Posted: Friday January 13, 2012 11:20AM ; Updated: Friday January 13, 2012 4:13PM
Jon Wertheim
Jon Wertheim>INSIDE TENNIS

Australian Open men's seed report

Story Highlights

Novak Djokovic is the clear-cut favorite to win his third Australian Open title

Bernard Tomic is a dark horse if he can get past Fernando Verdasco in Round 1

Despite a tough first-round draw, Mardy Fish is poised for a major breakthrough

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Rafael Nadal
Second-seeded Rafael Nadal was sluggish closing out 2011 and seems to be less than 100 percent physically starting off 2012.
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2012 Australian Open
Day 14
Day 13
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SI.com's Jon Wertheim breaks down the men's seeds at the 2012 Australian Open. Read on for the top first-round matchups, dark horses and predictions. Click here for the women's report.

Top 16 Seeds

1. Novak Djokovic: The clear-cut No. 1 tries to defend his title -- and win his third Aussie Open and third straight major in the process. It's an undaring, uninteresting prediction and is the antithesis of sentimental, but, realistically, how can you pick against the Djoker right now? (Especially with that draw he got!)

2. Rafael Nadal: The aura is fading a bit. And not simply because he now wheels a bag onto the court, flight-attendant style. Physically, Nadal is significantly less than 100 percent. Mentally, those close to him say he was more jarred by his 2011 results than he lets on publicly. Yes, he's a former winner in Melbourne. Yes, he competes admirably, especially at the biggest events. Yes, he has a strikingly nice draw. But is he in the physical/mental state to challenge Djokovic?

3. Roger Federer: We've said that a lot has to go right for Federer to win another major. But a lot CAN go right. His play down the stretch of the season suggests there's still magic in the wand. For the first time since roughly 1967, Federer didn't draw Djokovic in the semis. A winner-take-all final against his new nemesis? Federer couldn't ask for more than that.

4. Andy Murray: Murray's stock was in steady decline. And then he hired Mr. Lloyd's of London himself, Ivan Lendl, an intriguing and potentially masterful personnel move. Murray wins a tune-up. He appears to be in good spirits and ... voilà. A former finalist (twice running) in Melbourne, Murray, at a minimum, is a player worth watching.

5. David Ferrer: The hardest-working man in show biz can bring his peerless stamina to bear at this event. He benefits from five sets. He benefits from extreme conditions. But -- last year's U.S. Open is an example that springs immediately to mind -- he simply lacks the weaponry to win a major.

6. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: If a player outside the Big Three is going to win, Tsonga is the bet here. A former finalist (lost to Djokovic in '08), he looked sharp on the way to the Doha title and is gradually improving in the mental toughness department. He could get an early test from Denis Istomin in the first round, but otherwise has no business losing before the quarters.

7. Tomas Berdych: It's a frustrating hobby, Berd-watching. Lots of power and talent, but simply Czechs out mentally. The big-hitter is due to play Nadal in the quarters, should either make it that far.

8. Mardy Fish: The highest-ranked American has a big opportunity for his long-awaited Grand Slam breakthrough. He's arriving in a pugnacious mood and has the misfortune of facing the dangerous Gilles Muller right away. We'll see if this helps or hurts his game.

9. Janko Tipsarevic: What a nice, steady ascent by "the other Serb." There are some holes in his game, but he is deceptively fast and deceptively powerful. A winner? No. A quarterfinalist? Sure.

10. Nicolas Almagro: Another industrious Spaniard, this colorful presence and emotional player will likely make the middle weekend, no more, no less.

11. Juan Martin del Potro: A player with top-shelf talent, and everyone knows it. Not a great track record in Australia (best result: thrashed in '09 quarters by Federer) and hasn't ventured beyond the fourth round of a major since winning the 2009 U.S. Open. But on the forehand alone, he is always a threat. It's the state of his fitness that will determine how far he goes.

12. Gilles Simon: The simplest game possible, no wasted movement or emotions. Fun to watch. Alas, it does not lend itself to deep runs in majors.

13. Alexandr Dolgopolov: Dolgopolov reached the second week in 2011 when he took a quarterfinal exit at the hands of Murray. Then he struggled a bit for the rest of the season. His game and demeanor recalls Lleyton Hewitt, albeit with a more pleasant disposition. (Which sometimes expresses itself in a failure to close out matches.)

14. Gael Monfils: Can we come up with a Rewards Program to lure Monfils into the court? Free breakfast with every point played inside the baseline? A lounge pass with each venture to the net? He's such a fun and expressive player, but until his court GPS improves -- rule of thumb: You should never hit a sponsor placard on the fence with your back swing -- he's more splendor than contender.

15. Andy Roddick: Has posted some fine results in Australia throughout his career, but given his age and results in 2011, he's veering toward "dark horse" classification. The 29-year-old could Mohawk his way into the second week. His potential third-rounder with Milos Raonic is a match to watch for.

16. John Isner: The serve always makes him dangerous and -- despite an early loss last week -- his game has come a long way since this time last year.

Seeds 17-32

17. Richard Gasquet: First-rate talent, first-rate aesthetics, down-market competitive resolve.

20. Florian Mayer: This dark horse has a second name, it's M-A-Y-E-R.

23. Milos Raonic: Qualified last year and has since moved up 100-plus spots. Enough said.

30. Kevin Anderson: Former Illinois star has made Raonic-ian strides lately. A top-five serve, and the rest of his game is coming along.

32. Alex Bogomolov, Jr.: Has the ability to grind out three or four wins on hardcourts.

Dark-Horse Stable

Bernard Tomic: A third-round surprise in 2011, the Aussie missed a seed by one spot.

Philipp Kohlschreiber: The German has never lost in the first round in Melbourne. He took a set off Nadal last week in Doha.

Donald Young: Hey, he reached the second week of the previous Slam he played.

Marcos Baghdatis: A former finalist who often makes an impression in Melbourne, Baghdatis has even more eyes on him after beating Del Potro in Sydney last week.

Grigor Dimitrov: There's been lots of growing pains for "Baby Fed" (a cursed nickname), but he is in the top 75 now. He knocked off Fish last week.

Sam Querrey: He's simply too good to be ranked No. 94.

Denny Istomin: Recovery from a brutal 2011 is already underway, but it's a shame he drew Tsonga off the bat.

First-Round Matches to Watch

Andy Murray vs. Ryan Harrison: Is it possible Harrison could be the less cranky of the two? This will be a good test for both players.

Bernard Tomic vs. Fernando Verdasco: This is a good chance for the best Aussie hope to score an early scalp.

Janko Tipsarevic vs. Dmitry Tursunov: Two tempestuous veterans with similar games.

Mardy Fish vs. Gilles Muller: The hard-serving lefty Muller often plays well at Slams.

Michael Llodra vs. Ernests Gulbis: This match should be an interesting contrast of playing styles.

Blue-Plate Upset Special in First Round

Gilles Muller def. Mardy Fish

First General Sports Cliché Brad Gilbert Will Inflict Upon Viewers

"He's got a little Tebow in him. Not the prettiest game or the best mechanics. But he has good speed and he just knows how to win. I don't know about you, Chris, but I'll let that guy call plays in my foxhole every time!"

Doubles Winner

Bob and Mike Bryan: If for nothing other than variety's sake.

Singles Picks

Semifinals: Novak Djokovic vs. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga; Roger Federer vs. Rafael Nadal

Finals: Djokovic vs. Federer

Champion: Djokovic

 
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