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Australian Open Men's Preview: Will Djokovic do it again?
After dominating the world of tennis like very few men ever have, Novak Djokovic will look to pick up right where he left off in 2011. With the 2012 Australian Open set to get underway, the talented twenty-four year-old will be looking to defend the first of three Grand Slam titles he won last season. While he had little trouble dismantling Andy Murray in last year's final, this season's tournament will be a whole different scnerio for the best tennis player on the planet.
Edmonton - January 14, 2012 - After dominating the world of tennis like very few men ever have, Novak Djokovic will look to pick up right where he left off in 2011. With the 2012 Australian Open set to get underway, the talented twenty-four year-old will be looking to defend the first of three Grand Slam titles he won last season. While he had little trouble dismantling Andy Murray in last year's final, this season's tournament will be a whole different scnerio for the best tennis player on the planet. For the first time in his career, Novak will head into a season as "the" guy. There is no debate as to who the best player in the world currently is. Coming into the 2012 tennis season, Djokovic is the man but from this point forward, he now becomes the hunted. Everyone will be looking to knock the number one seed down a peg or two and it will be very interesting to see how the highly emotional Serbian deals with the pressure.
Djokovic will have to deal with his usual rivals vying for his title but there may be a little extra motivation then usual. Second seed Rafael Nadal comes into this year's tournament nursing a sore shoulder and this is starting to become a bit of a trend with the talented Nadal. With the style of game he plays, everyone expected his body to break down at some point and it is starting to happen with much greater frequency. Having said that, the twenty-five year-old will be looking toregain his spot atop the tennis world and prove that Djokovic's dominance over the former number one, was nothing more then a blip on the radar screen. If Rafa is at the top of his game and healthy, he will be very difficult to contend with. I have little doubt, that Nadal has used the off-season to come up with a game plan that will make life for the current number one a lot more challenging when he faces the the hard working Spaniard.
Roger Federer is ranked third at this year's event and is coming off a season in which he was unable to win at least one of the four grand slam titles. It marked the first time Roger had not claimed one of the majors since 2002. While he did end Djokovic's ridiculous undefeated run in the semi-finals at the French Open, the now thirty year old Swiss showed signs of inconsistency all season long. He ended off last year on a positive note, taking the season ending ATP World Tour Finals, and will be determined to show the world he still has some gas left in the tank. If it was my money, I would be hard pressed to bet against the four-time Australian Open champion. His days as the number one player in the world look to be over but he is more then capable of collecting a few more majors before he decides to call it a career.
Andy Murray comes into this year's event with the distinction of being the runner-up in both the 2010 and 2011 Australian Open. In typical Murray fashion, he looked great heading into those matches but was dismissed with ease, in both finals. Murray has shown the ability to play with and defeat the big boys during regular tour events but he has yet to show that he can do it at a major. While he is still looking for his first career victory at a major, one would have to think this could finally be the year. Murray has brought on board tennis legend Ivan Lendl as his coach and is hoping the eight time Grand Slam title winner can help him over the hump. Like Murray, the former number one player in the world struggled mightily to win his first major title. Lendl had lost four consecutive finals before winning the 1984 French Open in a classic five set match over John McEnroe. Ivan was twenty-four year's old when he won at Roland Garros...the same age as one Andy Murray.
In my mind, their are only two other players that have a legitimate shot at the title and those players are Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Juan Martin Del Potro. Tsonga took a huge step forward in his development last year and currently sits sixth in the world rankings. The Frenchman reached six finals last season and while he managed to take home only two of those titles, he displayed a new level of maturity in his game. He no longer gets rattled at the first sign of trouble and his has shown the ability to come from behind in matches. This best example of this being his five set coming from behind marathon victory over Roger Federer in the semi-finals at Wimbledon. The twenty-six year old has all the tools necessary to take on the best players in the world and could move past Andy Murray as the biggest threat to the top three players.
In Del Potro, you have a guy that, when healthy and playing at the top of his game, has the ability to beat any man on the planet. After his stunning come from behind victory over Federer in the 2009 US Open final, it looked as though Del Potro would take his place among the best players in the world. He was ranked as high as fourth in the world in early 2010 and his potential seemed endless Unfortunately for the big Argentine, he suffered a wrist injury that would sideline him for eight months and he has never been the same player since. That being said, you can see glimpses of the old Del Potro in his game and he has managed to claw his way back up the rankings and currently sits number eleven in the world. In May it will be two years since the wrist surgery and it looks as though the young man is ready to make another run to the top of the tennis world. It is easy to forget that Juan Martin is still only twenty-three years old and with his wrist fully healed, the sky could be the limit.
Canadian youngster Milos Raonic, heads to Australia ranked twenty-fifth in the world and is coming off his second career victory at the Aircel Chennai Open. That's a far cry from a year ago, when Raonic had to qualify to make the Open and was ranked 152nd in the world. The 2011 Australian Open was the coming out party for Raonic as he manged to reach the fourth round before losing to David Ferrer in a tough four set match. The twenty-one year old had his ups and downs for the rest of the campaign, including his first ever tour victory in San Jose and a hip injury that kept him out of action for some time. Raonic could make some noise once again this year but he will have to potentially get past Andy Roddick, in the the third round, to earn a shot at Djokovic in the round of sixteen.
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