Australian Open contenders: 15-11

The 2013 Australian Open is less than three weeks away. In the days leading up to the season’s first Grand Slam, the Grandstand is counting down the Top 25 contenders in five different parts. Part three features contenders 11-15.

15. Stanislas Wawrinka – Wawrinka will be flying under the radar just a bit  in Melbourne, which isn’t exactly a new situation for him. He finished 2012 at a solid 17th in the world, but he put together another solid season in spectacularly quiet fashion. It featured no titles, a whole host of quarterfinals and semis, and two fourth-round appearances at slams.

Wawrinka has been a solid performer Down Under. He reached the quarterfinals in 2011, has not lost prior to the third round since 2008, and has never lost in the first round. It’s safe to assume that the Swiss will head into the season’s first major, as he is making another appearance in Chennai next week. The Swiss has reached two of the last three finals there (won the title in 2011), and another final could set him up for a Top 16 seed at the Aussie Open.

Wawrinka playing cricket after a 2011 Chennai semifinal win over Tomas Berdych
Wawrinka playing cricket after a 2011 Chennai semifinal win over Tomas Berdych

14. Richard Gasquet – Don’t look now, but Gasquet is back in the Top 10 and just three spots off his career-high ranking of No. 7 in the world to which he ascended in 2007 before his career took a turn for the worse. The Frenchman doesn’t have too much to defend until the clay and summer hard courts, although a fourth-round showing at the 2012 Australian Open was nothing to sneeze at. Gasquet compiled a 42-22 record last season and results toward the end of it included a fourth-round showing at the U.S. Open, a title in Bangkok, and a semifinal in Basel.

13. Kei Nishikori – Nishikori owns seven wins in his last two appearances at the Happy Slam. He reached the third round in 2011 and made it all the way to the quarterfinals in 2012. His run included a comeback from two sets down against Matthew Ebden and a 2-6, 6-2, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 upset of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

What’s to say another strong performance isn’t in the cards? Nishikori has been playing some of the best tennis of his career so his confidence should be at an all-time high following the offseason. Japan’s top player peaked at a career-high ranking of No. 15 in the world in October and he currently registers at 19th. If Nishikori can benefit from another favorable draw (he’ll need one due to a likely seed outside of the Top 16), look for a return to the second week.

Nishikori in Atlanta
Nishikori in Atlanta

12. Marin Cilic – Cilic catches a fair amount of criticism for being a small-tournament specialist, and it is true that all eight of his career titles are of the 250-point variety. The fact is, however, that Cilic is a stellar Grand Slam performer–and the two hard-court majors have always been his best. He advanced to the fourth round Down Under in both 2008 and 2009 before getting to the semis in 2010. Cilic, who made it to the fourth round again in 2011, will be eager for more success after missing the 2012 edition due to injury. With a Top 16 seed likely in his future, the 6’6” Croat should return to the second week once again.

11. Tommy Haas – Thirty-four is normally over the hill–with the room to spare–in tennis, but Haas is making up for lost time. Having donated so many months and years due to injury, Haas cannot pass up additional opportunities for success now that he is armed with a clean bill of health. The veteran German compiled a 31-16 record in 2012, which included a title in Halle and consecutive runner-ups in Hamburg and Washington.

Haas underwhelmed at the Grand Slams, but what better place to get back on track than Melbourne? He is 26-11 lifetime at the Australian Open, has been to the semifinals three times, and has not lost in the first round since his debut appearance way back in 1998. One of the German’s more memorable moments came in the quarterfinals of the 2007 event against Nikolay Davydenko. Haas had lost the second and third sets 6-2, 6-1, but need you even ask if he came back to win after this self-inflicted tirade?  [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8gQ2NhteF44]

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