Aussie Open men's seed report
Rafael Nadal has a 21-match win streak at Slams but watch out for Roger Federer
Don't sleep on dark horses such as Juan Martin del Potro and Thiemo de Bakker
Look for Federer to outlast Nadal for a record fifth Australian Open championship
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1. Rafael Nadal: Going for his fourth straight Slam, an achievement no man has registered since Rod Laver. And if he wins, it will only augment his G.O.A.T. candidacy. Yet, crazy as it is to bet against someone on a 21-match win streak at majors, I think you have to give the edge to the other guy. Barring injury, it's hard to see him losing before the final; then it's winner-take-all.
2. Roger Federer: After an unremarkable spring and summer of 2010 -- by his standards, anyway -- Federer is back on the upsurge, beating Nadal at the year-end cotillion in London and winning the first event of 2011. Add his status as a defending champ and his bona fides Down Under -- four titles -- and I think he's your slight favorite. Adding to the hope for a Fed-Nadal final: neither has a particularly tricky draw.
3. Novak Djokovic: If it's "Federal" as the co-favorites, then Djokovic is your next likely candidate. He's found his game over the past six months and has tasted success in Melbourne before. Will need to get past both Karlovic and tricky Troicki just to get to the middle weekend.
4. Robin Soderling: Inasmuch as a fourth seed can be a dark horse, here's your man. Flat, hard strokes match well with the surface. Self-belief has never been much of a problem. And seems to have made a seamless transition to a new coach. Look for a likely quarterfinal against Murray.
5. Andy Murray: "Andy will win a Slam one day" is getting stale. If not now, when? A finalist last year, Murray has posted erratic results, sometimes looking like a contender; other times looking like an overhyped defensive cutie. His showing here will answer some questions.
6. Tomas Berdych: Since reaching the final of Wimbledon, the Berd has migrated south, reverting to the erratic slugger. He's simply too good to abide by these results. Some tricky players in his quadrant doesn't help matters.
7: David Ferrer: An admirable grinder who's wrung everything from his game and will win battles of attrition. But lacks the serve and arsenal to threaten for the title. If he plays to his seeding, it will be an achievement.
8. Andy Roddick: The highest-ranked American -- a cut-and-paste for almost a decade now -- Roddick has tended to bring his "A" game to Australia, before coming up short in week two. The back is a concern, as is in output in his last few Slams. But, boy, his draw is soft, at least before Federer comes in the quarters.
9. Fernando Verdasco: Starting to recall the pretty girl who gets special treatment because of her looks. Since reaching the Australian semis in 2009, the Spanish lefty has seldom played to his potential when it matters most. If he gets by Davydenko, he ought to be a quarterfinalist.
10. Mikhail Youzhny: Always dangerous, a deceptively powerful player who is capable of a broad spectrum of quality. A player to watch, especially since he's in a fairly soft pocket of the draw.
11. Jurgen Melzer: Austrian lefty had done himself proud at the last two majors, especially at this advanced stage of his career; but appears to have a hit a wall.
12. Gael Monfils: A personal favorite on athleticism alone. But the results seldom keep pace with the talent. A tough first order of business against Thiemo de Bakker.
13. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: Former finalist (and semifinalist in 2010) is undeniably talented and terrifically athletic. But his body keeps mounting an insurgency against success. (The Michael Owen/Brandon Roy of tennis?) Dangerous? Yes. A contender? Not so much.
14. Nicolas Almagro: Have to admire anyone with the body of a middle reliever who competes at this level. Fun, expressive player but not a threat to win a hardcourt major.
15. Marin Cilic: Desperate for a strong showing, as he's taken a broad stride backwards from a year ago.
16. Mardy Fish: Some dark horse potential. Ignore his age -- he's younger in tennis years. He won't win, but look for him in week two, playing Federer in a fourth-rounder. Meanwhile, good for him for getting back to this level.
18. Sam Querrey: Still looking for a Slam breakthrough.
20. John Isner: On the serve alone. Though Stepanek lurks in round two.
21. Marcos Baghdatis: Former finalist and he'll have the nationalist backing.
23. Nikolay Davydenko: Eccentric Russian was red-hot a year ago and seems to have found his early season form again, beating Nadal in Doha.
24. Ernests Gulbis: His comeback in 2010 didn't entail much Slam success; look for that to change.
27. David Nalbandian: Always dangerous, especially on this surface. His best days are behind him, but still capable of a few days of excellence.
29. Viktor Troicki: A dangerous player who finally got some notoriety at Davis Cup. Alas, countryman Djokovic lurks in round three.
Juan Martin del Potro: His recent struggles are well-documented. But this was a hardcourt Slam winner 16 months ago!
Lleyton Hewitt: For old time's sake.
Thiemo de Bakker: Young player with a bright future.
Alex Dolgopolov: See above.
Nalbandian v. Hewitt: A repeat of the 2002 Wimbledon final.
Check out these potential second rounders:
Baghdatis v. Del Potro
Berdych v. Kohlschreiber
Ryan Harrison v. Gasquet
Djokovic v. Karlovic
Federer v. Gilles Simon
Davydenko v. Nishikori
None in the first round but watch for Kohlschreiber v. Berdych
Nadal def. Murray
Federer def. Troicki (you need one surprise pick)
Sports Illustrated senior writer Jon Wertheim is co-author of the forthcoming book Scorecasting: The Hidden Influences Behind How Sports are Played and Games Are Won now available for pre-order.