For a guy with so much at stake this year – the Olympics, Pete Sampras’s 14 Slams mark, the French Open – Roger Federer’s start to 2008 hasn’t exactly been ideal. The World No. 1 found himself sidelined from the Kooyong exo after a bout with a stomach virus, meaning he’ll enter the Australian Open for the first time in his career with nary any match practice. But from what Fed said during his presser Sunday, whatever his internal troubles were, have left him and now his focused on the potential troubles on the court.
With that in mind, ‘capping the 2008 Australian Open is much more difficult than I thought it was going to be.
Federer is the obvious choice and the rightful favorite in betting circles. After all, the Swiss has won a ridiculous 26 of his last 27 matches in Melbourne, with his only loss over that span coming in 2005 to Marat Safin, who, by the way, is the last guy other than Federer or Rafael Nadal to win a Slam. And even in that match I think Federer held a matchpoint.
So why bet against him? Well…
Okay, let’s start with the draw.
Federer’s top quarter is also home to likely opponents Fabrice Santoro, who should have his way with John Isner, Joseph Sirianni, and Tomas Berdych setting up a last eight encounter with Fernando Gonzalez. True, Gonzalez has been all but MIA since his shocking final run last year, but what the heck, I think he can pull it together, recapture the magic and actually win a few matches this week over guys like Chris Guccione, Marin Cilic and Sebastien Grosjean to reach the quarterfinals, where he’ll fall to the Fed. Sorry Gonzo.
The second quarter is perhaps the most intriguing of the four in the draw with Lleyton Hewitt, David Nalbandian, Novak Djokovic, Dmitry Tursunov, David Ferrer, Marat Safin, Juan Carlos Ferrero and Marcos Baghdatis all in the mix. In my mind, anyone of those guys could make the semifinals. Okay, well maybe not Hewitt, but I certainly think the rest can. And it’s a tough call who’ll do it. The popular pick may be Djokovic in light of Nalbandian’s back injury – though the Argy is apparently okay to go. But I’m not with the cocky Serb in this one. I think Tursunov takes care of him in round three, meaning a date with Marat will await in 16s. Yup, that Marat, who comes into Melbourne refreshed and healthy enough to put the wood to Baghdatis and Hewitt. But Tursunov will be too tough, and Dmitry should get through to the quarters to face… Ferrer.
Honestly, I’m not sure how Ferrer will get there – he has to beat Juan Martin del Potro, Radek Stepanek-Vaidosova and Nalbandian, which are all very losable matches – but I’m going with him anyway. Slow court, lots of heat, that’s David Ferrer-type conditions. Then again, Spaniards never seem to do well at the Australian Open – quick, name me another Spaniard other than Moya or Ferrero to reach the Australian semifinals in the last 30 years? And hell, while you are looking that up I’ll go ahead and take Ferrer to beat Dmitry.
Onto the bottom half…
The third quarter is by far the weakest. If the surface was any faster I’d probably lean Dr. Ivo to get thru, but from what the players say, the new blue is rather slow and the balls tend to fluff. So Andy Murray is my pick here. After a tough opener against Ali Jr., Murray has little in the way of real resistance until Richard Gasquet or Igor Andreev in round four. Gasquet reached the R16 last year, but in this case I’ll go with the guy who dates Maria Kirilenko, Andreev. Doesn’t really matter anyway, Murray wins whomever emerges and then beats Nikolay Davydenko in the quarters.
The last quarter features Andy Roddick and Rafael Nadal, which would be a great final eight match if it came to pass. Well, I think it will come to pass, and I think Nadal will win it. En route, Nadal has the easier road of the two, with really only Carlos Moya in his way as a potential fourth rounder, though I’m not so sure Moya will even make it there. Roddick will have to deal with Philip Kohlschreiber and Tommy Robredo and the impending ESPN hype, but he’ll serve his way through to get to Rafa. With the slower courts, however, Nadal’s my pick to advance (did you see that Indian Wells match between them last year?)
That leaves my head-scratching semifinals as Federer v. Ferrer and Nadal v. Murray. And in the final, I’ll go with Federer beating Murray, who I think will exhibit just enough versatility to do in Rafa, like he almost did a year ago in Melbourne.
Do I feel good about that Final Four? Honestly, not really. Murray’s never even been to a Slam quarterfinal before, so how the hell does he beat an experienced Rafa in a semi? Not totally sure, but I just think Rafa has some problems in Australia and Murray does play well against the top dogs. And what of Ferrer in consecutive Grand Slam semifinals? Can’t be! But, guess what? I’ll stand by it!
Now for the ladies.
The top half is absolutely insane with Justine Henin, Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, Lindsay Davenport, Amelie Mauresmo and Jelena Jankovic. That’s loaded. So loaded that let’s start with who’s not getting to the finals: Jankovic, who might get bounced in the very first round by Tamira Paszek, Sharapova, who will beat Davenport in the second round, and the injury-plagued Mauresmo. That leaves just Justine and Serena standing in the semifinals, and I’ll take my chances and pick Slim Serena.
The bottom half is wide, wide open, but I’ll go with the favs again: Venus Williams to beat Ana Ivanovic and Svetlana Kuznetsova to overpower Anna Chakvetadze. So will Kuz beat Venus? Not in this event. I’m going sisters final all the way, with Serena winning another Slam title equaling her idol, Monica Seles.
So that’s Federer and Serena the champs, just like last year. That was easy, wasn’t it? Now let’s see how it plays out and just how wrong I am.
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