Every year, when the draw is cast for the Men's Singles Championship at the Australian Open, there's a desire to analyse it, plot the paths through the competition for the players and come up with a winner that nobody else would be expecting.
Every year, though, the draw is cast, and the analyses made and the winner is rarely a shock. This year's Australian Open draw is no exception in that it is hard to look beyond the world's top 3 men to select a winner of the event. What makes the 2013 draw somewhat different from previous years, is that the top three is no longer Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, but Federer, Djokovic and Andy Murray.
Quarter by quarter, the main contenders for the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup look like this.
QUARTER 1: Top 8 seeds - Novak Djokovic (1) and Tomas Berdych (5)
Instead Djokovic has been gifted a relatively straightforward quarter for the draw. An opener against the Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu will likely be a good warm up for the Serb, as should the rest of his opening week matches which may come against Stan Wawrinka, or Sam Querrey. His first real test shouldn't arrive until the quarter final where the #5 seed Tomas Berdych could be waiting.
With two clay specialists (Juan Monaco and Fernando Verdasco) in his section, the Czech would have to have one of those shocker tournaments which he is prone to in order to not progress to this stage. But as liable as Berdych is to awfulness, he is equally capable of pulling off the kind of momentous defeat such as that which took him past Roger Federer at last year's US Open. Coming up against Novak Djokovic this early in the season, though, that kind of performance is unlikely to be on the cards and Djokovic should be able to come through this section of the draw with minimum effort.
Advancing from this section: Novak Djokovic
Dark horses in the draw: Brian Baker and David Goffin
R1 matches to watch:
Viktor Troicki vs Radek Stepanek
Brian Baker vs Alex Bogomolov Jr
David Goffin vs Fernando Verdasco
QUARTER 2: Top 8 seeds - David Ferrer (4) and Janko Tipsarevic (8)
The first beneficiary of the Rafael Nadal withdrawal is therefore Djokovic who should he make the semi-final in two weeks time (and there is no really suggestion that he won't) won't have to face another member of the elite top 4 of the ATP until the final. The second quarter of the draw, therefore, is perhaps the one that is most likely to throw up a surprise finalist.
For all his steadiness, and commendable clinging to a top 10 ranking spot, it would be hard to see Janko Tipsarevic make too much headway in the competition, and a first round match-up against Australia's favourite son, Lleyton Hewitt, could make him a high-profile early casualty of the event. Hewitt has honed his hometown loyalties over the years and noticeably comes alive at Melbourne Park. Expect a nighttime show court for the match, expect a heavy bias towards the Australian, and expect Hewitt to deliver an upset once again.
Contrastingly, David Ferrer, off the back of a tournament victory in Auckland on Saturday, would ordinarily be the pick of the bunch to advance this section of the draw, but the presence of some potential future stars within the quarter could make life difficult for the Spaniard. Kei Nishikori, Jerzy Janowicz and Grigor Dimitrov all could cause an upset of the #4 seed to progress to a quarter- or semi-final. For a number of seasons now, Dimitrov and Nishikori have been on the radar as players to watch, and this kind of draw could be the opportunity that either needs to make a mark on a Slam tournament. Likewise, Jerzy Janowicz, the tall Pole who surprised everyone at last season's Paris Masters, could benefit from the increased ranking afforded him by the jump into this tournament's seedings.
Advancing from this section: Kei Nishikori
Dark horses in the draw: Lleyton Hewitt, Grigor Dimitrov
R1 matches to watch:
Mikhail Youzhney vs Matthew Ebden
Julien Benneteau vs Grigor Dimitrov
Lleyton Hewitt vs Janko Tipsarevic
QUARTER 3: Top 8 seeds - Andy Murray (3) and Juan Martin Del Potro (6)
The pick of the quarter sections is Q3, which happens to contain the only other players in the top 10 to claim a slam title. Currently, with Andy Roddick and Juan Carlos Ferrero's retirements last year, there are only 6 active players who have slam titles: Federer, Nadal and Djokovic, Lleyton Hewitt (back in 2001/2) and most recently Juan Martin Del Potro (US Open 2009) and Andy Murray (US Open 2012). That both Murray and Del Potro, who both could be considered in with a chance of adding to their slam tally this season, have landed in the same quarter is unlucky as one won't make it past the quarter final, but does mean that their match against each other could be a blockbuster match if they both make it to the stage.
It is therefore fortunate then that there are no real seeded threats floating around the middle of the section. Andreas Seppi, Alexandr Dolgopolov, Florian Meyer and Marcel Granollers should cause neither player too much trouble, but Marin Cilic (the potential R3 opponent for Del Potro) could prove slightly trickier.
Should Murray and Del Potro meet, the Scotsman would be favourite to progress to the semi-final, his game more likely to expose the weaknesses in the big Argentine's fitness and footwork over course of a best-of-5 encounter.
This section of the draw also contains the returning former top 10 player Gael Monfils, back from a prolonged injury lay-off. The Frenchman may still be considerably below his best, but could throw up an interesting challenge to Murray should he progress to the third round where the pair could meet.
Advancing from this section: Andy Murray
Dark horse in the draw: Gael Monfils
R1 matches to watch:
Marinko Matesivic vs Maric Cilic
Gael Monfils vs Alexandr Dolgopolov
QUARTER 4: Top 8 seeds - Roger Federer (2) and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (7)
If you were wondering where all the potential threats to the top 3 were hanging out in the draw, then take a look at Q4, the Federer section. Not only has he drawn the considerable threat of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga as his potential QF opponent, but he also has to navigate a path through Bernard Tomic (R2) and Milos Raonic (R3), two more players with the potential to make 2013 a year where they move forward into the wider tennis consciousness.
Contrastingly, Tsonga draws Tommy Haas, Thomaz Bellucci and Richard Gasquet in his half. Considering the way that Tsonga played towards the end of '12 the easier path may come as a blessing for the Frenchman as he attempts to rediscover the kind of form that took him through to the final here in 2008. Easing his way into the tournament could put him in good confidence prior to a potential R3 crunch match against his Davis Cup team mate Gasquet.
For Federer, the challengers are all too apparent. Nikolay Davydenko could prove tricky in R2, while the uber-confident Tomic, with new-found Aussie support, may be out to avenge the fourth round masterclass that Federer dealt him last year. Similarly, if the booming serve and heavy forehand of Milos Raonic is on form, then the Canadian could expose Federer's increasing years over a long match.
Advancing from this section: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Dark horse in the draw: Bernard Tomic
R1 matches to watch:
Tommy Haas vs Jarkko Neiminen
Benoit Paire vs Roger Federer
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