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The new tennis season is upon us as the first major of the year will be contested down under. The Australian Open begins Sunday night. The best players in the world will descend on Melbourne Park for a chance to win a major championship. There are many storylines heading into the Australian Open on both the men’s and women’s side. The event will be a two week test in the hot Australian sun, and the winner will have to win seven matches to secure the championship. Here is a preview of the top contenders on the men’s and women’s side.

Coming into the tournament the odds-makers favorite to win on the men’s side is Novak Djokovic. He won the championship last year in Melbourne Park along with wins at Wimbledon and the US Open. Djokovic had an unbelievable start to last season, but he finished on sour note. He will look to defend the championship in Australia. The big question facing Djokovic will be his ability to keep playing at a high level on the ATP Tour and to continue his dominance over his opponents. Djokovic will need to keep up the level of his play because standing in his way is some stiff competition.

Standing in the way of Djokovic chances of a repeat will be Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Andy Murray, and Jo-Wilfred Tsonga. Nadal has won the Australian Open once back in 2009, but he has made the final four of the tournament the last several years. Nadal has a great chance to win the title because of the way he hits the ball. The courts play like a clay court at times and the ball bounces high to his opponent’s backhand. Nadal and Djokovic are on separate halves of the bracket, and the only way for them to meet would be in the final. Nadal has lost six straight times to Djokovic. All of his loses coming to Djokovic in finals. Can Nadal overcome Djokovic in a final?

Roger Federer has won the Australian Open four times. He has won 16 grand slam championships in his career. His best chances to win another major will be at the Australian Open, Wimbledon, and the US Open. Federer coming into the tournament had won 20 matches in a row including 3 championships to end last season. Federer had to exit Doha early with back spasms. If Federer does not feel his age of 30, he can make a run at the title. However, if injuries creep into his, Federer may go another season without a win in Melbourne.

Andy Murray and Jo-Wilfred Tsonga are wildcards in the mix. Tsonga has performed well at the majors along with Murray. Murray has made the final at the Australian Open the last two years, and he is looking to finally win a major. Murray just hired Ivan Lendl to be his new coach. Hopefully Murray will become more aggressive and not fade during the big moments of matches.

Tsonga, on the other hand, is a tough competitor, and he will give the big four a run for their money at any tournament. Hard courts suit Tsonga’s game best and he will have a chance to go deep into this tournament. In order for him to win the title, he will have to beat at least two of the big four. He has the game and mentality to do it. The big question facing Tsonga is can he step up his game during the big points of matches.

The women’s side is much more wide open. With Serena Williams and Kim Clijsters hurt going into the tournament, will one of the young players break through and win a major. The world will be watching if Caroline Wozniacki can finally breakthrough a win a major. She has a good chance to win here, but she needs to play more aggressive. Petra Kvitova won at Wimbledon for her first major, and she can add a second in Australia. There may be a surprise winner on the women’s side.

The Australian Open begins this weekend on the networks of ESPN2 and Tennis Channel.