Murray could push revitalised Federer to final
Torrential rain here in Melbourne has made for a chaotic build-up to the first major of the tennis season with people everywhere in the player zone, stalls and stands half-constructed and the qualifying tournament behind schedule.
For most of Thursday, with no play possible, hundreds of players, coaches, family and friends were crammed into the tight player lounge and paranoia quickly set in. Players were afraid to stand up and do anything at the risk of losing their seats!
I saw one minor altercation, illustrating the cabin fever. One false move towards the pasta and the chair's a gonner. It's every man for himself at a major tournament.
Only the chosen few got to practice under the roof of Rod Laver Arena, a steady stream of superstars sampling what appeared to be slow conditions on the Melbourne centre court.
Everyone else sat around doing crosswords and watching DVDs. The luckiest people were those asked by the greats to be hitting partners. Suffice to say there were plenty of volunteers - it was the only way to get any court time.
Thankfully, at about 1.30pm on Friday, the rain which had soaked the city for days relented and the skies started to brighten.
Before long, people were back on the streets, rowers out on the Yarra River, players out on the courts. It felt like Melbourne again, summer in the city, the Australian Open kicking off the Grand Slam tennis year.
The draw has thrown up some interesting match-ups. Lleyton Hewitt v David Nalbandian is a repeat of the 2002 Wimbledon final and has already got the Aussies foaming with excitement. Kim Clijsters plays former world number one Dinara Safina and Caroline Wozniacki has a tricky test against Gisela Dulko.
Wozniacki, the top seed from Denmark, has a nasty cut on her right leg, I noticed the other day. It probably won't be her only wound after Dulko has finished with her. The Argentine has a history of big scalps early in majors and I'm going for a first round upset in this one.
All eyes in the men's singles will be on Rafael Nadal to see whether he can win a fourth consecutive major and complete the "Rafa Slam".
In an era when his main rival is arguably the greatest of all time, it would be a phenomenal achievement if he could become the first man to win four in a row since Rod Laver in 1969.
Murray looks in good spirits in Melbourne. Photo: AP
His last defeat in a major was here 12 months ago, when he retired from his quarter-final with Andy Murray. He was getting a beating on the court and his knees were creaking. We feared for him. We didn't think he was finished, but we feared for him.
Uncle Toni Nadal, his coach, revealed in a startling 5 Live interview two months ago that he also worried that Rafa would not return to the very top after that latest in a line of setbacks.
And that is the key context we should always remember as Nadal goes for this incredible piece of sporting history. His knees seemed shot just one year ago and yet now he is playing for four successive majors. It almost sounds too ridiculous to print.
It's worth noting at this point - however phenomenal four in a row would be - that Laver's was the true "Grand Slam" of all four majors in a calendar year. Surely that is beyond the even the immense capabilities of the man from Majorca.
If anyone can stop Nadal, Roger Federer would like to believe he can. Looking even trimmer than usual, the Swiss comes into this having won four of his last five ATP tournaments.
He has a burning desire to defend his title here, to recapture others in Paris, London and New York, and to regain the world number one position. His hiring of Paul Annacone as coach last autumn, and his subsequent almost unbeaten run, emphasised how much he wants it.
That is why I'm going for Federer to beat Robin Soderling or Andy Murray in the final.
Murray looks in good spirits and hopefully will recall good memories from his run to the Championship match here last year. For six matches, he was focussed, intense, ruthless. British fans would like more of the same, please, with the added fizz displayed in the World Tour Finals at the O2 in November, particularly in his swashbuckling semi-final with Nadal.
Can Murray win here? Same question as usual, same answer - of course he can! Bring it home with the Ashes!
This is my favourite overseas major of the year, so close to the river and the city, friendly staff, fun-loving punters, lots to do on the grounds.
And how nice it has been to march into the place head held high after the cricket. "Congratulations" said the bloke at airport immigration. "Congratulations" said the bloke who sets up our technical rig at the tennis. Unprompted, both, they just knew they had to get it out of the way early.
Great people here, they can take it, but I'll only feel sorry for them after the Brits have given them a hiding in the cricket one-dayers, won their tennis event and pinched the prime steaks from whichever BBQ we rock up to on finals weekend.