- Chris Wilkinson
Murray's big chanceChris Wilkinson January 13, 2012
All eyes will be on defending champion Novak Djokovic as the 2012 season hits top gear at the Australian Open.
Djokovic enjoyed a quite stunning season in 2011, but I don't think he can emulate his achievements this year. There will be a huge amount of pressure on him - he has so many points to defend and to maintain the level he produced for the majority of last season will be very difficult.
Rafael Nadal is struggling, and although he claims his shoulder is in "perfect condition", he is very low on confidence at the moment. Roger Federer is always in with a shout at the grand slams, but he has also had a bit of a back problem. He rarely pulls out of tournaments so it must have been cause for concern to withdraw from the Qatar Open last week.
Federer ended the year on a high, winning titles in Basel, Paris and the ATP World Tour Finals in London, and he showed he can still beat the best players in the world. But as he has got older his aura has gone. Once upon a time he used to walk onto the court and he would have won the match before he had even hit a ball, but these days other players know they can beat him.
The longer he goes without winning a slam - it is two years since he won his last - the tougher it will be for him to win another one. But having said that Pete Sampras went more than two years between his last Wimbledon victory in 2000 and his final US Open win in 2002.
I really think it could be Andy Murray's time. With Djokovic under pressure to defend his title, Nadal struggling with a shoulder problem and Federer facing a fight to end his grand slam drought, Murray could be on course to make it third time lucky in Melbourne. He has reached the final for the last two years, and obviously enjoys playing Down Under.
He won his first title of the year in Brisbane last week and will take a lot of confidence from that. Murray will be hoping the appointment of Ivan Lendl will give him the extra boost he needs to win his first slam. While you can't expect Lendl to work his magic straight away, there is the psychological boost that having a new coach brings.
Like Murray, Jo Wilfried Tsonga goes into the Australian Open on the back of a tournament victory and I think 2012 could be the year the Frenchman wins his first slam. His game came on leaps and bounds last year. He has started coming to the net a lot more and it seems to be paying off. As he gets older he seems to understand his game better - and he has shown that he is capable of playing some amazing tennis. He ended 2011 on a high, reaching the final in Paris and also at the O2, and that will have given him a lot of confidence.
Winning a title before a slam is always a big boost, and he has pedigree at the Australian Open - he reached the final back in 2008, knocking out some big names on the way. Looking beyond the top guys, Milos Raonic is one to look out for. This time last year, he had failed to qualify for the Chennai Open - just 12 months later he won the title. Having never won a grand slam match, Raonic came through qualifying to reach the fourth round last year - falling to David Ferrer. He was the first qualifier to reach the fourth round of a grand slam since 1999.
Juan Martin del Potro didn't burst back onto the scene in 2011, but having been ranked outside the world's top 250 this time last year, he is now ranked at No. 11 and he will be a real danger. All the top guys will be hoping to avoid Delpo.
I don't think David Ferrer or Tomas Berdych are serious contenders. Ferrer's game isn't big enough to win a slam and Berdych is too inconsistent. Gael Monfils certainly has the talent, but he struggles to keep his focus. If he has a good couple of weeks he will go far, but he is mentally fragile - his head is all over the place.
I always say the women's draw is wide open, but this year it will be a case of who can stay fit. Caroline Wozniacki is the latest to suffer an injury scare - Venus Williams and Andrea Petkovic are out; Kim Clijsters and Maria Sharapova are walking wounded. Having played so little over the last year, Serena Williams is an unknown quantity, but she is always a threat - regardless of fitness she is capable of overpowering most of her rivals. She may come unstuck against someone like Kvitova who was one of the best players on the WTA Tour last year.
Having won the WTA Championships and the Fed Cup at the end of last season, she will be high on confidence. She won all four of her singles matches at the Hopman Cup last week and will be tough to beat. I don't think Wozniacki has a chance of winning, and Kvitova has the chance to overtake her as world No. 1 in Melbourne. I think it is good for the women's game to have a changing of the guard at the top of the rankings, and to have someone leading the way who has won a slam.
Beyond that, Li Na has done well in Melbourne in the past - she has struggled since winning the French Open but has done well in Sydney this week. Sam Stosur has struggled since her US Open victory, and she never plays well in Melbourne - the pressure of being home favourites seems to get to her. Last year we had three first-time grand slam winners, but I think we could see the likes of Stosur, Li and Kvitova winning again this year.
Chris Wilkinson is a former British No. 1