Serena Williams and Roger Federer are the top seeds ahead of today's draw for what should be the most compelling Australian Open in recent years. While it is no surprise that the respective men's and women's No 1s are title favourites, the list of their challengers this year is legion - and neither is unbeatable.
As the first grand slam of 2010 gets under way on Monday, Williams will be hoping to break her habit of winning the Australian Open each odd-numbered year since 2003. Federer, meanwhile, is looking to add a fourth to the three Australian Open trophies already in his cabinet. The Swiss had a busy 2009, juggling marriage, babies, a first French Open victory and a record-breaking 15th grand slam, at Wimbledon.
The 28-year-old world No 1 will feel he has something to prove after losing the finals of the Australian and US Opens last year to Rafael Nadal and Juan Martin del Potro. "I think I can definitely, if my body allows me, win many more tournaments than I did last year," he said. "I really just had to focus on the big tournaments, the major events last year. "Obviously those are the hardest to win. If I am healthy this year, I can win many more tournaments.
"I would like to stay No 1 in the world, it's an obvious goal, there are no secrets about that. I would like to stay there as long as possible." Strong words, which are likely to send a shiver down the Australian Open seedings, which follow the men's rankings exactly from No 1 to 32. They will not be lost on second seed Rafael Nadal, or third seed Novak Djokovic. US Open champion del Potro is fourth, and although he beat both Federer and Nadal on his way to that victory, he will not have forgotten his 6-3, 6-0, 6-0 drubbing by Federer in the Australian Open's quarter-finals last year.
The Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis, who ended Lleyton Hewitt's run to a fifth Sydney International title yesterday in the quarter-finals, said he was close to the form that saw him finish 2006 Australian Open runner-up. "I just have to stay solid and keep working," he said. "It's just a matter of time that it will come." The women's tournament looks certaqin to be an exciting one, thanks to the presence of the two returning Belgians, Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin.
Clijsters is seeded 15th and the former world No 1 is a potential winner. The seven-time grand slam winner Henin is a wild-card. If she can shake a gluteal strain picked up in Sydney she will cause problems. Defending champion Williams is the rightful favourite, though she squeaked through Sydney's semi-finals yesterday against France's world No 27, Aravane Rezai. She takes on Elena Dementieva today and has chosen to view her scare in a positive light. She lost the first set and trailed 2-5 in the second, finally winning, 3-6 7-5 6-4. "I was lucky to get through," she admitted. "I'm just super mentally tough, I feel like that's definitely one of my strengths."