Del Potro vs. Djokovic final????
Top 16 seeds
1. Roger Federer: Not unlike the Williams sisters, you pick against him at your peril. But we're doing it here. The GOAT hasn't won in Melbourne since 2007 and looked underwhelming both at the end of 2009 and against Nikolay Davydenko in the Middle East. (Plus, he has a potentially tough first rounder against streaky Igor Andreev.) Federer is not done winning Majors but just not here, not now.
2. Rafael Nadal: Easy to forget that Nadal is the defending champ. The Davis Cup heroics notwithstanding, the last few months have been pretty dismal. And never mind the knee, the confidence is the real source of concern. Why didn't Nadal win in Doha? "Probably because I have not won a tournament for a few months I did not win this one," he said. The good news? He looked to be moving better in Doha and was a point from winning the tournament. But you sense he's still not quite at Championship level.
3. Novak Djokovic: We're picking the Djoker. He's tan, he's rested, he's played as well as anyone over the last six months. Sure, extreme heat is not his friend. But particularly if temperatures stay reasonable, we envision his second Slam title.
4. Juan Martin del Potro: The winner of the previous Major, del Potro is now on the short list of contenders at every event not played on grass. You worry about the fitness level, especially in brutal heat. But we said the same thing around Labor Day and look how that turned out.
5. Andy Murray: When no one was looking, Murray dropped out of the top four. Which means his draw got a lot tougher. He claims never to have felt better starting the year. We'll see. You get the feeling the 2009 losses at Wimbledon (Roddick) and the U.S. Open (Marin Cilic) rocked his confidence. He's clearly a top-tier player; but the flame is flickering a bit.
6. Nikolay Davydenko: The hot pick coming in, having beaten both Federer and Nadal in each of the last two events. We're still a little skeptical, drawing a distinction between a tour event and a best-of-five Slam. On form alone, it wouldn't be surprising if Davydenko ran the table. Still, we have a hard time putting our chips on a guy who's never made it to a Slam final. We eagerly await his quarterfinal against Federer.
7. Andy Roddick: The top American comes in hotter than a sexually charged koala, having won a tune-up, showing no worse the wear for his 2009 knee injury. He tends to play well in Australia and he sure can't complain about his draw, at least after he gets past young Thiemo de Bakker. He's the underdog in a likely quarter against del Potro, but he has a real chance here.
8. Robin Soderling: The Swede has made the move from dangerous floater to outright contender. Especially on fast courts, he's the proverbial "player no one else wants to face." Wish we had a better sense of his game coming in, but look for him deep in week two.
9. Fernando Verdasco: The new CAA signee was a semifinalist in 2009 but lost momentum as the year progressed. Is he more than a handsome, fun guy, content reaching the quarterfinals? The jury is still out.
10. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: The former A.O. finalist is always an intriguing, dangerous player. He can do it all, especially on hard courts. But can he do it all seven straight times? When not at full health? Probably not.
11. Fernando Gonzalez: A cut-and-paste from previous years: Your guess is as good as anyone's (including his.) The Flayin' Chilean, now pushing 30, is still out there, whaling away. Sometimes to devastating effect.
12. Gael Monfils: A wild card who happens to be seeded. Health is always an issue, but on talent alone, he's a threat every time he takes the court. Plus, he might not play a top 100 opponent until round three.
13. Radek Stepanek: The proverbial "dangerous floater," a well-rounded veteran, now north of 30, who knows how to win. He just seldom does so at Slams.
14 Marin Cilic: The palindromic one is due for a breakthrough. It's still unclear whether he's ready to win Majors. But the newest member of the top echelon is here to stay.
15. Gilles Simon: An almost mesmerizingly efficient player, but he's become one of those guys who makes his living at smaller events.
16. Tommy Robredo: The Spaniard had a terrific Hopman Cup but his loss to John Isner in a tune-up was inauspicious. The usual Grand Slam dance. A few wins, a forgettable loss. Nice press conference. Nice guy. Move on.
17. Tomas Berdych: Now that Marat Safin is gone, the odd Berd is the ATP's biggest head case. Can win on talent alone. Can also crash and burn with the best of them.
18. Tommy Haas: Never a threat to win; always a threat to take out your favorite player. Due for some good karma.
22. Lleyton Hewitt: The window of opportunity is closing fast, but especially with a partisan crowd backing him, he's a rough opponent.
25. Sam Querrey: U.S. Open Series winner is looking to get back to his winning ways after a freaky fall.
27 Philipp Kohlscreiber: German always dangerous on faster courts.
32. Jeremy Chardy: Hard-hitting Frenchman on his way.
Janko Tipsarevic: Reappeared after a strong end to 2009.
Fabrice Santoro: Tennis' Junior Seau just can't stay away.
Ivo Karlovic: Have serve; will unravel.
Marcos Baghdatis: Former finalist is playing decently again. Plus, he'll get strong fan backing.
James Blake: Jarring not to see him seeded.
Leonardo Mayer: Look for him to push Nadal in round two.
First-round matches to watch:
Marin Cilic vs. Fabrice Santoro: Could be ugly but we stop at nothing to watch Santoro.
Roger Federer vs. Igor Andreev: Andreev won't win but could make Federer work.
Andy Roddick vs. Thiemo de Bakker: Young Dutchman has a bright future.
Mikhail Youzhny vs. Richard Gasquet: Lots of talent and lots of volatility for a first rounder.
Taylor Dent v. Ryan Harrison: Pair of Americans at very different stages of their career.
Blue Plate Special:
Ivo Karlovic d. Radek Stepanek
Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic
Del Potro vs. Nadal
Djokovic vs. Federer
Del Potro vs. Djokovic