The Australian Open starts on Monday. Back in September, I suggested that you wouldn’t look past Rafael Nadal for the title – which if he won it would make him the holder of all four Grand Slam titles simultaneously. Since then, however, Roger Federer seems to have got back on top of his game, winning a few titles including a fairly epic victory over Nadal in the  final of the  Tour Finals. Murray also played well in the tour finals, losing to Nadal after a huge battle in the semis; I’d make him and Djokovic about equal for the Australian Open, behind Nadal and Federer.

For some reason, Federer’s coach Paul Annacone has been going around saying Federer could end up with a total of 20 Grand Slam titles. This ties in nicely with the discussion we were having before about how many he and Nadal would each get. It’s interesting that Federer’s uptick in form towards the end of last season coincided with him starting to work with Annacone and the coach clearly deserves some credit, but 20? Seriously? Thinking about it, I’d make him favourite for this Australian Open because Nadal has a virus, but beyond that it would take miracle for him to win the French and if fit Nadal will be favourite for Wimbledon. Then Federer turns 30 in August and not many people have won Grand Slam titles in their 30s. Agassi (during a fairly weak era for the men’s game – between the decline of Sampras and the rise of Federer) got two Australian Open titles after turning 30; Sampras won the US Open aged 31 in 2002, but Wimbledon has only been won twice by a man over 30 (Ashe in 1975 and Laver in 1969) and the French, 4 times (and not since 1990. Here’s a list of all ATP Tour men’s title winners in their 30s).

My guess would be that Federer wins in Melbourne to take him to 17, Nadal gets the French and Wimbledon again (which would put him on 11) and then the US will be wide open, with Murray and Djokovic strong contenders. Like Sampras, I’d guess Federer will get one more GS title after turning 30: another Wimbledon would give him 7 there, tying Sampras’s record, which would seem fitting. So having said in September that Federer would finish on 17 I’m revising him back up to 18. Then Nadal will have maybe another 5 years at the top of the game to try and overhaul Federer’s record. Whether he manages it, I reckon, is down to two main factors: Nadal’s fitness and the extent to which Djokovic, Murray, Del Potro and Soderling are able to challenge him (i.e., really start to believe they can beat him in a big match). I think it’s gonna be pretty close in the end but would guess Nadal will fall just short, partly because (in a somewhat perverse way) with Federer out of the way then Murray et al will play better against him.

Put your predictions in the comments!

Related: Kevin Mitchell in The Guardian: Australian Open 2011: It all points Roger Federer v Rafael Nadal

Update: Another absurd statistic: if Roger Federer fails to win the Australian Open, it will be the first time that he has not held any of the Grand Slam titles since he first won Wimbledon in 2003.