Top Tennis Players Go Down Under to Contend for 'Happy Slam'

Monica FritschCorrespondent IJanuary 16, 2011

Crowd gathers outside of Rod Laver Arena
Crowd gathers outside of Rod Laver Arena

Tennis fans around the world are happy that the "happy Slam" begins today, after a long few weeks. The 2011 Australian Open is shaping up to be exciting start to another tennis season, and not because of the anticipation of a lot of rain delays.

Quite a few early match ups intrigued me. In men's singles, David Nalbandian of Argentina will take on local favorite, Lleyton Hewitt, in the first round. While you may not think that crowd support can carry a player to an upset, I do. I look for Hewitt to overcome the in-form Nalbandian, in 4 sets.

In women's singles however, I don't think Dinara Safina of Russia will have it in her to knock out "Aussie" Kim Clijsters. Safina hasn't had any impressive results in a few years and Clijsters is coming off a run to the finals of the Medibank International, in Sydney.

There are I believe, five players that have a realistic chance at taking the men's singles title. The first two are obvious, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Federer won the Qatar Open this week and Nadal is the World No, 1, despite a loss to Davydenko in Doha. The next likely winner is Andy Roddick, if he can get past Federer in the quarterfinals and Novak Djokovic in the semifinals. Roddick has confidence that he can break through and win his second major, and so do I. Robin Soderling had an impressive 2010 and I expect the same in 2011. If he can get past World No. 5, Andy Murray in the quarterfinals and Nadal in the semifinals, he has a shot to claim his first major, after coming close in 2010.

There is a lot of debate amongst tennis enthusiasts about a player "deserving" the No. 1 ranking. Caroline Wozniacki will be leading the pack in women's singles, despite having only reached the finals of majors. I look to her to continue that trend, losing in the semifinals to Maria Sharapova, whom I expect to win the title. I also expect Kim Clijsters to equal her result in Sydney. She has a new-found confidence in her "second career," but Maria Sharapova is coming back from injury, hungry to hoist another major trophy.

In men's doubles, Lukas Dlouhy and Paul Hanley are on a hot streak, having defeated No. 1 team in the world, Bob and Mike Bryan, in Sydney. I predict the Bryans to avenge the loss, when they meet Dlouhy and Hanley in the semifinals, and take the title, over the reunited Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupati, of India.

I expect momentum and experience to prevail in women's doubles, with Kveta Peschke and Katarina Srebotnik overcoming year-long titles leaders and No. 1 team in the World, Gisela Dulko and Flavia Pennetta. Peschke and Srebotnik will be looking to build on their run to the final in Sydney.

Whether you watch it from Melbourne Park or in your living room at 3 a.m., I hope you enjoy the 2011 Australian Open!