1. Novak Djokovic- Can it be anyone else? After the year he had in 2011, Djokovic will be the one with the target on his back for 2012. Everyone should expect that he be a strong favorite. And why not? All he did in 2011 was have an all-time great year. He burnt out a little at the end, but the way he destroyed Federer in an exhibition at the beginning of this year tells us that he is back, focused, and ready to win even more Slams.
2. Rafael Nadal- Nadalís year in 2011 could have also been an all-time great one if Djokovic hadnít been in his way. Djokovic had a 6-0 record against Nadal, all in finals. If Nadal had won those 6 finals, he would have also won 3 Slams and 5 Masters tournaments. Nadal tapered off a bit in the second half of the year, withdrawing from some tournaments and underperforming in others. Still, he has rested up and looks to be getting into form as we head into Melbourne.
3. Roger Federer- Yes, this will be exactly two years since Federer has last won a Slam. Yes, he is getting older and is not quite as consistent as he used to be. Yes, the players who used to be behind him have surpassed him over the past few years. No, it doesnít matter. Federer was once again in top form at the end of 2011 and has given little indication so far that he wonít play up to that level. His match against Abu Dhabi against Djkovic was not encouraging, but Federer has always played his best in Slams and showed last year that only he, moreso than even Nadal, can really compete with and beat a top-form Djokovic.
Next in Line:
This next group of players canít quite be called favorites but they definitely arenít dark horses. They are the top players who look like they can challenge the three favorites and will become the favorites themselves if the top 3 falter.
1. Andy Murray- Murray is a bit of an enigma in Slams. He always plays well and very rarely gets taken out early. However, he just canít get over the hump and beat the other top players when the semifinals and finals come around. He just hasnít shown us the ability to beat players like Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic in Slams when crunch time rolls around. But if he can go through the whole tournament without having to meet one of them, I wouldnít take anyone else to beat him.
2. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga- Tsonga has been one of the most talented players on tour for quite a few years now. When Federer and Nadal were at the very top of the game, a lot of people assumed that a consistent, completely in-form Tsonga would be one of the few players who could compete with them. Unfortunately, that consistency never really materialized for the Frenchman. He looked to be much more comfortable as 2011 wore on and became more consistent over the course of the year. I think that 2012 has real potential for him and that, unless he loses his mental edge like he has in the past, he could do some real damage in Melbourne this year. And, regardless of what he claims about liking grass best because you can dive without injury, it also helps that the surface at the Australian Open is probably his best.
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. As always, thoughts and opinions are welcome and requested.