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If the bookies are to be believed, there isn’t much point 127 players turning up to play the Australian Open. The other one player, a certain Roger Federer, is such a big favourite that he is priced at 8/13 by Ladbrokes - a price that you might find in a two horse race, not 128.
Form is very difficult to ascertain this early in the season, but Federer has already got the Doha title under his belt, and as defending champion is going to be terribly hard to beat. His draw is not too unkind, either. A potentially tricky third-round encounter with Paradorn Srichaphan aside, his first major test should be a quarter-final with Andre Agassi. Given their match at the US Open, the defending champion against the 4-time champion could be another classic.
Lleyton Hewitt was probably praying for a kind draw - at least to be away from Federer, who has beaten him in 3 grand slams last year as well as the Masters final. Having never been past the 4th round at his home slam, Hewitt should progress to meet either one of the Argentines, David Nalbandian or Guillermo Coria in the quarter-final. An interesting match for Hewitt awaits in round 2, where he could face James Blake - a repeat of their highly contentious match in the US Open a few years ago.
The pick of the first round matches should be Robby Ginepri vs Gael Monfils, two up and coming players, and a veterans match between Jonas Bjorkman and Greg Rusedski, a repeat of the US Open semi-final from 1997, with the winner likely to play Andy Roddick.
Roddick has a fairly quiet draw, and should he find his rhythm will face a possible fourth round against Sebastien Grosjean and a quarter against Tim Henman. Henman’s toughest early match will be his first, against the dangerous journeyman Cyril Saulnier. A repeat of 2004’s 5-set marathon between Henman and Guillermo Canas is on the cards for the fourth round. Last year Henman hit over 100 winners and still lost.
The other quarter of the draw should belong to Marat Safin, twice the runner up in Melbourne. His main challenge will come from Carlos Moya, also the runner up in 1997.
The Australian Open has a reputation for heat, and hence favours the players who have worked hardest in the brief off-season. But despite it’s early position in the calendar, there have been very few surprise winners of the event. Thomas Johansson, in 2002, was something of a blip. The roll call of the last fifteen years is impressive: Lendl, Becker, Courier, Sampras, Agassi, Korda and Kafelnikov. If anyone else is to join that list with Federer, they will be in good company.
In the women’s draw, the pick of the first matches is Lindsay Davenport, the number 1 seed, against Conchita Martinez, runner up in 1998. The rest of the draw is dominated by the Williams sisters, who despite their comparatively low seeding (Serena at 7, Venus at 8) are in opposite sides of the draw and look to have little opposition until the quarter-finals. Serena should play Amelie Mauresmo at that stage, with Venus against Davenport.
The Russian dominance of recent grand slams may come to an end, with Svetlana Kuznetsova  and Maria Sharapova  due to meet at the quarter final stage, as are Anastasia Myskina  and Elena Dementieva  - although it could still be an all Russian final for the fourth slam in a row. However, given the state of women’s tennis, the winner could come from almost anywhere.
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