Melbourne: Sania Mirza will look to carry forward her sparkling run with Swiss partner Martina Hingis while Rohan Bopanna will also be among the top contenders with Florin Mergea to win his first ever Grand Slam title when the Australian Open begins here on Monday.
Sania and Martina have taken women's tennis by storm with their supreme form, winning 30 matches in a row. They were tested by their rivals in the last few matches but the Indo-Swiss team had enough arsenal to blunt their challenge.
They won the US Open and the Wimbledon championships last season and will start favourites to add a third Grand Slam to their bulging kitty, which has 11 titles so far in less than a year-old partnership.
They are coming into the tournament after winning both the build-up events — Brisbane and Sydney — and they open their campaign against the unseeded Colombian-Brazilian pair of Mariana Duque-Marino and Teliana Pereira.
Overall, India have six players in contention including Yuki Bhambri in men's singles where he faces world number six Tomas Berdych in his opening round.
But apart from Sania, only Bopanna can be considered a contender with Romanian partner Mergea. They had ended the season with a runners-up finish at the season-ending Finale and began the year by ending runners-up at Apia International.
The two have built up a strong on-court chemistry and will be a force to reckon with for the rival teams.
They begin their campaign with a match against local pair of Omar Jasika and Nick Kyrgios.
Paes and Bhupathi have been grouped in the same half of the draw. Paes and his French partner Jeremy Chardy will take on Colombian 12th seeds Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah.
Bhupathi and Gilles Muller from Luxembourg have the Australian pair of Alex Bolt and Andrew Whittington as their first round opponents.
Since Bhupathi was busy with IPTL for major part of the season, he didn't have enough games under his belt. To be match-sharp at this level he did not mind going to the Challenger level to get some practice ahead of the big event.
Another Indian in the men's doubles draw is Purav Raja, who has teamed up with big-serving Croatian Ivo Karovic. They face Moldovan-Korean team of Radu Albot and Hyeon Chung in their opening round.
Sania had failed to win a single Grand Slam in mixed doubles format last season and she would look to add to her Australian Open and French Open titles, she won with Bhupathi.
Paes was in terrific form last season in that format, winning three titles with Hingis. It will be interesting to see if they can repeat the superb 2015 show....