It is that time of the year when the snow is blowing while ice drips off your nose in the Midwest. Meanwhile, tennis moves “down under” to the warmth of the Australian Open in Melbourne.
The official draw unfolded on Friday. That is when we saw whether the No. 1 seed Novak Djokovic would face Roger Federer or Andy Murray in the semifinals, assuming all the usual suspects make it that far.
Last year during the Australian Open Federer faced Djokovic in the semifinals, losing in straight sets 7-6, 7-5, 6-4 while Nadal, suffering from injury, folded early in the quarterfinals to fellow Spaniard David Ferrer.
At the 2011 French Open, Djokovic suffered his first defeat of the season during the semifinals when Roger Federer upset him 7-6, 6-3, 3-6, 7-6. Nadal, on the other hand, breezed past Murray 6-4, 7-5, 6-4. In the final, Federer, who has never defeated Nadal at Stade Roland Garros, failed once again—losing 7-5, 7-6, 5-7, 6-1.
When the tour moved on to Wimbledon, Djokovic and Federer were once again drawn into the same half. But this time, Federer did not meet Djokovic. He lost in the quarterfinals to an on-fire Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France—even after winning the first two sets, 3-6, 6-7, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4. Nadal, once again, took care of Murray in the semifinals while Djokovic dismissed Tsonga. In the final, Djokovic prevailed with surprising ease over the now world No. 2 Nadal 6-4, 6-1, 1-6, 6-3.
The 2011 US Open would prove to be the piece de resistance for Djokovic and a major blow for Federer. The Big Four made it to the semifinals where, once again, Djokovic faced Federer while Nadal manhandled Murray 6-4, 6-2, 3-6, 6-2. The other US Open semifinal should have gone to Federer who took the first two sets. But even after serving for the match in the fifth set, Federer remained unable to close it out and Djokovic came back to win 6-7, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 7-5. In the final, Nadal was once again unable to dominate the Serb. Djokovic won 6-2, 6-4, 6-7, 6-1—claiming his third major title of 2011 and the No. 1 ranking.
After suffering a slump at the end of the year, pundits are once again pondering—can Djokovic do it again? Only time will tell. Right now, he must defend his title at the Australian Open. Odds are in his favor at the moment.
Who will win the Aussie Open men’s title in 2012? For a change of pace, Djokovic has been drawn into the same half as the No. 4 seed, Andy Murray while world No. 2 Nadal is scheduled to face Federer in the semifinals, should both make it that far.
Here are the top ten odds-on favorites to win the 2012 Australian Open.
10. Gael Monfils – France – Seed No. 14
Gael Monfils did something he had rarely managed to accomplish since the Frenchman began competing—he defeated Rafael Nadal. It happened during the semifinals in Doha earlier this month.
The win, 6-3, 6-4, was relatively easy for the talented Frenchman who often finds a way to make matters much more complex than necessary! That sent Monfils into the finals where he lost to fellow Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
Monfils who is now ranked World No. 15 saw his fortunes and his ranking rise into the top ten in 2011. The Australian Open, however, has never really been his strong suit. Last year Monfils advanced to the third round where he lost to Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka. His best result was in 2009 when he made it to the fourth round, retiring in his match against fellow Frenchman Gilles Monfils. According to Nola.com Monfils has a 65-1 shot at winning the tournament.
9. David Ferrer – Spain – Seed No. 5
World No. 5 David Ferrer is working hard trying to win his second consecutive title at the Heineken Open at Auckland. To date he has managed to work his way into the quarterfinal where he will face Columbian Alejandro Falla for the right to advance to the semifinals.
Last year Ferrer defeated David Nalbandian for the title. Ferrer ended 2011 well—making it to the semifinals of the year-end championship in London where he lost to Roger Federer and then helping Spain to secure a win over Argentina in the Davis Cup Finals.
Overall, 2011 was a very good year for Ferrer. The Spaniard made it to the fourth round of the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open after making it to the semifinals of the 2011 Australian Open. Ferrer’s strength is his consistency and his ability to remain aggressive regardless of the surface. To date, the oddsmakers give him on average a 35-1 shot at winning the tournament. The odds will continue to shift especially now that the draws have been announced in Melbourne.
8. Bernard Tomic – Australia – Not seeded.
Bernard Tomic’s preparations for the Australian Open have been nothing short of spectacular. Playing in the AAMI Kooyong Classic, Tomic dismissed the odds on favorite to win the Thursday match, Frenchman Gael Monfils 6-4, 4-6, 7-6. Tomic defeated world ranked No. 7 Tomas Berdych in his opener at Kooyong.
That means the young man from Australia will advance to the finals to face either American Mardy Fish or Austrian Jurgen Melzer playing on Friday.
Ranked at No. 208 a year ago, Tomic has shot up the ladder to the No. 37 spot in men’s tennis, his rise aided in large part by his advancement to the 2011 Wimbledon quarterfinals. He is Australia’s next best hope to win the single’s men’s title since Mark Edmondson did it in 1976. The oddsmakers like his chances at 40-1 to win in Melbourne this year.
7. Tomas Berdych – Czech Republic – Seed No 7
Teamed with fellow Czech Republic teammate Petra Kvitova, Tomas Berdych won the 2012 Hopman Cup with his World No. 2 compatriot. The pair defeated the French team of Marion Bartoli and Richard Gasquet for the title.
But after that win, Berdych dropped an important match to Bernard Tomic at Kooyong after securing the first set 6-4. The wind wreaked havoc with Berdych’s game allowing Tomic coming out on top, dealing with the conditions better.
In 2011 after winning in Beijing and making it to the semifinals of the World Tour Finals in London in November, Berdych comes into 2012 with some momentum. During last year’s Australian Open Berdych advanced to the quarterfinals, his furthest reach yet in Melbourne after eight tries.
On average, the odds-makers give Berdych a 40-1 advantage over the present field.
6. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga – France – Seed No. 6
The Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who served as ex-officio Federer assassin in 2011, did it again, winning the title in Qatar in the first week of the 2012 season. This time, however, Federer stepped aside before the match began with a back injury, allowing Tsonga to skip into the final without the normal Federer test.
Even though things did not begin well, Tsonga rebounded in time to win the final match over fellow Frenchman Gael Monfils 7-5, 6-3. It was Tsonga’s first title of the season, but according to many, will not be his last. Tennis authorities expect Tsonga to pick up where he left off and finish 2012 with some remarkable wins.
Tsonga, you may recall, has made the finals of the Australian Open before—back in 2008 when the Frenchman dismissed Nadal in the semifinals, advancing to face Novak Djokovic in the finals. Djokovic had just upset Federer and would go on to win his first major title in Melbourne.
Ever since that 2008 Australian Open final, pundits have expected great things from Tsonga. Now, they sense, that time has arrived. Most like him at about the 20-1 range. Tsonga has been drawn into the same quarter as the No. 4 seed, Murray.
5. Juan Martin del Potro – Argentina – Seed No. 11
The question most have about the No. 1 player from Argentina is—will he finally return to his 2009 form in 2012? While del Potro delivered moments of brilliant play in 2011, the consistency of form and the energy level was not quite there. That was obvious during his Davis Cup round-robin play against Spaniard David Ferrer 2-6, 7-6, 6-3, 4-6, 3-6. No one can out-scramble Ferrer on the red dirt.
Still del Potro did win come-back player of the year award. Starting 2012 at the Heineken Open, the Argentine was upset by Marcos Baghdatis 7-6, 6-4 aided by a boisterous Cypriot crowd in Sydney. The game, the mindset and the conditioning must all work in concert for del Potro to see his way into the Australian Open final in Melbourne in 2012.
Most agree that the World No. 11 has all the tools. Odds-makers give him on average a 15-1 shot to win the tournament. You have to remember that in the past seven years only four men have won grand slam tournaments—Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Juan Martin del Potro. The man from Argentina has already proven himself a winner.
4. Rafael Nadal – Spain – Seed No. 2
The No. 2 ranked player in the world, according to many, seems to be suffering from a major slum since winning the French Open in 2011. The truth is that Nadal made three grand slam finals in 2011, winning one of them. That is pretty good for a “slump.”
Obviously, Nadal wishes to do better and by that he means—do better in finals against world No. 1 Novak Djokovic. Nadal had his best year ever in 2010, winning three of the four grand slam titles. There is nothing to suggest that the Majorcan will not be able to do it again.
Nadal’s best chances, however, come on the natural clay and grass surfaces, meaning that winning on the artificial Plexicushion surface at Rod Laver Arena may be a more difficult task.
To that end, the oddsmakers do not like his chances as well as the other top four, even though Nadal has won the Australian Open previously in 2009. Currently Nadal rests at 5-1 on the betting scale—waiting until the dust settles after the draws were released on Friday.
3. Andy Murray – Scotland – Seed No. 4
Andy Murray is the only member of the perennial top four who has not won a major. To that end, Murray hired the iron man, Ivan Lendl to help guide him to that magical finish at the Australian Open where the Scot appeared in the final a year ago.
Last year after winning titles during the 2011 indoor season at Bangkok, Tokyo, and Shanghai, Murray suffered an injury which kept him from ending the season ranked at world No. 3—a ranking he had taken from Roger Federer. But Federer came back to win in Paris and at the Barclays WTF in London, reclaiming his No. 3 rank.
In 2011 Murray reached the semifinals at the US Open, Wimbledon and the French Open as well as the finals of the 2011 Australian Open. Close but no cigar. This year Murray, at age 24, is more than ready to take that final step. Will he do it at the 2012 Australian Open?
The oddsmaker give Murray the nod so far over Nadal at 9-2 mark, Lendl may prove to be the missing ingredient in the Murray recipe for success.
2. Roger Federer – Switzerland – Seed No. 3
Roger Federer is the only man currently playing tennis who has won the Australian Open more than once—the other being world No. 1 Novak Djokovic. Federer, in fact, has won the tournament four times—in 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2010. The Swiss would love to make it five. The Australian Open, in fact, was the last major Federer won in 2010.
Last year Federer fell to Djokovic in the semifinals in straight sets, 7-6, 7-5, 6-4. In 2011, Federer made two major semifinals, losing to Djokovic in Melbourne and in Flushing Meadows. The Swiss fell in quarterfinals to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at Wimbledon and to Rafael Nadal in the finals of the French Open in Paris.
At age 30, Federer will also be looking forward to winning his first Olympic gold medal in men’s singles.
The odds-makers like Federer to the tune of 7-2 so far. Federer remains a favorite because the faster surfaces suit his game—plus Federer has the experience of winning.
1. Novak Djokovic – Serbia – Seed No. 1
In 2011, Novak Djokovic began his unbeaten year by winning the Australian Open, defeating Andy Murray in the final. Djokovic did not lose until Roger Federer upset him during the 2011 French Open semifinals.
After years of folding in major finals, the Serb finally stood up and took what his talent dictated was his right. Djokovic went on to win the final two slams of the season at Wimbledon and the US Open by defeating then world No. 2 Rafael Nadal in the finals.
In fact, Djokovic defeated Nadal in six finals in 2011—Nadal eventually losing his No. 1 ranking to the Serb during Wimbledon. Even with injury and a poor showing during the indoor season, Djokovic ended the year world ranked No. 1.
The Serb remains the favorite to win the upcoming Australian Open in Melbourne with odds resting pretty much at 6-5. Not many of those “in the know” are betting against the Serb winning his second consecutive Australian Open title in 2012. Play gets underway on January 16.
Dark Horses: Men to watch
The Canadian Milos Raonic opened his season by winning the tournament in Chennai, defeating Janko Tipsarevic in the final. He fired in 35 aces in the process of closing out the Serb, 6-7, 7-6, 7-6. Raonic who was world ranked No. 153 a year ago has enjoyed a huge surge in his results and in his rankings throughout 2011. After winning the tournament in San Jose and making the finals in Memphis, the Canadian had captured everyone’s attention with his big, booming serve.
After suffering an injury at Wimbledon during his second round match with Gilles Muller, Raonic was out of action for the rest of the summer. Fully healed and ready to roll again, expect Raonic to impact the outcome of any tournament he enters, including the upcoming Australian Open. The odds-makers like him to the tune of 65-1.
Last year Alexandr Dolgopolov from Ukraine gave Andy Murray all he could handle during the quarterfinals of the 2011 Australian Open before the Scot finally advanced. This year Dolgopolov made it to the finals of Brisbane where once again Murray dispatched him in the finals 6-1, 6-3.
Last year at this time Dolgopolov was ranked No. 49. Now he is ranked No. 14. The Ukrainian is a counterpuncher who plays terrific defense, often with the ability to change defense into offense in the blink of an eye because of his tremendous foot speed around the court. The chances of Dolgopolov winning it all are small because he has no major weapons, but he has been given 100-1 shot by the odds-makers.