| By New York Tennis Magazine Staff

The 2013 Australian Open will take place at Melbourne Park in Melbourne, Australia from Jan. 14-27, the 101st edition of the Open. ATP top-ranked Novak Djokovic from Serbia will return to defend his men's singles title for a third time, as WTA top-ranked Victoria Azarenka of Belarus will defend the women's singles title. Here is a look at this year’s contenders, pretenders and sleepers as well as an overview of what's new this year in the land Down Under.

 

 

The men’s side of the draw
The contenders …
Novak Djokovic is the defending champion, reigning world number one, and the favorite heading into the 2013 Australian Open. Djokovic, who defeated Rafael Nadal in an epic five-set final at this event a year ago, will look to start 2013 off on the right foot.

Last year, Roger Federer lost in the semifinals Down Under to Nadal. Federer is now 31-years-old and is no longer a lock for success, but his consistency in majors through the years is unmatched, and on the hard courts of Melbourne, he is a good bet to challenge for a championship.

The year 2012 was the year Andy Murray finally broke through and moved into the upper echelon of the ATP Tour. Murray won both the Olympics and U.S. Open to finish off the best year of his career. He will be looking to build upon that momentum in 2013. Murray's game is well-rounded, and after winning on the hard courts in New York, another hard court major title in Melbourne is within reach.

 

The pretenders …
Jo-Wilfred Tsonga made the semifinals of the Australian Open in 2010, but the last two years have not gone as well for him "Down Under.” In 2011, he lost in the third round and last year he fell to Kei Nishikori in the fourth round. Both defeats came in tough five setters and Tsonga will need to be in peak physical condition to fight through the Australian heat this time around. While he comes into the year’s first major ranked eighth in the world, Tsonga is a long shot to win his first major title.

Janko Tipsarevic had the best year of his career and is now a top 10 player, but that doesn't mean he is ready to win a major. Janko lost in straight sets in the third round in Melbourne a year ago to Richard Gasquet. A similar finish is more likely than a run to the title in 2013 as well.

 

 

The sleepers …
Tomas Berdych was an Australian Open quarterfinalist a year ago, falling to Rafael Nadal in four sets. He also made a nice run in Flushing Meadows in September at the 2012 U.S. Open, reaching the semis before falling to eventual champion Andy Murray. Berdych is a big server who can beat anyone if he is on. If he can get a little lucky with the draw, expect a nice run from Berdych this year.

The women’s side of the draw
The contenders …
Victoria Azarenka, the defending women’s champion, is back and is playing well. The hard courts of Melbourne suit her game and she will be looking to keep her crown. Last year, Azarenka was quite impressive winning the title by defeating Maria Sharapova easily 6-3, 6-0 in the final. In her last Grand Slam (the U.S. Open), she lost to Serena Williams in a tough three-set final. Odds are, they meet again Down Under.

Regardless of her ranking at the time, Serena Williams is generally the favorite in every tournament she plays. When she is focused mentally and on top of her game, she is always tough to beat. She will be looking to avenge a fourth round loss from a year ago, where she fell in straight sets to the unseeded Ekaterina Makarova of Russia. With Azarenka, Sharapova and others looking to knock her off, it won't be an easy road, but Serena is certainly a major contender in Australian.

Maria Sharapova lost in the finals of last year’s Australian Open to Victoria Azarenka and she will be attempting to go one step further this year and win the title. Sharapova is coming off an impressive 2012 season and will hope to build on that this year. She is one of the top threats.

 

 

The pretenders …
Petra Kvitova came into Australia as the number two seed in 2012 and lost to Maria Sharapova in a tough semifinal. Her game has slipped a bit since, however, she still remains within the top 10 of the WTA Rankings. While she is still a threat, until she regains her top form, she likely will not be able to string together the six wins necessary to win the title.

Venus Williams sat out last year’s tournament with an illness, but she will return in 2013. Venus has yet to regain top form since her return to the courts and overcoming the Australian heat and the field of women may be too much for her. She is currently ranked 24th in the world. Expect an early ouster for Venus.

 

Samantha Stosur is the hometown favorite and 2011 U.S. Open Champion. However, in the past, she has had trouble dealing with the pressure of playing in her home country. Last year, she lost in the first round in straight sets to the unseeded Sorana Cirstea. While a better result is expected this year, she is not a threat to win it all.

The sleepers …
Maria Kirilenko has her ranking up to 14th in the world. She had a tough draw a year ago, losing to Petra Kvitova in the third round, but a good draw may spark a long run this year. She has been playing some of her best tennis and 2013 could be her year.

 

A year ago, Sara Errani was unseeded and still advanced to the quarterfinals of the Australian Open before Petra Kvitova knocked her off. Since then, Errani has been on fire, and her ranking is now up to number five in the world. While this may not be her best surface, she has been playing well enough to be a threat to win on any surface. Look out for Errani in 2013.

 

New this year at the Aussie Open
Organizers of the Australian Open have increased the event's prize money to a record $31.1 million for 2013, in response to player concerns about compensation at Grand Slam tournaments. In addition, stage one of the $360 million-plus redevelopment of Melbourne Park is currently underway and set for completion in 2015.

“We are proud to announce this major increase in prize money," said Tennis Australia CEO Steve Wood. "We have led the world in prize money for these incredible athletes, and we want to ensure that the Australian Open continues to make a major contribution to the financial well-being of professional tennis players."

Wood noted that Tennis Australia officials would seek further input from the playing group regarding a more equitable distribution of prize money to help ensure financial viability for lower ranked players. The $4 million hike is the biggest single increase in the history of the event.

Other additions to the 2013 Australian Open include:

►Andre Agassi to present the men's championship trophy

►Hawk-Eye to be introduced on Show Courts 2 and 3

►New practice and recovery facilities for players, including eight new clay courts in the new National Tennis Centre

►An expanded Australian Open Trophy Tour throughout Australia, China and Japan

►The inaugural Asia-Pacific Australian Open Wildcard Playoff (to be held in China)

►The new Edwin Flack footbridge connecting the MCG with Melbourne Park and AAMI Park

►An expanded Women’s Legends event, including former Australian Open champs Amelie Mauresmo and Lindsay Davenport, along with Martina Hingis and Martina Navratilova

►A special Legends Lunch on the final Saturday to honor six-time Australian Open winner Roy Emerson

►New multi-year deals with Rolex, ANZ, Maxxis, Powerade and Mount Franklin

►Australian legend Judy Dalton to be inducted into the Australian Tennis Hall of Fame

►Two new balcony areas overlooking the Grand Slam Oval on the western side

►An elevated viewing deck over major practice courts

►Dedicated MLC Tennis Hot Shots courts in Garden Square and Court Four so kids can experience the game, with professional coaches on hand to provide tips and advice