Major upset authors still lurk, if not in finals

1995 Australian Open Men's Final (7:05)

Andre Agassi, in his first Australian Open, meets Pete Sampras in the Final. The match featured No. 1 vs. No. 2 (7:05)

The days of unexpected Grand Slam winners are over. Roger and Rafa can take credit for that, depriving the likes of Marcos Baghdatis and Mariano Puerta in recent years. Novak Djokovic fended off Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at the 2008 Australian Open, too.

On the women's side, since Maria Sharapova triumphed as a 17-year-old at Wimbledon, the list of Grand Slam champions has been an expected one -- apart from Francesca Schiavone at the French Open. Then again, Schiavone was a top-20 player for years.

Don't expect much to change in Melbourne.

However, that's not to say a few out there can't cause a major upset or two, in keeping with Australian Open tradition.

Here are several potential giant killers:


Viktor Troicki: We've seen it before from Fernando Verdasco, Mario Ancic and James Blake -- a player comes up big in a Davis Cup final, then goes on to have a breakthrough (or in Blake's case, a pretty good) year.

Troicki, who clinched Serbia's maiden crown last month, has always had a big game, anchored by the serve. That little injection of confidence means some tight matches he lost in 2010 -- to Rafael Nadal and buddy Djokovic -- will turn into victories.

He's dangerous.

Lleyton Hewitt: Hewitt is as motivated as ever, despite resembling "The English Patient" in 2010 -- when he suffered from hip, hand, calf and knee injuries -- and approaching 30.

He'll never be, or come close to, the guy who won two Grand Slam titles, but Hewitt appears to be as healthy as he can be, which means he can push the elite.

"I don't feel there is anyone out there who has trained as hard as I have in the last two months," Hewitt, hovering outside the top 50, told the Sydney Morning Herald.

And all of Australia will be behind the scrapper again.

Radek Stepanek: Mr. Nicole Vaidisova is too skilled a player to be ranked outside the top 60. A bout of mono and a troublesome knee led to the dip.

Stepanek is due for a decent Australian Open, having exited in the first round in two of the past three editions. His curtailed 2010 has boosted his appetite.

"In the offseason, I was pretty happy with the way I was working out," Stepanek, who turned 32 in November, told reporters in Australia. "Finally, I was 100 percent healthy."

Stepanek crushed Mardy Fish last week at a warm-up in Brisbane, where Stepanek habitually does well.

None of the contenders want to face Hewitt or Stepanek, both unseeded, in the opening round.

Others: Kei Nishikori is trying to take some of the "Air" out of his game -- his nickname is "Air Kei," a nod to his propensity for hitting leaping forehands and backhands -- and play safer. The Japanese has recovered from an arm injury, now works with Brad Gilbert and dethroned Marin Cilic in India last week. Unfortunately, Nishikori arrived in Australia with stomach pain. Kevin Anderson, the 6-foot-8 South African, did a nice job rebuilding his career in 2010. He carried over his momentum to Brisbane.


Jarmila Groth: Groth is a top-20 player, or maybe better, in waiting. She climbed 70 spots in the year-end rankings, finishing at No. 42.

The converted Aussie subsequently knocked off countrywoman Samantha Stosur in Brisbane for her first win over a top-10 opponent. Like Stosur, Groth possesses a massive serve and forehand.

This is the Australian Open at which the 23-year-old gets the monkey off her back. Groth has never won a main-draw match, going 0-5.

Julia Goerges: It's far from the halcyon times of Steffi Graf, but German women's tennis could be a lot worse. Andrea Petkovic is a solid baseliner with a great personality; Sabine Lisicki is destined to be a major threat once fully healthy; and Goerges continues to improve.

Her year-end ranking has gotten better every year since she turned pro in 2005, and the 22-year-old captured her first title last year in Austria. Goerges' best results have come at smaller events, so this is the campaign in which we'll find out whether she can compete with the best of them.

Goerges, who considers the serve and forehand to be her strengths, began 2011 well enough, reaching the semifinals in Auckland, New Zealand.

Elena Baltacha: A British woman who can play? Really?

There's actually reason for British fans to be hopeful, given the potential of teens Heather Watson and Laura Robson. And Anne Keothavong cracked the top 50 in 2009, ending a 16-year drought among Brits on the women's tour.

But for now, Baltacha is the leader. She hit the top 50 in 2010 and in upsetting Li Na in Indian Wells became the first British woman in 12 years to oust a top-10 player. A powerful serve and forehand are the 27-year-old's strengths.

That Baltacha is even out there is a minor miracle. Call her the female equivalent of Tommy Haas when it comes to injuries. She also takes daily medication for a liver condition.

Others: Bethanie Mattek-Sands filled in great for Serena Williams at the Hopman Cup, beating Schiavone. If the colorful Mattek-Sands can come close to replicating Williams' feats in Melbourne, she's in for a fine fortnight. Sania Mirza, a big-hitting Indian, says she's striking the ball great after returning from a serious, and lingering, wrist injury. She'll need to get through qualifying, though.