The first tennis Grand Slam kicks off tomorrow in the sweltering heat of Melbourne. 2012 is barely two weeks old but it’s already show time. The Australian Open is a great spectacle – famous for its gruelling impact on the players plus insomnia for the spectators, as night games have a habit of finishing well into the early hours of the morning.
Will defending champion Novak Djokovic carry on where he left off or will Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal continue their tennis legacies? Can Andy Murray, now coached by one of the game’s greats in Ivan Lendl, go one better than last season’s final?
Djokovic is the bookies favourite at 5/2 with Federer second favourite at 5/1. As per expectations, both Murray and Nadal are not far off. Murray has warmed up well by winning the Brisbane International whereas Nadal’s odds have dropped since the turn of the year due to question marks over his five set fitness.
Other than the usual suspects, there are several dark horses worth mentioning.
My tip for the men’s tournament is Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (pictured left) who won the Qatar Open last week, beating compatriot Gael Monfils in the final (Qatar Open). His Aussie Open odds of 20/1 are definitely worth a flutter. Tsonga is due to meet Andy Murray in the quarter finals.
With David Ferrer being one of the fittest players on the tour, look out for the Spaniard to ruffle a few feathers as Melbourne pushes players to their physical limits.
Finally, Juan Martin del Potro is back after last year’s wrist injury. The former US Open winner will be a threat if he finds his rhythm in the tournament. If all goes well, Del Potro will face Federer in the 4th round – a tie not to be missed.
The locals will be excited with youngsters Bernard Tomic (who faces 22nd seed Fernando Verdasco in the 1st round) and Ashleigh Barty (aged 15). She won the Wimbledon junior title last year.
Firm local favourite Sam Stosur, who won last year’s US Open, will be under pressure to perform well in her homeland. China’s Li Na has started the year strongly. Meanwhile Petra Kvitova and Caroline Wozniacki are expected to do well, both battling for the coveted number one spot. My tip is for 3rd seed Victoria Azarenka (pictured below), who won Sydney’s APIA International last week, to make an impact. She is the loudest player on tour so there is no chance of her progressing under the radar. Also, a new look Serena Williams will be a threat to anyone and keen to add a sixth Australian Open title to her trophy cabinet.