A year ago I thought that Andy Murray would reach his first Grand Slam final in Melbourne. It didn’t quite work out that way as Murray was upset in the very first round of the Australian Open by a kid named Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. As it turned out, it wasn’t such terrible a loss. Tsonga turned out to be a helluva player and a legitimate threat on the circuit.
Twelve months later Murray is now the talk of tennis after having unofficially beaten chief rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal a combined five straight times. That’s three straight over Roger and two consecutive over Rafa (remember he beat both guys at an exo in Abu Dhabi which really only counts in the wallet!). And with defend champion Novak Djokovic making the curious if not courageous decision to tinker with a game that elevated him to Grand Slam glory and a Masters Cup in 2008 by switching racquet manufacturers over the off season, it’s no wonder that people are more than ready to make Murray the man to beat in Melbourne.
But Murray has never advanced past the fourth round at the Australian Open, and this is best-of-five, big-boy tennis not found in Doha, Madrid or Cincinnati. And his main opposition at the top are at the ready, fresh and hungry. So who will it be left standing at the end of 14 days of Australian Open play?
First, the top-seeded Nadal was given what could be a very tough draw in his quarter. I think he should successfully navigate through Dmitry Tursunov in the third round but I’m going to go out on a limb and say Frenchman Richard Gasquet gets him in the 16s. It’s a longshot, but right now I’ll lean that way. As I said before, I didn’t like Rafa going to the Abu Dhabi exo and then playing Doha. I would rather have seen him ease up on the hard court scheduling. And I think the new plexiplave surface doesn’t help a guy like Nadal either. I know he reached the semifinals on it last year, but who did he beat? Next to no one. Gasquet though will have his hands full with Fernando Gonzalez in the third round, then after Nadal, he’ll beat Gilles Simon in the quarterfinals. I’d love to see my man Gael Monfils to make a strong run here – and he very well could given his draw and the conditions– but he’s been bothered by a foot injury so that really worries me. Sorry Le Monf, but if you play well in your first round I’ll scratch Gasquet in your favor.
The second quarter is where we find Mr. Murray. And if anyone has a walk into the semifinals it’s Andy who should reach the last four with under three sets lost total en route. Fernando Verdasco might get a set from him in the fourth round, and then if JW Tsonga’s back is healthy enough he could steal one in the quarterfinals. Or maybe Igor Andreev is the guy in place of Tsonga in that spot. Either way, among the Fab Four Murray’s the best pick in my mind to reach the semifinals.
David Nalbandian might very well be the sleeper of the field. After that crushing Davis Cup defeat last month I didn’t think he would have the motivation and the commitment needed to make a dent in the Majors anymore. But credit to him, his Sydney title this weekend clearly suggests otherwise. There’s still some life in that guy. Andy Roddick’s in that section as is Djokovic, so Nalbandian will have his work cut out for him, but I think he gets it done and he beats Roddick in the fourth round then Djokovic in the quarterfinals. With the pressure that comes with defending a Slam title and his racquet issue, I can’t see Novak getting through to the semifinals. If it’s not Nalbandian then Roddick takes him out. Novak’s the third guy in this group in my opinion. Doughnut Dave, though, is my call here.
The last quarter has actually become rather intriguing since its release. Federer of course is the clear-cut favorite and with the exception of Marat Safin, he should waltz into the quarterfinals. But awaiting there might be the hot-again Juan Martin del Potro who has impressively resumed his stellar play from last year by winning the Auckland title (who would have believed both Davis Cup Argy teammates would win titles this past weekend?). Plus, I think JMDP has a real friendly draw and the Melbourne surface suits him, though the climate may not! Mischa Zverev is a young star to watch for as is Marin Cilic but I think JMDP should advances to meet Federer. Unfortunately for the young Argentine his number will be up against Fed. In a two-of-three I think JMDP wins, but not three-out-of five against Raja. So Fed’s my pick here to get through to the semifinals though it really won’t be as easy as the draw suggests.
That leaves my semifinals as Gasquet v. Murray and Nalbandian v. Federer. I’m probably the only guy on the planet with that foursome but I’ll stand by it for now. And in the championship I think Federer does it again to Andy in a Slam final. Murray will surely have his time but right now I think when it comes to non-clay Grand Slams Federer’s still the man to beat. And he’s out to prove that’s still the case.
As for the women, there are the Williams sisters, the Serbs, the Russians and that’s about it. The champion is coming from one of those three groups and I’m going to pick Venus here to beat Elena Dementieva, then Serena and Dinara Safina in the final.
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