- Chris Wilkinson
'Federer will be more worried about the draw than Murray'Chris Wilkinson January 9, 2013
In recent years the grand slams have been a four-horse race between Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, but this year I think that it is straight shootout between Murray and Djokovic.
While once you would rate Murray's chances in a grand slam final as 60:40 in his opponent's favour, now it is very much 50:50, and he is brimming with confidence following his US Open victory last September. He won the final grand slam of last season and he now knows what it takes to win a major title.
There is always a danger that Murray will crash out early - it can happen to anyone - just look at Nadal at Wimbledon last year. But I think it's unlikely. Murray is so much stronger mentally than he was even a year ago and his preparations have been going well.
He won in Brisbane last week to defend his title and looks to be in good shape heading to Melbourne. The beauty of being one of the top seeds is you can afford to play your way into form, and all being well he can take a couple of rounds to get into his rhythm. Added to that he always plays well in Melbourne and it is always good to go back to a place where you have good memories - he has reached the Australian Open final twice.
As No. 3 seed it will be interesting to see which side of the draw he is on, but I don't think Murray will be too fussed. In my opinion he would probably be better off in Federer's half of the draw but knows he can beat anyone on his day and is high on confidence.
In all honesty, I think it will be Federer who will be paying more attention to the draw than Murray. We've not seen him yet this season so he will be arriving at Melbourne Park cold - having not played a competitive match in over two months.
I predicted before Christmas that 2013 could be a difficult one for Federer, and I think a shock could be on the cards.
Time will prove me right or wrong, but I just think age is going to start catching up with him. The likes of Tomas Berdych, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Juan Martin Del Potro have already proved they can beat him on the big stage, but I can see a player like Nikolay Davydenko, who played well in Doha last week, causing an upset.
One player who I can't see suffering an early exit is Djokovic. As world No. 1 and two-time defending champion, the Serb is thoroughly deserving of the favourite's tag. He suffered a shock defeat to Bernard Tomic in the Hopman Cup last week, but there is little doubt he will be back to his best for the defence of his Australian Open crown. The top guys are a different beast when it comes to the grand slams.
Other than that, Del Potro is probably the most likely player to cause an upset - depending on the draw I would argue that he has a better chance than Federer.
Nadal will of course be sorely missed, but it could turn out to be a smart move for him to duck the event as he is now already training on the clay, which is of course his best surface but also the one which does the least damage on his body.
I have a feeling he might give Indian Wells and Miami a miss and stick to the clay all the way through to the French Open. It's hard for anyone to really know just what state his knees are in - and how much his virus was a cover-up for the fact he's still not fully fit.
In the women's draw, this event is all about Serena Williams. With just 280 points to defend, the American is almost certain to return to world No. 1 after the tournament, but she will certainly be looking to do it in style with a sixth Australian Open title.
Top seed and defending champion Victoria Azarenka is likely to pose Williams the biggest threat, but I can't see anything but a repeat of the US Open final.
Maria Sharapova is in with a chance, while the home fans will be hoping Sam Stosur can add to her 2011 US Open title, but the Australian, who has suffered recent injures and also crashed out of the Sydney International this week, does not like playing on home soil - she has never made it past the fourth round at her home slam.
Laura Robson and Heather Watson will be keeping a close eye on the draw ceremony and with a favourable draw they could go deep into the second week. That said, Robson had a nightmare draw in New York and still managed to make the fourth round with shock wins over Kim Clijsters and Li Na before eventually falling to Stosur.
Chris Wilkinson is a former British No. 1