Djokovic and Serena red hot Melbourne favorites

Fri Jan 11, 2013 10:19am EST
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By Nick Mulvenney

SYDNEY (Reuters) - With even their main rivals trumpeting Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams as the runaway favorites to win the Australian Open, it is tempting to view the honor roll at the year's first tennis grand slam as pre-ordained.

However well the pair are playing, they should perhaps bear in mind that the brutal heat, inspired opponents and the heartbreak of injury have unseated more than a few 'sure things' over the years at Melbourne Park.

Djokovic has been backed by no less than Roger Federer to achieve what even the Swiss was unable to do in his pomp by winning three successive Australian Open titles.

The Serbian world number one loves the hot conditions and a playing surface that brings the ball to him high and slow, and has won three of his five majors in Australia.

The conditions favor the fittest and there are few fitter than Djokovic as he proved last year when he beat Andy Murray in five sets in the semi-finals and then prevailed against Rafa Nadal in the longest-ever grand-slam final.

Nadal's battered body means he is absent this year, leaving Djokovic in the top half of a draw with the less-than-imposing figure of David Ferrer standing as his toughest opponent should both reach the semi-finals.

Murray and Federer are in the other half of the draw and, perhaps for the first time, the Scot is more favored than the 17-times grand slam champion after finally entering the club of major champions at last year's U.S. Open.

Having also ended Britain's long drought without a grand-slam champion, and won an Olympic gold medal on home soil to boot, Murray should be freed of the pressure that contributed to his defeats in the Melbourne finals of 2010 and 2011.   Continued...

Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, the 2012 Australian Open women's singles champion, and Novak Djokovic of Serbia, the 2012 Australian Open men's singles champion, pose with their trophies before the official draw of the 2013 Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne January 11, 2013. REUTERS/Toby Melville