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"GAME ON. Every shot. Every point. Every game counts."
That is the catchy slogan the ATP has unveiled in their new advertising campaign to mark the beginning of the 2011 World Tour season.
And along with the tagline, the likes of Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Andy Roddick have been cast in starring roles as tennis' version of Gladiators.
So what of the five warriors' chances of scooping the first major of the year, the Australian Open?
Unsurprisingly, Nadal and Federer are joint favourites for the title as the top two seeds look to extend their dominance in the men's side of the sport.
Sky Bet have the world number one and number two equally priced at 7/4 to reign supreme in Melbourne and it's hard to bet against the left-handed Spaniard or the right-handed Swiss at the moment.
Nadal, who became just the seventh man in history to complete the career Grand Slam in winning the US Open in September last year, heads into the first major of the season looking to become the first man since Rod Laver to hold all four grand slam titles at the same time. The man from Majorca does not have the kindest of draws, but count against him at your peril.
Federer enters as the defending champion and the all-time leading grand slam title winner will not be satisfied with a mere 16 majors adorning his trophy cabinet. And the 29-year-old will be targeting another record as he bids to land a fifth crown Down Under. Hardcourts are Federer's forte, but he has something to prove after early exits (by his standards) at the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open.
Djokovic arrives at the Australian Open as the third seed and the Serbian star will remind himself of his 2008 Melbourne triumph that saw him clinch his first and only success in the slams. The 24-year-old right-hander is never fancied by the bookies and he's fourth favourite at 8/1. Djokovic is in the same half as Federer, the man he beat to reach the 2010 US Open final, so he's as good a shout as any.
Ahead of Djokovic in the betting is Murray, who is seeded number five at this year's tournament. The British number one was the runner-up here last year and his second grand slam final defeat, both times to Federer, left the Scot badly wounded. Murray recovered towards the latter end of 2010 but question marks loom large over whether the 24-year-old can grab that elusive major title. A relatively routine draw has done Murray the world of good and at 7/1, the right-hander remains a decent bet.
Roddick is perhaps the surprise package to make the ATP's "GAME ON" campaign, with no grand slam title to his name since his sole success at the US Open in 2003. That said, the American serve-machine has been a fixture of the top 10 for over a decade and four final appearances at Wimbledon does not come easy. The 28-year-old Texan has reached the last four in Melbourne four times as well, but at 40/1, you would be going for an outsider in predicting the number eight seed to reign.
But if I was do gamble an hour's wage, I'd focus my attention on the new world number four Robin Soderling. The powerful Swede has yet to win a major but with two runner-up appearances at the French Open - with wins over Nadal and Federer - the fourth seed is a dangerous outsider. At 16/1, even I'm tempted to have a flutter on the 26-year-old.
Two other players to watch out for are Tomas Berdych and Juan Martin Del Potro. Berdych is seeded six at the Australian Open and the Czech right-hander came of age last season by reaching the final of Wimbledon. Del Potro is back in the game after a year out with a wrist injury and the Argentine hot-shot remains the only player to beat Nadal and Federer en route to winning a major. Both of these men are priced at 50/1, so if long-shots are your thing, one of these two could be your man.
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