Saturday, January 16, 2010
Australian Open Preview -- Men's Draw
In different ways, the men's side of the Australian Open was the most and the least consistent major during the last decade. To start the aughts -- before Roger and Rafa brought stability back to scene -- the US Open had five different champions in five years (if you go back to 1998 there was seven consecutive years of different winners); Wimbledon saw four different winners from 2000-2003; Gustavo Kuerten won the French in 2000-2001, but from 2001 to 2005 there were five different winners.
There was a stretch (2002-2005) that saw four different winners at the Australian Open, but two of those four champions accounted for a total of six of the ten wins for the decade.
On the other hand, it's the only major where no one won more than twice in a row during that ten-year span. It's easy to forget that before Federer (and Nadal) stepped up, men's tennis was so chaotic it made the running of the brides look orderly.
Same as yesterday -- a look at the top 16 seeds and then a few others that I find notable.
1.Roger Federer -- Two straight losses to Nikolay Davydenko must have him scratching his head. My feeling about Roger is that it would really be crazy to expect him to still be as motivated as he's been for the past seven years. He's accomplished more than just about anyone in the history of the game. Maybe he can pump himself up here by saying Laver won the Grand Slam twice and he hasn't done that at all yet. There's no reason he can't get to the final. But it wouldn't be a total shock if he lost earlier.
2.Rafael Nadal -- He avenged his loss to Robin Soderling in an exhibition a couple weeks ago, so at least that's done. He still doesn't seem quite as confident as he did going into last year's tournament (although how could he considering how 2009 went). He's looking at a possible date with Andy Murray in the quarterfinals. I don't think he's better than even money to win that one.
3.Novak Djokovic -- For Nole, it's just a matter of whether he can stay focused and not let the heat psych him out. If he can do that, history says he can beat Federer when he's playing good tennis. I'd give him a good chance there.
4.Juan Martin Del Potro -- When last we saw our US Open champ, he was losing to Davydenko in the World Tour Finals. But then, so was everyone else. Of the top five seeds, he's the most likely to just hit you right off the court. I watched him play right after Marat Safin at the US Open last year and it was comical how much harder he hit his ground strokes (and it's not like Safin would remind anyone of Brad Gilbert). Interesting quarterfinal match up with Andy Roddick. We'll see there if he's going to have that dip in belief that some first-time major winners suffer.
5.Andy Murray -- Seems to me like this guy gets more respect than his results warrant. I'm no longer ready to say he has it in him to win seven matches at a major until he proves it.
6.Nikolay Davydenko -- This guy's been a world beater for the past couple months (end of last season, beginning of this one). Does anyone really think he can keep it up? And how many guys not named Nadal have beaten Federer (his quarterfinal opponent) three times in a row?
7.Andy Roddick -- Last year, he matched or surpassed his best result at each of the first three majors before crashing out early at the US Open. He's had good results here, but like Serena Williams, he best years have been all the odd-numbered ones. If the seedings hold, this whole tournament is going to turn on the quarterfinal matches.
8.Robin Soderling -- He seems to really only play his best when he's got hatred fueling him (his disdain for Nadal borders on psychotic). If Djokovic can avoid dissing him for the first week, he will probably just go away meekly in that match.
9.Fernando Verdasco -- After his result at last year's Aussie, everyone was ready to anoint him the next great thing. But just like everyone in the 9-16 range here, he's missing a key element that all champions have -- mental fortitude. He'll probably live up to his seeding, but unless Davydenko collapses in on himself, that's as far as he'll get.
10.Jo-Wilfried Tsonga -- You never know which Tsonga is going to show up in a major. If the good one is here, he could go as far as deep in the fifth set against Djokovic in the quarterfinals.
11.Fernando Gonzalez -- Ditto Gonzalez. Of course, with him you never know which one he is minute to minute. His fourth round match with (possibly) Tomas Berdych could last a few days waiting for one of them to actually win it.
12.Gael Monfils -- I think this guy's got a major in him at some point, but everything would have to break exactly right for it to happen. That seems unlikely here.
13.Radek Stepanek -- Third round, fourth round. Does it really matter? He's a solid player, but definitely doesn't have the skills to make a big run.
14.Marin Cilic -- I'm going to have to confess that I don't know much about this guy. He's tall and he had a pretty consistent year at the majors in 2009. If he meets Del Potro in the fourth round, it will look like the land of the giants.
16.Tommy Robredo -- It's hard to believe this guy is still hanging around. He's never been past the quarterfinals of a major -- even on clay -- and there's no reason to think he'll do even that well here.
17.David Ferrer -- Ferrer got moved up because #15 Gilles Simon pulled out. His reward is that he could play Federer in the fourth round if he gets there. But he's got possibly Marcos Baghdatis, who just won Sydney, and Lleyton Hewitt just to make it to Federer.
Tommy Haas (18) -- He couldn't ask for a better quarter of the draw to be in, with Soderling and Tsonga the only guys seeded above him. It's hard to believe he never pulled it together to win a major. It's even harder to believe he'll ever do it now.
Lleyton Hewitt (22) -- It'd be really nice to see him have a run here like Jimmy Connors had at the US Open late in his career. The Aussie fans should get to see one of their own make some magic.
Djokovic d. Federer
Roddick d. Murray
Djokovic d. Roddick