As the tennis circus approaches the first Grand Slam of the year in Melbourne, we are all looking forward to a super season, possibly the most entertaining and exciting one in a long time.
The reason for this is simple. After the incredible total dominance of Roger Federer and his rivalry with Rafa Nadal that followed during the next few years, Novak Djokovic surprised the whole tennis world by winning almost everything during 2011.
In fact, his performance was so incredible and near perfect, that it now makes a very open season possible in 2012, all because of the special characteristics of the ATP ranking system. Djokovic has now so many points to defend from last year, that he simply has to repeat that feat once more to retain the nr. 1. ranking position.
His two main rivals, Federer and Nadal, both extremely competitive champions with their pride significantly bruised by Nole's unexpected rise to the top, certainly don't want this to happen all over again. We can be sure that they will do everything in their power to reinstate the order in the tennis Galaxy.
So what are the chances for the different possible scenarios?
I believe Novak Djokovic has a very demanding year ahead of him. The expectation from the fans, media and himself is now huge, and anything less than last year's magic performace will be regarded as that of an over-the-peak player on his way down.
There is a still a chance, though that he finds the same winning formula as he did last year and continues to steamroll his rivals. He certainly has the ability and the mentality to do so.
Patrick Muratoglou says on eurosport.com that the upcoming season will be crucial for Rafa Nadal. I couldn't agree more. Considering his hugely demanding physical playing style, this might be the last opportunity for him to get the necessary number of Grand Slams under his belt if he wants to be compared with Federer as the greatest of all time.
To do so, he simply has to turn the negative trend against Djokovic that has shackled him on several occasions in 2011. Self-belief is everything to the Spaniard and without it, his whole game falls apart. I believe he can turn the tide, but it won't be easy. The first part of the year will be crucial - if he can beat Nole in a few big matches, everything can change very quickly.
Roger Federer is the man who at the age of 30 and with all records behind him has nothing left to prove to anyone, which makes his task maybe the most pleasant one among the top three.
Yet I think that a champion of his calibre is extremely hungry for more. He simply refuses to accept that someone else is occupying the top ranking(s) above him. Also, he has huge motivation to win a few more Slams in order to extend his record tally of 16, and to take the single gold medal at the Olympics in Wimbledon.
At the end of 2011, he sent a warning to his opponents by winning 3 tournaments in a row, including the World Tour Finals. If he can keep the same positive momentum, there is a fair chance for him to get one or two Grand Slam wins and possibly even regain the Nr. 1 ranking spot.
The main threats from outside the top trio should come from Andy Murray, Jo-Wilfired Tsonga and Juan Martin del Potro. I also have a feeling that this might be the break-through year of young Milos Raonic who just won the Chennai tournament with a huge game.
But as usual, one should be careful with betting against the top three. Most likely, they will once again share all four Grand Slams among themselves. The motivation is huge for all three of them for different reasons, and they are all in good form, which makes it very hard for anyone to predict the final outcome of the season.
The least surprising scenario would be if the level of Djokovic drops just a fraction, while Fed and Rafa manage to raise theirs, thereby creating a highly dramatic and incredibly exciting season with different Grand Slam winners and a huge battle for the Nr.1 ranking.