Favourites for the Australian Open

The first grand slam of the year is just around the corner and Al Jazeera look at which men and women could win it.

World number one Novak Djokovic celebrates winning the Australian Open in 2011 [GALLO/GETTY] 

The 2012 Australian Open is rapidly approaching, and the first grand slam of the year always leads to a great debate about who could win.

Unlike the other three slams, there is little indication about player form, some players choosing exhibition tournaments as a warm-up.

On the back of the draw, now is a good time to look at the standout players.

Defending champion, top seed and world number one Novak Djokovic must start as the favourite in the men’s draw.

You can almost count the number of matches he lost last year on one hand (an incredible six), racking up three grand slams and five masters’ titles.

However, there have always been questions over the Serbian’s fitness, and his form certainly suffered at the end of the 2011 season.

It will be almost impossible for Djokovic to repeat his feat and, playing in his first tournament of the year, he could struggle to live up to expectations.

Just behind the world number one, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray are all in with a shout of lifting the title should Djokovic fail.

World number four Murray has had an excellent start to the season, teaming up with coach Ivan Lendl to win the Brisbane Open, and the two-time finalist is in the sort of form that should see him through to the final rounds.

Nadal and Federer played in Doha, both reaching the semi-finals.

Nadal looked unsure of himself in losing to Frenchman Gael Monfils, while Federer pulled out of his semi without hitting a ball.

This will raise questions over the Swiss’ fitness, but expect him to produce the goods on the day.

As for Nadal, his fans will be concerned about his form, but his fighting spirit should see him go deep.

   Youngsters to watch:

   Bernard Tomic  
   Age: 19 
   Nationality: Australian 
   Ranking: 37
   2011 best result: Wimbledon quarter  
   First round: Verdasco (24)

   Sloane Stephens 
   Age: 18
   Nationality: American
   Ranking: 95
   2011 best result: US Open 3rd round 
   First round: Soler-Espinosa (80)

It will be a massive shock if the title goes to anyone outside the top four, but Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and the resurgent Juan Martin del Potro have very good chances of causing an upset or two.

Also, keep an eye out for young Austrailan Bernard Tomic.

The 19-year-old is ranked inside the top 40, and could very easily cause an upset or three, especially with the raucous Australian home support behind him.

The women’s draw, as always, is more open in terms of contenders.

Top seed Caroline Wozniacki is unlikely to win her first grand slam, as a wrist injury is putting question marks against her participation.

Despite her consistent form, even fully fit, she lacks the weapons to finish off the big-hitters.

But there to take her number one ranking will be second ranked Petra Kvitova.

The 2011 Wimbledon champion will become number one at some point throughout 2012, and more grand slam titles are a certainty.

She seems to thrive on pressure situations, and although her form dipped in the latter part of 2011, she should be there to lift the title.

Victoria Azarenka, the world number three, is a rapidly improving player, her wide range of skills unmatched by most other players on the tour.

She won the pre-Open tournament in Sydney, beating some top players along the way.

Despite facing a tricky Heather Watson in the first round, she should be expected to reach her first grand slam final.

Elsewhere, 2011 runner-up Li Na is displaying the form that won her the French Open title last year, while Serena Williams and defending champion Kim Clijsters should never be ruled out.

Anything can happen at a grand slam, and new fan favourites tend to emerge after heroic performances on the court.

But what is sure is that the battle for the top rankings will ensure some high quality tennis and a great start for the 2012 season, whoever walks away with the titles.

Source : Al Jazeera

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