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Australian Open men's preview

Throughout the Aussie Open, I'll be writing my usual previews for local website theshark.com.au, with match betting action for each round. To kick off the fortnight, here's my look at the men's draw.

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And so the season starts again. The Aussie media and one-eyed public will be caught up in Tomic fever expecting him to win, while the rest of us can look at the tournament through a dimension called REALITY. With Nadal being injured, one positive out of his absence is at least a five hour long final is unlikely. Djokovic, Federer and Murray all won Slams last year so it's hardly a surprise they dominate the market.

1. Djokovic - reigning champ aiming to become the first man to win three Sir Norman Brookes Trophies in a row since Roy Emerson in the 60s (1963-67). Finished last year in fine style and has taken the low-pressure lead- in by taking the Abu Dhabi exhibition and the Hopman Cup path, where any losses have no effect on his ranking. Ignore the fact he might have lost a couple of matches, his preparation will be timed to perfection - leaving energy up his sleeve if he needs to go to marathon five-setters at the business end of the tournament again. Landed the 'soft' side of the draw with Ferrer instead of Murray in his half. Clear favourite and deservedly so.

2. Federer. Impending obituaries for the Swiss legend's career were put on hold last year after a season which seemed planned specifically to shut his critics up. With his first Slam win in years and deep appearances elsewhere, you can never count him out. Four-time winner here but has only won once in past five visits, with one other final. No lead-up tournament but did pocket a ridiculous amount of cash for playing a series of exhibition matches in South America pre-Xmas. Tricky draw in theory but price up those matches and he's still long odds-on favourite again each of Davydenko, Tomic, Raonic/Kohlschreiber, Tsonga/Gasquet. Semis again, Murray to take him out.

3. Murray. The monkey's off the back now with Olympic gold and the US Open title, will the floodgates open now for Andy? Still ranked three, he was always going to face Novak or Roger in the semi, and he got the slightly better result in landing Federer. Early draw looks a breeze, hopefully leaving plenty of petrol in the tank for the business end matches. Two-time finalist here, ready to win.

4. Ferrer. In the absence of Nadal, 'Daveeeed' gets a rare top four seeding, keeping him away from the top echelon until the semis. In fine form leading in, won Auckland, reached semi (or QF?) in Doha. Can't beat Djokovic on hardcourt off his own racquet. Would need Novak to be limping. Baghdatis (likely R3 opponent) beat him in five sets here in 2010.

5. Berdych. Had a good run of form in October but since then he is 5-8, including losing a Czech league match against #166 ranked Stebe. Never past the quarters here (2011/12), lined up to meet top seed at that stage again this year.

6. Del Potro. No ranking events to prepare, just exhibition matches in South America and the Kooyong hit'n'giggle. It's taken a while but he's now at that level he was back in 09 when he won the US Open. The problem is, others have lifted their game and he's not a surprise anymore, so he has to keep improving to crack the top echelon long-term. Three Slam QFs last year, I think that's his level now. In Murray's quarter, and the Scot eats him for breakfast (7-1 h2h).

7. Tsonga - pulled out of Sydney with a groin strain he picked up during the Hopman Cup. Will need to be fit to conquer Gasquet R4 and then comes Federer. One-time finalist who hasn't reached same lofty heights in 16 Slams since.

8. Tipsarevic - grinder who it's safe to say is not everyone's cup of tea. Suspicions over match-fixing, history of retiring with a bruised ego when just a handful of points away from losing etc. Faces Hewitt first up in the marquee match-up of R1. Hewitt leads h2h 3-1, but they've not clashed in four years. A decent run into the second week not beyond him if he ovecomes Rusty. QF matchup against Ferrer - last time they met at a Slam, it went to a final set tiebreak (US Open 2012).

9. Gasquet - the French enigma who flatters to deceive. Only once past R4 in 34 Grand Slam main draws, but very consistent - 12 times exiting at the round of 16 stage.

12. Cilic - semi-finalist here 2010 (best Slam result), missed last year due to a knee injury. Capable of matching anyone when he gets swinging. His semi here was on the back of winning the Chennai event, this year he lasted two rounds, beaten by Paire. Del Potro looms large in R4, current h2h stands at 2-7 and lost all 10 sets against him last season.

13. Raonic - fans of giants serving 225km/h have another player to worship in Raonic, but his all-round game is more developed than some of his peers in that category. However, he's on a terrible run at the moment, losing eight of his last 10 matches, including exhibition matches against the now-retired Roddick. Has reached R4 of both hardcourt Slams, that looks his most likely result here - that's when he's pencilled in to face Federer (currently 0-3 but each match went to a tight final set).

and the rest:

Baghdatis - scrapes into the seedings at #29. Not won a tournament in three years, and still basking in the memory of reaching the final here back in 2006. Looked in good nick in Brisbane last week.

Nishikori - troubled by a knee injury of late (retired in Brisbane) but managed a match at Kooyong to prove his fitness. Quarter-finalist last year, would need to beat Youzhny and Ferrer to achieve that this time.

Dimitrov - dangerous floater perched just outside the seedings. Lost to Murray in Brisbane final. Yet to progress past R2 in a Slam and cops a seed R1, #32 Julien Benneteau. Has a 2-0 record over him, but both went to the wire. Could have a slight distraction this week, grapevine says he's dating Sharapova.

Hewitt - the old warrior is defying calls for him to retire with some solid performances so far this summer. Wins over Berdych and Raonic at Kooyong have to be taken with a grain of salt since there were no points up for grabs, but his movement was looking impressive - his main downfall with nagging injuries in recent years. Capable of beating Tipsarevic (3-1h2h as mentioned earlier), backing it up is the problem. Last five years here have gone R4-R1-R4-R1-R4. A continuation of that pattern is on the cards.

Matosevic - current Aussie #1 (at least before Tomic won Sydney today) but Slam record is 0-7 in main draws and has never won a tour level match on home soil. Faces Cilic R1, last time they met was at the US Open where the Aussie blew a 2-0 lead.

Monfils - very consistent here, reaching R3 or 4 at each of his last five visits. A year of knee problems has seen his ranking balloon out towards 100 but the last fortnight has shown signs he might be able to regain the spotlight. Faces Dolgopolov R1, that won't be easy.

Tomic - all aboard the Tomic Express after his eight straight wins at the Hopman Cup followed by his maiden ATP title in Sydney. Well, at least that's what the media will be getting carried away with. All bar Djokovic (a 'mate' he has beaten before, also in a meaningless exhibition) were ranked outside the top 20, so there is still work to do. Likely to face Federer in R3, an upset seems unlikely with the H2h currently standing at 3-0, including a clinic here last year, but I can still remember a young Philippoussis blasting Sampras off centre court one night, so shocks can happen.

Davydenko - the arthritic old crook seems rejuvenated this year, hellbent on one last crack at a decent ranking (and pay packet before he retires). Injuries under control, looked the part in Doha recently (beat Ferrer comfortably), but faces Federer R2.

BETS

Apparently a first-time Slam winner has never gone on and won his next major, according to a stat tweeted by Brad Gilbert. Can't be bothered checking it but it doesn't sound that meaningful to me. At least I hope so because I am opposing it. Andy Murray has the 'harder' half to deal with, but in reality that's just Federer, whom he has a career record of 11-9 against (but 0-3 in the Slams). I'd rather be taking 4.5+ on Murray than a shade better than evens on Djokovic.

Can't see many opportunities for trading big prices as the top guys strangle the market, but Nishikori at 300+ might earn you a few ticks being in the Ferrer quarter.

Expecting match betting to be much more lucrative, the outright market won't have the volatility needed for trading unless one of the names falls over in a major shock.

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