At long last, the first slam of the season is upon us. The 2010 Australian Open starts on Monday (in Australia). After all these years of watching tennis, I still don’t know the difference in the time zones but this site has always been helpful: http://www.timeanddate.com/worldclock/.
Last week, after only a week of tennis, I pegged Novak Djokovic to top Roger Federer in the semifinals and then Nikolay Davydenko (a would-be winner over Marin Cilic in the other semi) in the finals. Now that the actual draw is out, I’m completely taking that back. Not just because of the draw but because everyone who’s anyone has played at least one competitive match in 2010.
Federer’s Quarter: For all those Fed-haters who like to claim Federer gets easy draws, well, don’t complain about this event. The World Number 1 opens up against Igor Andreev. Andreev may not be a tier 1 player, but he’s not in the first-round-of-a-grand-slam tier, either. The Russian prefers the clay but he can definitely play on hard courts. He extended Federer to 5 sets as recently as the 2008 US Open. The surface at the Aussie Open should suit Andreev even better since it’s closer to clay than the courts at the US. And in terms of being mentally up to the task, Andreev knocked out Andy Roddick in the first round of a slam before (French Open or not, that’s a big win/upset). It’s surprising to me, but for once Federer is a part of an intriguing FIRST round match.
Looking down a bit, Lleyton Hewitt has a chance to make some noise until he runs into the winner of the second round match between Gilles Simon and Marcos Baghdatis. I’m going with Baghdatis to face Hewitt in a repeat of their epic encounter several years ago. The winner of that match? Too close to call.
Fernando Verdasco crushed Djokovic as recently as yesterday and he played great tennis in reaching the semis here last year. Can he repeat? Unlikely. Not because he’s bad, but because he won’t beat Davydenko in the fourth round (h2h 6-1 in Davydenko’s favor).
Ernest Gulbis still has a lot to prove but his draw isn’t too hard until he runs into the best player in the world, Davydenko. The surface in Australia suits Davydenko quite well and he’s made a number of quarterfinals here before. Expect him to make his fourth.
Quarterfinal Prediction: Federer def Davydekno 4-6 7-6 7-6 6-3
Djokovic’s Quarter: Obviously Djokovic can’t beat Davydenko in the final, but he can still beat Federer in the semis. The Djoker has a pretty easy draw until he has to face… Richard Gasquet in the fourth round. Gasquet opens against Mikhail Youzhny (another unfortunate but intriguing first round match-up) but he’s been showing great form in the first two tournaments of the year. I’m going to go out on a limb and say Djokovic-Gasquet will be one of those Australian Open epics.
The favorites for the other quarterfinal spot are Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Robin Soderling. Soderling is currently dealing with an injury and he’s also never progressed that far at the Australian. Tsonga was a finalist in 08 and a quarterfinalist in 09, going down to two worthy opponents in each (Djokovic and Verdasco). Look for the big Frenchman to do well Down Under for the third straight year.
Quarterfinal Prediction: Djokovic def Tsonga 5-7 7-6 6-4 6-3
Del Potro’s Quarter: Last year, Juan Martin del Potro made his second consecutive major quarterfinal only to fall to Federer in three sets, winning a measly three games. How quickly things change. Can del Potro now make it his second consecutive major win? I wouldn’t count on it, but I wouldn’t count it out, either. The monstrous forehand from Argentina should have no problem making his way to a second quarterfinal in Australia. The only interesting match that might come out from that side could be a second round clash between del Potro and James Blake. In his loss, Blake will wonder why his huge forehand could never carry him to a major win the way del Potro’s did for him.
There are several interesting first round match-ups in the quarter, however. Veteran German and 2003 finalist Rainer Schuettler takes on America’s next hope, Sam Querrey. Big hitting Tomas Berdych takes on a lesser known big hitter in the form of Robin Haase. Haase put on quite a display in losing to Hewitt in a 5 set tussle at Wimbledon a few years ago. Olivier Rochus should fluster Fernando Gonzalez quite a bit but won’t have enough fire power to take him out. And the soon-to-be-breakout star of 2010 Marin Cilic takes on Fabrice Santoro. Santoro is only playing here so that he can say he played a major in four different decades. Awesome Fabrice, but are you going to play to win? Knowing the retired-then-unretired-then-retired-again Santoro, I’m going to say yes. And he will give Cilic plenty of trouble.
Quarterfinal Prediction: Del Potro def Roddick 6-3 4-6 6-3 7-5
Nadal’s Quarter: Defending champion and world number 2 Rafael Nadal won’t face any problems until the third round where he can meet John Isner or Philipp Kohlschreiber. My money is on the German who put on an incredible display against Roddick in 2008. Contrary to common belief, lightning is more likely to hit the same spot than another spot. Can Kohlschreiber produce another dislpay of over 100 winners? Roddick claims that he unintentionally allowed Kohls to play lights out tennis. Luckily for the German, Nadal’s game is tailor-made for players to get into a groove and play lights out.
The intriguing first rounder in this quarter comes in the form of Radek Stepanek and Ivo Karlovic. I’m sure everyone remembers their epic clash in the Davis Cup semis last year where Stepanek withstood 78 aces to win 16-14 in the fifth. I don’t think they’ll top that but I expect the same winner. Stepanek almost came back against Roddick in their Brisbane final and is once again playing well in the beginning of the year.
There were plenty of Andy Murray fans who were worried about his ranking slipping to five and resulting in a lower seeding for the Scot, but I think things worked out pretty well. The Scot has a favorable path to his first Aussie Open quarterfinal.
Quarterfinal Prediction: Murray def Nadal 6-1 4-6 6-3 7-6
In the first semi, Federer takes on Djokovic, again. The Serb won their most recent encounter in Federer’s hometown, quite the blow. But after two grueling 5-setters, Djokovic is going to have trouble recovering enough to stop the 15-time slam champ. Everyone seems to be questioning Federer’s motivation and focus and all that junk, but I think those questions need to be redirected at Djokovic. While Federer is saying things like, “But if I am healthy this year I can win many more tournaments. And that could also get me more confident, more momentum, and even more things could also become possible – even though last year was fantastic,” Djokovic is whining, “”I played a lot of matches last year, almost a hundred matches so I, to be honest, I’m a bit fed up with the matches.” It’s no secret how much I love Novak, but that’s just unacceptable from a grand slam champion and world number 3.
Semifinal Prediction: Federer def Djokovic 6-4 3-6 7-5 6-3 (turning point in Djokovic’s career?)
In the second semi, we have the US Open champ Del Potro taking on expected-to-be-US-Open-champ-by-now Murray. Murray has never lost to the big man on hard courts and I think that’ll be enough to push him over the hump and get back into a slam final. Del Potro is the third toughest guy in the mental department on tour, but Murray has got to be the hungrier of the two at the moment. Not to mention the slower surface should also give Murray a good edge.
Semifinal Prediction: Murray def Del Potro 6-3 4-6 7-5 2-6 6-4
Since their first and only slam final to date, Federer reached the final at the next four slams. Murray went zero out of four. Immediately after their 2008 US Open clash, Murray made sure to dominate Federer as much as he could, but Federer’s been closing in lately. The Swiss claims he knows how to beat the Scot now, by being aggressive. This is no startling revelation and it’s also left Federer on the losing end more often than not. But this is a Grand Slam final and Federer is going to be determined to show everyone he’s still the best.
Final Prediction: Murray def Federer 6-3 4-6 6-2 4-6 6-3
At the US Open, Del Potro showed the world that the new era of tennis is upon us, Murray is going ton confirm that!
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