Then there are a few variables.
Sam Querrey is returning after a lengthy and serious injury time out but according to American insiders is playing well. David Nalbandian is always dangerous and overflowing with potential but always seems to come up short or injured, much like Lleyton Hewitt.
After two terrible seasons and endless bad luck it’s hard to see anything but heart ache for Andy Roddick despite the fact that he has a hard court Grand Slam to his name and on a good day can beat almost anyone.
Grigor Dimitrov and Tomas Berdych looked to be in incredible form at the Hopman Cup but Tomas since bombed out to Bernard Tomic in difficult conditions in Kooyong and has been known to fluctuate somewhat wildly in recent years. While Tomas is growing quickly and looked very calm and confident in Perth, it remains to be seen how that translates.
So let’s look at the draw and my picks for the 2012 Australian Open.
Robin Haase (52) V Andy Roddick (16): The numbers favouor Roddick but the problem with Haase is that he has a cheeky habit of claiming some impressive scalps and producing some brilliant form in the early rounds of Grand Slams. Last year Roddick was taken to four by Haase and I suspect this will be no different and Roddick will be forced to engage Lleyton Hewitt in battle in the second round. Winner: Roddick in four sets.
Ryan Harrison V Andy Murray: Murray has a tendency to be lazy and/or lackluster in early rounds and Ryan gave a good performance against Marcos Baghdatis in Brisbane. It will be interesting to watch just to see if Murray is as sharp as he was at the end of the Brisbane tournament and to see how much of a push Harrison can give. Winner: Murray in three to four sets.
Michael Llodra V Ernests Gulbis: The only reason I will watch this one is to see if Ernests will ever make a come back. In 2010 Ernests showed us all what he is capable of and since his injury at Roland Garros in the same year he has deprived us of the same form and focus he had. If he can win this match he will meet Murray in the third round. Winner: Gulbis (for sentimental reasons only).
Fernando Verdasco V Bernard Tomic: I think we all know what’s going to happen here – Spanish God Fernando is going to be beaten by the intelligent mix that Tomic provides. Even Tomic thinks he’s already got the Spaniard beaten. Lately Fernando’s form has been good but not great whereas Tomic has gone from strength to strength. Winner: Tomic in three sets, at most four sets.
Others to watch: Hewitt V Roddick (2nd Rnd), Raonic V Hewitt (3rd Rnd), Dimitrov V Almagro (2nd Rnd), Wawrinka V Dimitrov (3rd Rnd)
Murray V Monfils: This fourth round match could be interesting. The trouble is Monfils could be brilliant or he could be completely underwhelming. Monfils will bring some of his brilliant athleticism to the table in this match but Murray will be the more consistent of the two and Monfils will eventually fade. Winner: Murray in four sets.
Simon V Tsonga: Tsonga leads this very French quarter in the rankings and he leads Simon 4-2 with Simon only ever beating him on clay. While Simon is brilliant and has given greats like Federer a run for their money on hard courts the power of Tsonga will be too much for him. If Tsonga can maintain the form he found in Doha this is where we will see if he has enough in him to beat Djokovic in the semis. Winner: Tsonga four sets.
Nadal V Isner: This is not Roland Garros. Nadal will not stand so far back in the court like he did on the red dirt which allowed Isner to create some enormous problems for him in their first round match last year. Nevertheless I will be watching this fourth round match nervously. Isner hasn’t done much lately and I’d put money on Nadal to win but the the power and height of Isner’s serves could create problems for Nadal’s dicky shoulder.
If Nadal’s shoulder doesn’t fall off I’m backing the world number two. Winner: Nadal four sets.
Federer V Tomic: Tomic will get a lesson in just what it takes to be a top player. Federer will show him that the top four have no intention of stepping aside to let him reach the top in two years like the youngster hopes. Tomic’s game has enough to create problems for Federer but the Swiss Maestro is one of the best thinkers in the game and has the experience to tackle this young whippersnapper. Winner: Federer four sets.
Del Potro V Federer: I have high hopes for Juan Martin. The fact that he said he feels he is close to being back to his best and Federer insists he has back problems could make this extremely interesting. We’ve all seen how the power of Delpo can create some problems for Federer and, well, everyone else as well. Federer has seemed to be lacking inspiration since he topped Pete Sampras and won his last Grand Slam so I’m backing the hungry Argentine. Winner: Del Potro four or five sets.
Murray V Tsonga: There’s just something that tells me Murray will fail in the quarters. I’m not entirely convinced it will be at the hands of Tsonga after Kooyong but its possible after seeing him grow over the last 12 months and clip Federer at Wimbledon… there’s hope. Is there hope for Murray to win a Grand Slam in the next six months… not really. Winner: Tsonga four sets
Djokovic V Tsonga: If Tsonga is not worn out by the path to the semis he could clip the defending champion. The trouble is Djokovic now does the splits like Gael Monfils and is able to retrieve everything. He showed last year just how much gas he’s got in the tank and this is a VERY tall ask for the Frenchman. Tsonga leads their head to head 5-4 including one walkover in Paris from Nole and one retirement from Jo in Canada.
There is nothing to suggest that the form of Novak is fading but there’s just something telling me we wont see him in the finals. I realize this is going to be controversial but its just something in my gut telling me Novak will go down here. Winner: Tsonga in four or five sets.
Del Potro V Nadal: Nadal wil have to battle past Berdych into the semis in a match that will be a real opportunity for Tomas. The outcome is heavily dependent on Nadal’s shoulder and how much it bothers him. Yes Nadal has an ability second only (maybe) to Lleyton Hewitt to block out pain but shoulders are tricky things and if Rafa can’t get some bite on his serve he’s in BIG trouble.
This match really comes down to Nadal’s shoulder. If Djokovic really does fall in the semis I believe that whoever wins this match will win the tournament. I think Rafa’s will power and desire are back and they will be just as decisive as his shoulder.
Winner: Nadal four sets.
Jo Wilfried Tsonga V Rafael Nadal: Winner Rafael Nadal.
I have never been less confident in my picks but there’s just something that tells me it wont be Novak or Federer holding the trophy at the end. Given I haven’t seen Delpo or Tsonga in action it’s a tough call so I’m going with the numbers (and a little bit of what I would like to see happen). Nadal certainly isn’t the popular choice for winner but here’s hoping the plucky Spaniard can claim number 11!