Draw analysis: Who has a path to Aussie glory?

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What is it about the Australian Open that has produced so many unpredictable results over the years? Perhaps it's the oppressive heat of the summer Down Under or maybe it's just a by-product of players shaking off rust coming out of the offseason and into the first Grand Slam tournament of the year. Whatever the reason, dissecting the draw of the Aussie Open can be a difficult proposition, but let's try to break down the brackets:

Rafa's road: A tricky path to the final

The world No. 1 does not bring much momentum to Melbourne. Nadal is coming back from a lingering knee injury and lost to Gael Monfils in the quarterfinals in Doha. Nadal's quarter of the draw presents some challenges for the Spaniard. Rafa could run into 2007 Australian Open runner-up Fernando Gonzalez in the Round of 16. Big hitters like Gonzalez have given Nadal trouble on hardcourts. If there are no upsets in this section of the draw, Nadal would be favored in a matchup with sixth-seeded Gilles Simon in the quarters. Nadal was knocked out in the semifinals last year at Rod Laver Arena by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. They could meet again this year in the semis, although Tsonga pulled out of his Aussie Open tune-up in Sydney with a back injury. It seems more likely Nadal will take on fourth-seeded Andy Murray in what should be a memorable semifinal match.

Who's hot, who's not: Murray and Djokovic

Murray is the chic pick to win his first Grand Slam singles title. After reaching the quarterfinals at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open final, Murray seems poised to take the next step. The notable names in his section of the draw include Fernando Verdasco and James Blake, who has never made it past the quarterfinals at a slam. Look for Murray to roll into the quarters and take out Tsonga — if his back cooperates — in the final eight, setting up the marquee match with Nadal. Novak Djokovic lifted a Grand Slam trophy for the first time in Melbourne last January. But this year, the No. 3 seed will need to jump start his game if he is going to successfully defend his title. Djokovic lost his first match of 2009 in Brisbane to Ernests Gulbis and was stunned in Sydney by Jarkko Nieminen. The quarterfinals could pit Djokovic against Andy Roddick. Roddick would certainly relish a chance for some payback after last year's verbal sparring at the U.S. Open when the Serbian beat the American in the quarters in New York City.

Will Federer get his 14th Slam?

Let's pencil Federer in for a run to the singles final at the Australian Open as he tries to equal Pete Sampras' record of 14 Grand Slam titles. While some analysts have called Federer's section of the draw tough, the Swiss star will likely be taking on some players well past their prime. He could see former world No. 1 Carlos Moya in the second round and the third round could offer 2005 Aussie champion Marat Safin, another player who has occupied the top spot and says this will be his last year of competitive tennis. The quarterfinals could be much trickier for Federer if he meets Juan Martin del Potro, who made a rapid rise into the top 10 last year. If Djokovic survives to the final four, Federer would get a chance to avenge his loss to the Serbian in last year's Aussie Open. That could be extra motivation to propel Federer into the championship match.

Australian hopes may fade quickly

No Australian man has won the Aussie Open since Mark Edmondson stunned his countryman John Newcombe in 1976 in one of the greatest upsets in tennis history. Don't look for that trend to change this year. Lleyton Hewitt is coming back from hip surgery that wiped out much of his 2008 season. The former world No. 1 faces a brutal first round test against Gonzalez. On the women's side, Casey Dellacqua seemed like she would provide Australia its best hope of making a splash in singles. The Perth native reached the fourth round of the Australian Open last year. But just like Hewitt, the draw was unkind to Dellacqua, matching her against Daniela Hantuchova in a tough opening-round test.

Williams vs. Williams in the semis ... again?

Defending champion Maria Sharapova will miss the Australian Open because of a shoulder injury, so it looks like it could be another Grand Slam tournament in which the winner of the match between the Williams sisters will take home the title.
At Wimbledon last year, Venus defeated Serena in the singles final. Serena rebounded to take out Venus in the U.S. Open quarterfinals on her way to winning the championship at Flushing Meadows. Serena's path to the semis appears wide open, while Venus may have to defeat two-time Grand Slam finalist Elena Dementieva in the quarters. Dementieva is playing well, having won back-to-back titles in Auckland and Sydney. We'll go with Serena to beat her big sister in the semis and move on the final.

Talented top half of the women's draw

Top-seeded Jelena Jankovic is going after her first Grand Slam singles title. It will not be easy for the Serbian to play her way into the final because the top half of the draw is loaded with talent. But Jankovic's section of the draw is less challenging than the other quarter, which includes skilled players like Anna Chakvetadze, who is trying to rebound from an erratic 2008, and Caroline Wozniacki, who jumped from No. 64 to No. 12 in the rankings over the last 12 months. Jankovic should be able to reach the semifinals and take on whoever emerges from a spicy quarterfinal that could feature third-seeded Dinara Safina and fifth-seeded Ana Ivanovic.

Women's draw: Players that could impress:

If you're looking for a name to watch beyond the usual suspects, Dominika Cibulkova could be ready to generate some headlines at the Australian Open. The 19-year-old posted 40 match victories last year and has wins over Venus Williams, Jankovic and Ivanovic on her résumé. Cibulkova was undefeated in her singles matches at the Hopman Cup in Perth, teaming with Dominik Hrbaty to win the championship for the Slovak Republic. Cibulkova could face Dementieva in the fourth round, but if Dominika gets that far, it will represent her best showing at a Grand Slam event.

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