• Australian Open preview

Third time lucky for Murray?

Jo Carter January 13, 2012

The Australian Open usually throws up a few surprises, not least because just three weeks into the new season, nobody really knows what to expect.

Ahead of the first grand slam of the year, we predict who will hit the ground running in Melbourne and who will fall off the pace.


The man to beat
He may have been a surprise winner in Melbourne last year, but world No. 1 Novak Djokovic is the red hot favourite to defend his Australian Open crown. With three grand slam titles last year, the Serb showed he has the mental strength to match his vastly improved physical game to compete with the likes of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Whether he can live up to the sky-high standards he set in 2011 remains to be seen, but at 5/4 with bet365 Djokovic offers little value for money.

Stuck on 16
Roger Federer is a four-time champion at Melbourne Park, but it is two years since he won his last grand slam title. Federer ended the year on a 17-match unbeaten streak, but a back injury has halted his preparations for the first major of the year. With Rafael Nadal nursing a shoulder injury, could this be Federer's chance to end a two-year wait for a major by winning No. 17 in Melbourne? Last year was the first season he failed to win a slam since 2009, and he is 3/1 to win a fifth title Down Under.

Cash in with Carter

  • Andy Murray to win the Australian Open - 6/1 at bet365
    Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to win E/W - 18/1 at bet365
  • Sabine Lisicki to win E/W - 50/1 at bet365

Third time lucky?
Andy Murray has reached the final for the last two years, but he will be hoping to go one better this year and end Britain's 76-year wait for a male grand slam champion. He started the year on a high, winning a title in Brisbane, and looks to be playing well. Murray has employed the services of former world No. 1 Ivan Lendl, who lost his first four major finals before going on to win eight slams. Can Lendl give Murray the mental edge he has been missing? Murray is 5/1 to win in Melbourne.

Dark horse
Like Murray, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga heads to Melbourne on the back of a win, and he too has enjoyed good results in Melbourne. Back in 2008, the unseeded Frenchman stunned Murray in the first round before claiming the scalps of Richard Gasquet, Mikhail Youzhny and Rafael Nadal en route to the final, where he eventually fell to Djokovic. Tsonga has proved he has the game to beat the big guns, and last year showed a consistency to complement that. At 18/1, Tsonga could be worth a flutter.


Defending champion
After finally earning the nickname 'Aussie Kim' last year, Kim Clijsters endured a miserable 2011, suffering a catalogue of injuries. She missed most of the clay court season and Wimbledon with an ankle injury, and then was forced to withdraw from the defence of her US Open title with an abdominal strain. Clijsters looked to be back to her best before suffering a hip injury in Brisbane last week, but she remains confident of recovering in time. If she can stay fit, she is well worth the 8/1 odds.

Kim Clijsters won the Australian Open for the first time last year © PA Photos

The favourite
This time last year, the little-known Petra Kvitova was ranked outside the worlds's top 25. Now, she is breathing down world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki's neck and is widely expected to dominate the women's game in a manner not seen since the height of Serena Williams' power. The Wimbledon champion suffered a surprise defeat to Alexandra Dulgheru at the US Open, but bounced back to end the year on a high, winning the WTA Championships and the Fed Cup with Czech Republic. She has the measure of world No. 1 Wozniacki, and it is surely only a matter of time before she ascends to top spot in the world rankings, and where better to do that than at the Australian Open? Kvitova is 5/2 with bet 365.

Last chance saloon
She may be the top seed, but Caroline Wozniacki is a generous 16/1 to win her first grand slam title in Melbourne this month. The Dane is top of the pile by virtue of her consistency on the WTA Tour, but is yet to prove her pedigree on the big stage, with a single final back in 2009 to show for her efforts. Critics will argue she is not a worthy No. 1 until she has won a slam, and with Kvitova breathing down her neck, will the threat of losing her No. 1 ranking finally kick her into gear?

Dark horse
There were three first-time grand slam winners in 2011, and the status of the women's game means the draw is always wide open. After struggling with injuries in 2010, Lisicki showed what she is capable of, reaching the semi-finals at Wimbledon as a wildcard. She earned herself a lot of fans in London, and with her booming serve and massive forehand, she is capable of beating the big guns in Melbourne. With odds of 50/1, it is surely worth a wager.

Please note that odds are correct at time of publication and are subject to change.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Jo Carter Close
Jo Carter is an assistant editor of ESPN.co.uk