Australian Open contenders: 20-16

The 2013 Australian Open is less than three weeks away. In the days leading up to the season’s first Grand Slam, the Grandstand will be counting down the Top 25 contenders in five different parts. Part two features contenders 16-20.

20. Juan Monaco – Monaco has never been good during the Australian summer. He’s been bad at warmup events aside from one semifinal and another quarterfinal in Auckland, and he is 6-8 lifetime at the Australian Open. However, Monaco also has never been as good as he is right now. The Argentine went 39-19 in 2012 and he should get a Top 12 seed Down Under, which is the recipe for a great draw.

The question (OK, not really) is whether Monaco spent too much time during the offseason lounging by the pool and tweeting photos of his native land.Monaco Offseason

19. John Isner – What the heck happened to John Isner in 2012 slams ? Whatever it was, it certainly wasn’t good. The 6’9” American notched a 5-4 record and failed to make it past the third round in any of the four. Isner was borderline terrible the rest of the season following his title in Winston-Salem, so he comes in with more questions than answers (and a new coach).

On the bright side, Isner owns a decent seven wins in his last three Aussie Opens, including a fourth-round appearance in 2010. Still, he hasn’t been able to avoid five setters at any major and this one is no exception. Before being outlasted by Feliciano Lopez in the most recent edition, Isner survived David Nalbandian in extremely controversial fashion.[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=555MZkZoqLU]

18. Gilles Simon – Simon isn’t the player he was in 2008 and 2009, but he quietly compiled 43 wins in 2012 and he could have won even more had in not been for injuries. The Frenchman should be well-rested and 100 percent for Australia, plus he should have confident having heated up this fall. Simon finished runner-up in Bangkok and reached the semis of the Paris Masters. He has a good chance of reaching round four for the second time, especially if he snags a Top 16 seed. And the world No. 16 knows the importance of seeding, as an injury-plagued 2010 dropped him in the rankings and resulted in a 2011 second-round matchup against Roger Federer (which Simon took to five sets before losing). No such second-rounder is in the cards for 2013.

17. Alexandr Dolgopolov – The question is which Alexandr Dolgopolov will show up? Will it be the one who reached the Australian Open quarterfinals in 2011 or will it be the one who lost his first match in eight of his last 16 tournaments in 2012—including a double-breadstick served to him by Nikolay Davydenko in Cincinnati? Part of the reason for the Ukrainian’s inconsistency is Gilbert’s Syndrome (a rare blood disorder), but part of it is his own game. Still, he has six wins in his last two trips to Melbourne and that bodes well for his 2013 chances.

Dolgopolov apparently spent his Christmas flying to Brisbane, and he also revealed one of his wishes:
Dolgo Tweets
16. Nicolas Almagro – If there’s any good news for Almagro in regards to his Davis Cup disaster, it’s that it came at the end of the season. He will have had two months to recover by the time he arrives at the Australian Open.

Furthermore, what better place to get back on track than in Melbourne? Almagro has been to the fourth round three straight times, including in 2012 when he destroyed Stanislas Wawrinka then lost to Tomas Berdych in four memorable sets. A Top 12 seeding will give him every opportunity to make it four in a row in the second week. Who can forget the highly-contentious thriller against Berdych that featured no handshake at the end? [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MgemPQ2Qm5o]

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