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Australian Open Preview – With Sports Illustrated Tennis Writer Jon Wertheim

We caught up with SI.com’s tennis writer Jon Wertheim to get his thoughts about the Australian Open.

You picked Federer to win the Australian Open. Easy choice or not?

Two months ago, you would have thought it was crazy, but after his win at the year-end championships and last week in Doha, it doesn’t sound quite as crazy. Yes, Nadal has a great shot to win, but I like Federer on hard courts, and he appears to be in terrific form. And let’s not forget, he is the defending champion.

If Nadal wins, that is four consecutive Slams. Does that count as winning the “Grand Slam” or does it need to happen in a calendar year for it to be official?

I think it is totally legit if he wins Australia and holds all four titles at one time. The Australian Open used to be at the end of the year, then it moved to the beginning of the year, so it’s always been this outlier. Winning four in a row in my book is a “Grand Slam.”

If he wins in Australia, it seems conceivable that he could end up with seven in a row, which would be an amazing accomplishment.

You have to figure the French is simply his to lose, and he has won the last two Wimbledon’s he entered, so he obviously has a good shot there. His health, knees specifically, always will be a big question mark, but if he stays healthy, we could be on the precipice of an incredible run. Of course, he has to win Australia first, and I picked against him.

What about Andy Murray. A finalist last year, but he can’t seem to capture a Slam when everyone believes he has the game to do it.

Dropping to the five seed is going to work against him in the draw, but that is a fluid situation. He looked amazing in last year’s Australian Open, but then couldn’t seal the deal in the final. He clearly has the talent to beat Federer and Nadal and showed that with a great run in the fall of 2010. I don’t know if he can win a Slam this year, but considering that Nadal and Federer have owned everything the last four years, that isn’t an indictment on his game. I think he has a better 2011 than 2010.

Any darkhorses that you think could pop up and win in Australia on the men’s side?

Soderling. Huge game, and when he gets hot he can be very, very hard to beat. Calling the No. 4 player in the world a darkhorse seems silly, but it’s true.

Talk about the women, you picked Clijsters to win.

She plays best on hard courts, and she has confidence in her game. She knows how to handle pressure situations, and clearly has shown that by winning back to back US Opens. I think she is the clear favorite to win in my opinion.

If not Clijsters, then who else might have a shot.

I think Azarenka has a shot. She has a lot of talent, and I think she could be poised for a great tournament. Clearly Zvonareva, Wozniacki, Ivanovic, Henin, Venus and plenty of others have the game to go deep into the tournament. It really seems like if one player can elevate their game right now, they could become a force in the WTA. I feel like without Serena it leaves a lot of space for someone to tighten the screws and take hold of being the undisputed top player on tour.

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