The Australian Open is always a very difficult Grand Slam to predict, because it is the first of the season and the conditions are fairly unique.
On the men's side, Roger Federer has to be the favourite with Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic close behind; meanwhile, Petra Kvitova can win the women's title with Serena Williams also in contention.
Djokovic will be an unknown quantity this year and it will be very interesting to see if he can match his intensity and focus from last season.
The most important issue is whether the Serb can replicate that form, and I have a hunch that his motivation may not be 100 per cent. I could be proved wrong on that, but I expect some kind of regression.
Before last year, Djokovic was not the best competitor: he would lose matches that he should have won because the top players would have the edge on him. That all changed in 2011.
I suspect that Federer will usurp Djokovic in 2012, and I expect the Swiss to come very close to his dominant best from four or five years ago.
For me, Murray and Djokovic have to be considered joint second favourites behind Federer, with a big question mark over Rafael Nadal.
Murray has shown superb form coming in to the tournament with victory in Brisbane and a new coach in Ivan Lendl in his corner; that has been an undoubted fillip.
There will always be some who say that Nadal has to be a favourite, but he has not looked himself for some time now, and even his success at Roland Garros last season did not see him playing his best tennis.
There are a few other players who are showing very good form: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Juan Martin Del Potro, with Gael Monfils only being let down by his lack of consistency.
I predict that Federer will be triumphant in Melbourne, and even the introduction of Lendl to Murray's camp, is not enough to see him beat the Swiss master.
On the women's side, I cannot see past either Kvitova or Serena for success.
The Australian media will be hyping up Samantha Stosur's prospects, but I think Francesca Schiavone's assessment that the US Open champion is struggling to cope with the pressure is pretty accurate.
Stosur is a very fine player, and I was extremely impressed with her victory at Flushing Meadows; but I cannot see her progressing past the semi-finals with the extreme pressure on her shoulders.
If she doesn't get past the quarter finals it will be regarded as a great public letdown, and you have to feel for her in the circumstances.
I hear that Serena is training like a beast at the moment, so reports of her still struggling with injury should be given very short shrift. The American is looking very good, and will be extremely dangerous.
While Serena can never be ruled out, I make Kvitova the favourite because of her incredible strength and power around the court.
The Czech showed supreme ability to win the WTA Championships to end last season, and it was the guile and intelligence she demonstrated which most impressed me.
When Kvitova won Wimbledon it was mostly down to brute strength and her enormous firepower, but she has since shown that she can mix up her game to good effect.
Kim Clijsters is an unknown quantity because of her latest injuries, and the Belgian has to be an outsider for the tournament given her spate of problems.
There is no doubt in my mind that Clijsters — as the defending champion — would be firmly in contention had it not been for her bad luck, but she really would be a long shot.
The Australian Open is my favourite event to attend and to work at given the conditions and open access to the players, and I'm very much looking forward to bringing the event to Eurosport again.
- Sports & Recreation
- Sports & Recreation/Tennis