 2003 U.S. Open.

    This year Roddick enters competition at the Aussie Open rested and ripped––fit and ready to make this year the one that matters.  

    In all his years of competition, Roddick has never made it into an Australian Open final. 

    The American, however, has made the semifinals four times.  In 2003 he lost to German Rainer Schuettler in four sets––so close to making the final. 

    In 2005 the American progressed to the semis where he met and was defeated by Aussie Lleyton Hewitt.  In 2007 and in 2009 Roddick found himself facing Roger Federer.  He lost both semifinal matches in straight sets.

    Roddick made the quarterfinals twice, losing to Marat Safin in 2004 and to Marin Cilic in 2010.

    His poorest showings came in 2008 when he lost to German Philipp Kohlschreiber in the third round in a tough five-set loss. 

    Roddick lost in the fourth round to Marcos Baghdatis in 2006––the year the Cypriot made it all the way to the finals. 

    Roddick’s worst defeat came during his first year of competition in 2002 when the American fell to Ivan Ljubicic in the second round.

    While Wimbledon may offer Roddick the greatest chance to win a major, the American is always a threat on any surface, especially when his serve is hitting the mark and when he is healthy and ready to rumble. 

    In 2011 Roddick could own the Plexicushion in Melbourne and win it all . The latest odds have the American at a 30-1 shot. 

8. Juan Martin Del Potro

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    Winning the Australian Open should be a real long-shot for the 22-year-old Argentine. But current odds rank Juan Martin del Potro at 20-1.

    Probably the other Argentine, 29-year old David Nalbandian, would be a better choice. But del Potro has the determination to win a major while Nalbandian, who has the game, has proven he does not.  

    Still after being injured for almost a year, it would be a miracle for del Potro to return to form so quickly. 

    Del Potro’s ranking plumetted to No. 258 because of his long absence from the tour.

    This week he began a new season of tennis in Sydney where he met and defeated the No. 6 seed Feliciano Lopez in his opener.

    At the Argentine’s first Australian Open in 2007, del Potro lost in the second round to Fernando Gonzalez who went on the to finals where the Chilean lost to Roger Federer in straight sets. 

    In 2008, del Potro lost again in the second round to Spaniard David Ferrer, then ranked No. 5 in the world.

    In 2009, the Argentine went all the way to the quarterfinals where he was embarrassed by Roger Federer 6-3, 6-0, 6-0.

    Ironically, this would be the year that del Potro would meet and defeat Federer in the finals of the 2009 U.S. Open.

    In 2010, suffering from the wrist injury that would sideline him for the rest of the season, del Potro lost in the fourth round to Marin Cilic in five sets 7-5, 4-6, 5-7, 7-5, 3-6.  That was the Argentine’s final tournament until the Thailand Open in late September. 

    Del Potro lost in the first round in Bangkok and Tokyo before shutting down for the remainder of the year to concentrate on resting his wrist, eventually gaining strength and building stamina.  

    The tennis world watches to see how long it will take del Potro to regain his edge and start winning majors again. According to the odds makers––it will not be that long.

No. 7: Nikolay Davydenko

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    The Russian Nikolay Davydenko is currently ranked No. 22––this the result of a recurring, persistent wrist injury that kept Davydenko sidelined for a large part of 2010. 

    The Russian fell out of the top ten for the first time since July of 2009, although for the most part, Davydenko has resided in the top ten since June of 2005.

    This past week in Qatar, Davydenko reached the finals of the ExxonMobil Open by defeating Rafael Nadal in the semifinals. 

    The Russian could not, however, get past Roger Federer in the finals which Davydenko lost 3-6, 4-6.  

    His results at the Australian Open have been consistently good since 2005––but still the Russian has never made it past the quarterfinal round which explains why his odds are listed at 40-1.

    Playing his fifth Australian Open in 2005, Davydenko made it all the way to the quarterfinals where he met Andy Roddick. The Russian was forced to retire in the match after falling behind 3-6, 5-7, 1-4. 

    It marked the first time the Russian had ever reached the quarterfinal of any major.

    In 2006 Davydenko reached the quarterfinals again where he met Roger Federer, losing that contest 4-6, 6-3, 6-7, 6-7.  Federer went on to win the 2006 Australian Open.

    The next year in 2007 Davydenko once again made it to the quarterfinals in Melbourne but this time the Russian fell to Tommy Haas 3-6, 6-2, 6-1, 1-6, 5-7 in a hard-fought 5-set contest.

    In 2008, the Russian went out in the fourth round to countryman Mikhail Youzhny 6-7, 3-6, 1-6.

    While participating in a tournament in Chennai in 2009, Davydenko sustained a left heel injury and had to withdraw from that tournament and from the 2009 Australian Open as well. 

    The injury curtailed the Russian’s playing activity for some time that year.  

    In 2010, Davydenko again found himself across the net from his arch-rival Federer during the Australian Open quarterfinals and once again he lost 6-2, 3-6, 0-6, 5-7.  Federer went on to win his fourth Australian Open title.  

    The knock against Davydenko has been his inability to win five set matches in majors even when holding a lead.

    A lucky draw might aid the Russian this year. Davydenko needs to avoid playing Federer until the final.

No. 6: Tomas Berdych

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    Tomas Berdych made the finals at Wimbledon in 2010.

    After his success, even though Berdych lost to Rafael Nadal in that final, there is every reason to believe that if the Czech controls his nerves, he has a good chance of winning his first major down under in Melbourne in 2011. 

    Currently ranked World No. 6, Berdych moved into the top ten in men’s rankings in July of 2010 after reaching the semifinals of the French Open.

    Still, Berdych’s previous experiences at the Australian Open have not been that outstanding which explains why his odds remain at 30-1.

    The Czech’s first Australian Open took place in 2004 where he lost in the second round to Andre Agassi, 0-6, 2-6, 4-6.

    The following year Berdych lost in the opening round of the 2005 Australian Open to Guillermo Coria 2-6, 4-6, 0-6.  

    In 2006 the Czech lost in the second round to Frenchman Gilles Simon 3-6, 2-6, 6-4, 2-6.  But this time Berdych won a set, his first at the Australian Open. 

    The improvement continued in 2007 when Berdych made it all the way to the fourth round where he met and was defeated by Russian Nikolay Davydenko 7-5, 4-6, 1-6, 6-7.

    Berdych fell victim to Roger Federer during the fourth round of the 2008 Australian Open 4-6, 6-7, 3-6

    Once again in the fourth round, Berdych lost to Roger Federer at the 2009 Australian Open in five sets 6-4, 7-6, 4-6, 4-6, 2-6. 

    This loss was especially disconcerting after leading the Swiss two sets to love. It seemed to heighten the estimation that Berdych did not have the confidence or the determination to win a major.

    Last year in 2010, Berdych found himself on the way out earlier than usual, victim to Evgeny Korolev of Kazakhstan 4-6, 4-6, 5-7.  The second round upset by the Russian did not sit well with Berdych who worked hard after that loss to turn things around.

    Solidly ensconced in the top ten, Berdych must be one of the favorites to win going into the first major of 2011. 

    The Australian Open always seems to offer-up surprising finalists, so why not Berdych this year?

No. 5: Robin Soderling

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    The Swede made a name for himself by pulling off the biggest upset in the history of men’s tennis, in many people’s estimation.

    This occurred when Soderling dismissed Rafael Nadal in the fourth round of the French Open in 2009.

    It stunned Nadal and his fans when this upstart from Sweden stopped Nadal from winning his fifth consecutive French Open title.

    Based on his play at the French and subsequent tournaments, Soderling rose into the men’s top ten at the end of 2009 and has remained there since that time. 

    Currently ranked world No. 4, Soderling will be seeded No. 4 as the 2011 Australian Open gets underway on January 17th. The odds on his winning have risen to 20-1.

    But the Swede has never done well at the Australian Open.  In fact, he has never progressed beyond the second round. 

    Much of this has to do with the number of serious injuries Soderling has endured over the years since he broke into the men’s tour.

    Even when he played, however, Soderling was plagued with nagging shoulder and knee problems.  This kept the Swede from playing his best. The lack of complete health lasted through 2008.

    In 2009, Soderling began to find success and score victories on tour.

    Even though he lost early to an unseeded Marcos Baghdatis at the 2009 Australian Open, Soderling made it to the finals of the French Open where he lost to Roger Federer.

    The Swede made his furthest advance at Wimbledon in 2009, all the way to the fourth round where he was once again defeated by Roger Federer.

    Finally, meeting Federer in the quarterfinals of the 2009 U.S. Open, Soderling lost again. 

    Still the quarterfinals was the furthest the Swede had advanced at Flushing Meadows.

    In 2010, Soderling again advanced to the finals of the French Open.  This time he faced Rafael Nadal on the red clay of Stade Roland Garros, losing his second consecutive French Open final.

    Soderling then lost to Nadal in the quarterfinals of Wimbledon. Following that the Swede lost in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open to Roger Federer.  

    This year he enters the Australian Open having just captured the title in Brisbane over finalist Andy Roddick.

    The time seems right for Soderling to finally impact the slam down under

    The Swede could have no greater impact than by winning this major championship,  becoming a first-time slam title holder at the Australian Open in 2011.

No. 4: Andy Murray

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    Robert Prezioso/Getty Images

    Every year, for every major tournament except the French Open, pundits prepare for Andy Murray to finally break through to win his first major.  Most think hard courts are the Scots best bet for winning that elusive first slam title. 

    Others apply the pressure to win at home––to capture a Wimbledon crown and put Fred Perry finally away as the last male Brit to win at Wimbledon.

    Alas, it has not happened yet.  Most especially, the chance to win has not shown bright in Melbourne, except for last year when Murray made the finals for the first time. 

    In fact Murray did not even lose a set at the 2010 Australian Open until the semifinals when Marin Cilic managed to take one set before Murray slammed the door shut.

    Murray had defeated Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals in straight sets, with Nadal finally retiring in the third set.

    But then Murray faced Federer in the finals, losing in straight sets 3-6, 4-6, 6-7.  In the tiebreak, Murray finally started to show his form, but it was too little, too late and Murray lost his second slam title to the Swiss––the first in the finals of the 2008 U.S. Open.

    The Scot has had really rotten luck at the Australian Open throughout the years.  Murray always seemed to run into the “hot” player during the notorious Australian Open which seemed to serve up one surprise finalist after another during the 2000s.  

    In 2008, Murray lost in the opening round to unseeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga who rode a winning streak all the way to that year’s finals where he lost to Novak Djokovic. 

    In 2009 Murray ran into Fernando Verdasco who had a remarkable Australian Open that year, making it all the way to the semifinals where he lost in five tough sets to Rafael Nadal.  

    Perhaps this will be the year for Murray to get the monkey off his back and perhaps like Lendl, once he wins that first major, the Scot will never look back. 

    It took Lendl until age 25.  Murray is still only 23, even though it seems like he has been at the top of the men’s game for years.

    The odds-makers have the Scot as the third favorite at 5-1. Will Murray's luck change this year?

No. 3: Novak Djokovic

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    Paul Kane/Getty Images

    Novak Djokovic won his first and only major title in Melbourne in 2008. The Serb defeated Roger Federer in the semifinals and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the championship match to capture the Australian Open that year.  

    When the Serb made the finals of the 2010 U.S. Open, it marked his third major final since his first at U.S. Open in 2007 where he faced Roger Federer. 

    At age 23, Djokovic is one of a handful of active players besides Federer and Nadal who has won a major title.  

    The question is can he win another and will it come this year in Melbourne? 

    The obvious answer is that he can do it a second time because he has already done it once.

    But there are many examples of men who have won one slam and never another.

    Djokovic’s first two forays into the Australian Open were not very successful.

    The Serb was dismissed in the first round in 2005 and 2006.  But in 2007 the young Serb made it all the way to the fourth round where he met and was defeated by Roger Federer, the eventual champion.

    In 2008, however, Djokovic found Federer across the net in the semifinals and this time he did not fold, defeating the Swiss in straight sets.

    While playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the finals, the Serb dropped his first set of the tournament. 

    It was a definitive win for Djokovic, who claimed his first major title at the 2008 Australian Open Championship.

    In 2009, however, Djokovic lost to American Andy Roddick in the quarterfinals, retiring in the fourth set of his match. 

    In 2010 Djokovic lost again in the quarterfinals to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in a five set match.  

    Djokovic has prepared for the upcoming Australian Open by participating in the Hopman Cup where he went undefeated.

    In between times the Serb found time to practice with Scot Andy Murray as they both seek to get accustomed to the Australian climate.

    The Serb definitely has his eyes firmly on the prize as the Australian Open gets underway in less than a week. With odds settling at 6-1, the Serb is a favorite to win again.

No. 2: Rafael Nadal

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    There is much riding on Rafael Nadal winning this slam down under in 2011. He won the Australian Open Championship in 2009. 

    But winning this one would give Nadal a record in tennis that Roger Federer does not already own and one he cannot claim to equal. 

    By winning this year’s championship, Nadal would hold all four majors at one time.  He would be the only man to accomplish this feat since Rod Laver did it in 1969. 

    It would be Nadal’s “Rafa-Slam,” much as Serena Williams completed her “Serena Slam” in 2002-2003––holding all four major championships at one time.

    It would also start Nadal down the road to winning a calendar year slam––the last one occurring during the first full year of competition in the Open Era in 1969 by Aussie Laver.

    Nadal has played in six previous Australian Open Championships, the first in 2004 when the Majorcan advanced to the third round losing to Lleyton Hewitt in straight sets.

    In 2005, Nadal made it to the fourth round, losing again to Aussie Hewitt but this time in a very competitive five-set match. 

    Injured in 2006, Nadal did not return to Melbourne until 2007. There he advanced to the quarterfinals where the Majorcan lost to Fernando Gonzalez in straight sets.

    In 2008 Nadal made his greatest advance into the Australian Open, making the semifinals where he met and was defeated by unseeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

    The Frenchman was enjoying a very hot winning streak down under eventually making the finals where he lost to Djokovic.

    Finally, in 2009, Nadal made it to the finals where he found his arch nemesis, Roger Federer, waiting. 

    In another epic contest, Nadal won in five sets, capturing his first Australian Open Championship and his first slam victory on hard courts. 

    By taking this title, Nadal opened the door wider exposing the  breadth of the Majorcan’s game.  He was now a slam winner on all surfaces.

    At age 24, Nadal has already built a huge edge over his contemporaries on the tennis court. 

    Whether he continues to advance on Federer’s records will become clearer as the tennis year progresses in 2011. 

    A vital step will be realized should Nadal win this year in Melbourne. But that promise to exert much pressure on the Majorcan.

    There is no doubt that Nadal will be unrelenting in pursuing this goal.  He will not beat himself in this quest. 

    Somebody will have to wrest the championship away from him by outplaying Nadal in every aspect of the game.

No. 1: Roger Federer

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    Roger Federer is the only active player to have won the Australian Open more than once.  In fact, the Swiss has won the Australian Open four times in 11 appearances.   

    After being dismissed in the third round twice by Arnaud Clement in 2000 and 2001 and in the fourth round by Tommy Haas in 2002 and David Nalbandian in 2003––both five setters––Federer won his first Australian Open in 2004.  He defeated Marat Safin in straight sets. 

    It was a very satisfying win for the Swiss after winning Wimbledon in 2003. 

    The 2004 Australian Open was Federer's second grand slam title.

    Meeting Safin again in 2005 in the semifinals, Federer suffered a rare defeat, losing 7-9 in the fifth set. The loss allowed Safin to advance on to the finals where the enigmatic Russian won his second slam title.

    Federer won back to back titles in 2006 and 2007, defeating unseeded Marcos Baghdatis and Fernando Gonzalez respectively in the finals.  In his 2007 campaign, the Swiss did not drop a set––another record set in his amazing career.

    Everyone predicted another win for the Swiss in 2008 but Serb Djokovic derailed Federer in the semifinals and went on to win the title for himself that year.  

    2009 saw Federer once again in the Australian Open final––this time facing Rafael Nadal for the first time in a hard court major final.

    Nadal capitalized winning the critical points and he took the title away from the Swiss in dramatic fashion.

    It ushered in another whole era in their storied rivalry.  While Nadal’s best surfaces are still clay and grass, the Majorcan proved he can win on any surface.

    In 2010, Federer once again returned to the final in Melbourne and this time he succeeded defeating the Scot Andy Murray in straight sets, winning his fourth Australian Open and his sixteenth major title.  

    Coming into the Australian Open in 2011, Federer is riding a wave of successes having just won the ExxonMobil Open in Qatar, defeating Nikolay Davydenko in the final. 

    He also won the WTF in London by defeating Nadal in the finals.  This victory came after winning in Stockholm and Basel.  

    Federer’s game is clicking and his confidence is sky-high. But does that mean he will win in Melbourne? 

    No one can say for sure - but he is healthy and excited about playing tennis again. Let’s face it the man has a history of winning slams.