If we are to follow the trend of the past six years, you can expect either Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, or Andy Murray to appear in the 2012 Australian Open final.
Since 2006, the Australian Open final has seen at least one of the preceding players emerge victorious in the first Grand Slam of the year.
One would have to be a brave man to bet against Djokovic, Nadal, Federer, or Murray making yet another Australian Open final come January 29.
The consistency and playing level that these players possess distinguishes them significantly from the rest of the ATP tour, which still makes do with some very talented tennis players.
However, if there is any Grand Slam that can produce a surprise result, it is the Australian Open.
Over the past few years, the tournament has witnessed many rank outsiders produce some very surprising performances that capture the audience’s imaginations.
Over the past six years, players such as Marcos Baghdatis, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Fernando Verdasco, Fernando Gonzalez and Marian Cilic have all come to life at the Australian Open, and the 2012 edition also possesses the potential to throw up a surprise result.
With this in mind, here are the top three outsiders who I believe stand the best chance of disturbing the Djokovic, Nadal, Federer and Murray monopoly at the Australian Open.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (France)
Despite recently withdrawing from the Kooyong International, Tsonga does come into the Australian Open on the back of a tournament win at the 2012 Qatar Open.
Currently ranked sixth in the world, Tsonga at his best possesses a wonderful serve and forehand that can penetrate the defence of any player on the ATP tour.
At times however, Tsonga can go missing on occasions where he is expected to triumph, and this was evident at the beginning of last season when he exited the Australian Open in the third round.
His season however took a turn for the better when he upset Federer at the 2011 Wimbledon championships.
From two sets down, Tsonga eventually prevailed against the Swiss maestro and went on to make the semi-finals of Wimbledon.
Tsonga also made the final of the Paris Masters and the 2011 ATP World Tour championships but lost to Federer on both occasions.
If the Frenchman is to succeed at the Australian Open, then he must negotiate the first three rounds of matches without a fuss.
Tsonga traditionally has trouble during the first week of tournaments given that he tends to struggle with favouritism.
If he negotiates the first week well, however, Tsonga should have enough confidence and momentum to stand toe to toe with scheduled opponent Andy Murray in the quarter-finals.
Juan Martin Del Potro (Argentina)
Del Potro comes into the Australian Open on the back of a below par showing at the Apia International, losing to Baghdatis in straight sets in the quarter-final.
Regardless, it would be foolish not to put him in this bracket of players with the potential to upset the dominance that the big four hold at the Australian Open.
Currently ranked No. 11 in the world, a fit and firing Del Potro can be considered the premier dark horse in the men’s draw.
The way he bullied Federer off the court in the fifth set of the 2009 US Open final speaks volumes about the Argentine’s capacity to produce enormous groundstrokes off both the forehand and backhand.
Having apparently recovered from the wrist injury that he attained in 2010, Del Potro showed glimpses of his best form in 2011, pushing Nadal all the way at the Wimbledon championships and in the Davis Cup final.
Del Potro’s weakness, however, remains his inability to start matches quickly.
It usually takes him a set to really get firing, so don’t be surprised if the Argentine drops a couple of sets in the opening rounds of the Australian Open.
If Del Potro does manage to play his best however, a likely quarter-final meeting against Federer will be his reward – a match-up that promises to be as epic as the 2009 US Open final.
Bernard Tomic (Australia)
Undoubtedly the ATP tour’s finest young talent, Tomic has been handed a tough draw at the Australian Open.
The 2011 Wimbledon quarter-finalist will lock horns with Fernando Verdasco in the first round in what promises to be a terrific match-up.
Such a contest should allow audiences to see whether or not Tomic has what it takes to reach the second week of his home Grand Slam.
Indeed Tomic will have to play his best tennis if he is to oust Verdasco, particularly if the Spaniard finds his range with his forehand and serve.
If he manages to defeat the Spaniard, don’t be surprised to see Tomic ride a wave of momentum that could see him face likely opponent Roger Federer in the quarter-final.
Given that he gave Djokovic a hard time at Wimbledon last year, Tomic has shown enough in his career to suggest he has the class to trouble the Swiss maestro in a Grand Slam.