The new tennis season has started and Sean Calvert is back with his preview of the week's opening tournaments, including the Brisbane International, where he likes the look of Milos Raonic...
The 2013 tennis season gets underway this weekend, with the traditional three ATP 250 events to concentrate on.
We rounded 2012 off in good style with a profitable Davis Cup Final and let's see if we can carry that on into the new season in Brisbane, Chennai and Doha this week.
The big news of the week was that Rafa Nadal, who was due to play in the Abu Dhabi exhibition before Doha and the Australian Open, has withdrawn from all of them - not with the knee problem apparently, but with a stomach virus.
The Spaniard reportedly feels that he wouldn't have enough practice time to be competitive in Melbourne, so we won't see him again now until the Golden Swing on clay in February, if we see him at all that is.
But Andy Murray, fresh from being awarded an OBE in the New Year's Honours List, is in Australia to defend his Brisbane International title and he's a pretty warm order to do so at around 1.8810/11
Murray turned up in Abu Dhabi to collect a few quid in a straight sets loss to Janko Tipsarevic in the exhibition event there a few days ago, but exhibitions mean very little and I would expect Murray to go close to retaining his title here.
The Scot's main opposition this week comes in the form of Milos Raonic, Gilles Simon, Alexandr Dolgopolov and Kei Nishikori and combined Murray is 15-1 against the latter trio.
An in-form Raonic would be the biggest threat to Murray and he proved last season that he does go well when fresh when he won the opening event of 2012 in Chennai, beating Janko Tipsarevic in a final that lasted more than three hours.
The draw sees Murray pitted against one of Martin Klizan, Radek Stepanek, Denis Istomin or Lleyton Hewitt in the last eight and probably Dolgopolov or Nishikori after that, although the likes of Julien Benneteau, Marinko Matosevic and last year's Sydney champion Jarkko Nieminen may have a say in that.
Raonic's immediate quarter includes two young talents in David Goffin and Grigor Dimitrov, along with Brian Baker, Matt Ebden and Jurgen Melzer.
The final quarter is where Simon, Florian Mayer and Marcos Baghdatis are drawn, along with the likes of Santiago Giraldo, Alejandro Falla and Aussie wild card Benjamin Mitchell.
I would expect Simon to come through that, although it is worth noting that the Frenchman is 0-3 against the mercurial talents of Mayer, who should begin this season better than he ended the last, where he suffered three straight opening round losses.
This tournament is certainly Murray's for the taking, but he hasn't exactly impressed since New York, with losses to Jerzy Janowicz, Raonic, Roger Federer and twice to Novak Djokovic so I'm not sure he's a great bet at a shade of odds-on.
For me, Raonic is a better bet at a more acceptable price of around 54/1 and with points to defend from his Chennai win he should be up for it this week. Having beaten Murray from match points down in their most recent meeting in Tokyo he won't be afraid of the Scot this week.
Elsewhere, I would expect David Ferrer to land the Doha title in Rafa's absence and Chennai looks very competitive this time, with Tomas Berdych, Marin Cilic, Janko Tipsarevic and Stan Wawrinka all in with great chances.
But for me Raonic looks the one to be on out of all three tournaments in this opening week of the season.
Back Raonic at 54/1