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Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Updated: January 14, 9:46 AM ET
Identifying the upset-minded in Oz


Roger and Rafa are expected to go deep at the Australian Open -- no surprise there -- joined by the fast-charging chasing pack. The Williams sisters and Belgians lead the way on the women's side in Melbourne.

But which players outside the top 20 -- Grand Slam winners not included -- could spoil the party, perhaps cause a big upset?

Cast an eye on this bunch.

Men

Janko Tipsarevic: Long considered an underachiever, there's reason to believe the Serb might finally do some damage. Heck, he might even reach the second week.

Teaming up last fall with Dirk Hordorff, the coach of former Australian Open finalist Rainer Schuettler, Tipsarevic reached a maiden final last fall and began 2010 with a semifinal showing in Chennai, knocking off crowd favorites Carlos Moya and Somdev Devvarman along the way.

Tipsarevic is no stranger to making waves in Melbourne, so close to eliminating a less-than-100-percent Roger Federer in Oz two years ago. He has the game. It's upstairs that's the question mark.

James Blake: Quick, when was the last time Blake wasn't seeded at a major? According to ATP stats guru Greg Sharko, it was five years ago at the U.S. Open. Blake was No. 49, five spots lower than his present 44th.

No pressure, then.

Blake also has a newish coach, Kelly Jones, and started off the year strong. In a big match we all thought had Davis Cup implications, Blake upset Sam Querrey in the opening round in Brisbane.

He reached the quarterfinals by saving three match points against Frenchman Marc Gicquel in a typical Blake encounter: plenty of ups and downs.

Blake likes Melbourne. His only Grand Slam quarterfinal appearance outside Flushing Meadows came Down Under two years ago, and he followed it up with a fourth-round showing in 2009.

Richard Gasquet: Gasquet is a relieved man, and he has let everyone know it in the last month. Presumably "relieved" means relaxed, and a relaxed Gasquet is a threat.

Gasquet, back with the coach who guided him into the top 10 (Eric Deblicker), tuned up for Melbourne by reaching the quarters in Brisbane.

Facing one of his toughest opponents, Andy Roddick -- yes, he beat Roddick in that Wimbledon thriller but cheaply bailed from their Davis Cup rendezvous in 2008 -- Gasquet didn't embarrass himself. The Frenchman eventually fell 6-3, 7-6 (5).

Gasquet hasn't played much tennis in the last eight months, so his fitness is a question mark.

Honorable mentions: Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis, the talented 2006 finalist, picked up his game at the end of last year. Brazilian Thomaz Bellucci was outside the top 140 in July. Now he's at a career-high No. 34 and coming off a quarterfinal in Brisbane. There's little finesse in the 22-year-old lefty's game -- it's all power from the baseline.

Women

Sabine Lisicki: All smiles off the court, Lisicki is ultra-intense on it. The Florida-based German pulled an Irina Spirlea and bumped tour darling Caroline Wozniacki during a changeover at Wimbledon last summer, which didn't stop her from sauntering to the quarterfinals.

A stomach illness, ankle injury and food poisoning did derail the 20-year-old, the only reason she failed to stay in the top 20. Lisicki possesses one of the biggest serves in the women's game and a blistering forehand, throwing in her fair share of drop shots, too. Think Ernests Gulbis, only more solid between the ears.

Lisicki sparkled at the Hopman Cup in Perth, beginning her campaign with a resounding win over fifth-ranked Elena Dementieva.

Kimiko Date Krumm: The women's tour lost one graceful Japanese pro last year (the retiring Ai Sugiyama), but Date Krumm keeps plugging away.

Date Krumm, nine months away from her 40th birthday, is picking up steam on her comeback. Date Krumm won her first title since 1996 last fall and followed it up by reaching the semis at the year-ending Commonwealth Bank Tournament of Champions, holding her own against much younger opposition.

Starting last year ranked about 200th, Date Krumm is destined to re-enter the top 50 after a quarterfinal appearance in New Zealand last week. A wild card, she crushed the fading Anna Chakvetadze and then upset the fifth seed. This week, she qualified for Sydney and eliminated world No. 20 Nadia Petrova.

Date Krumm, a former world No. 4, would love a repeat of 1994, when she eased to the semifinals.

Alize Cornet: One step forward, one step back for the elegant Cornet.

After a breakthrough season in 2008, Cornet and her crafty baseline game slipped from 16th to 50th in the year-end rankings. She failed to exceed the second round of any tourney from July onward.

Cornet worked hard in the offseason, beefing up her serve, and ended the drought in New Zealand last week by getting to the quarterfinals.

Although her most productive surface is clay, Cornet came within a point of upsetting Dinara Safina in the fourth round in Melbourne last year.

The 19-year-old from France is too good a player not to rebound in 2010.

Honorable mentions: Russian Alisa Kleybanova upset Ana Ivanovic at the Australian Open in 2009 and is one of the purest ball strikers around. Mind you, she's a tad inconsistent. Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez is a throwback. She outmaneuvers the baseline bashers by serving and volleying and changing pace. Martinez, a late bloomer, played a big part in Spain's Hopman Cup win.