Who has the ability to take out last year's champ?
Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal ... those two names have been synonymous with Grand Slam men's tennis the past five years.
Since Nadal's first slam victory at the 2005 French Open, he and Federer have combined to win 21 of the last 23 slams. Only twice in the past 23 slams, has someone other than Nadal or Federer help up the championship trophy at the end,
It's difficult to imagine another player winning a slam, given the dominance these two men have exhibited over the past five years. Despite the unlikelihood of another player winning a slam, I'm going to play devil's advocate.
So here are the five most likely players, other than Federer or Nadal, who can capture this year's Grand Slam down under—the 2011 Australian Open.
If Novak doesn't let the conditions get to him, he could win his second slam.
The most obvious choice, Djokovic, has already won an Australian Open. He is also coming off a hard-fought loss in the US Open Final to Nadal.
Djokovic has been, for the most part, the third best player in the world for the past three years—even taking over the world number two spot from Federer, albeit briefly.
I also like his draw ... there is no threat until the quarter-finals. Even his potential quarter-final opponents, Verdasco, a former semi-finalist; Berdych; Davydenko; and Gasquet, are unlikely to have enough fire-power to take out the Serbian world number three, if he is at his best.
If Djokovic is well-conditioned for the heat, he has a legitimate chance to take out Federer and/or Nadal, and in the process, take home his second Australian Open title.
Fans of the Scottish Murray may be beginning to think a slam is never going to happen for him. Murray plays as well as anyone (Federer and Nadal included) at the Master's 1000 events. But, he seems to have a knack for choking at Grand Slams—don't forget it was Murray who the experts tabbed as favorite of the past two season-opening slams.
Despite a drop in the rankings to number five, Murray is still as good of a threat as anyone else to Federer and Nadal. Murray is 8-6 vs. Federer all-time—I realize none of those wins were in slams, but it proves he CAN beat him.
I think the fact that people aren't really talking about him heading to this one could help. Murray has demonstrated that he isn't really a "pressure player"—well, there isn't much pressure on him heading into this year's Aussie Open.
Also, looking at his draw, I don't like Soderling on the hard courts, and love Murray's chances if they meet in the quarters. The only threat to Murray making the semi-finals—Juan Martin Del Potro.
I'm aware Del Potro has been out with an injury for almost a year. I'm aware that he just lost to Florian Mayer at a warm-up tournament in Sydney. It's certainly difficult to imagine him having the practice repetitions, or fitness level to win the Australian Open.
Remember the first slide though—only two players other than Federer or Nadal have won slams the past five-plus years—Delpo is one of the two.
The odds may be against him, but I like the chances of someone who has tasted Grand Slam victory, over someone who hasn't. I know it's been over a year, but remember those bludgeoning forehands Del Potro was hitting against an, at times, helpless Federer at the 2009 US Open.
This guy has as good of "stuff" as anyone on tour—if he can find it, players are not going to want to have to play the current world number 259.
To this point, Cilic has not done much to make anyone think he is a legitimate contender to win a slam. Neither did Tsonga prior to his runner-up in 2008. Cilic has been labeled an underachiever by many; and for the most part, it has been warranted.
Cilic is a big kid with a huge game—the type of game that could present problems for Nadal in a potential fourth round match-up. He also advanced to the semis in Australia last year—this is his most comfortable surface.
If Cilic were to upset Nadal, his path to the semis would then be very manageable, with David Ferrer and Mikhail Youzhny being the only potential (very mild) threats.
I'm not saying Cilic will beat Nadal. But if he does, sky is the limit for the tall, big-hitting Croat.
I'm not entirely sure why I'm even including Roddick on this list ... perhaps, I would feel unpatriotic if I didn't include an American. Roddick has defined choking in majors—look to Wimbledon and the US Open last year.
I still feel that if Roddick can make it to the quarters (that could be a big IF), he has the ability and talent to get it done. Despite his poor record against Federer, he has beaten him recently, and he showed two years ago at Wimbledon he can play with him at a slam.
Roddick has also owned Djokovic (his potential semi-final match-up, if he were to beat Federer) of late. Furthermore, it should be noted that Roddick has made the semis in Australia in 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2009—all odd years.
On top of all of that, his wife is really hot and as long as he remains in the tournament, she remains at the tournament.
Have I reached enough yet?