Handicapping the Australian Open Field
by Dan Martin | January 16th, 2010, 11:14 am
  • 34 Comments

I grew up in horse racing country where pedigree and form make a favorite and where momentum and luck might reward a long shot. If this event were a 128 person race rather than seven single elimination matches, long shots might have a better chance. Still, 2010 looks to be a year where players outside of the top 3 may have better than imaginary chances at the title.

Before seeing the draw, I divided the odds for the men’s field was as follows:

Chances of Victory: Federer – 15%, Nadal 15%, Djokovic 15%, Del Potro 10%, Murray 10%, Davydenko 10%, Roddick 10%, and the Field (including the likes of Soderling, Verdasco, Cilic, Chardy, and Tsonga) 15%

After seeing the draw, I would not shift any single player more than a few percentage points. The top 10 has the most parity that I have seen at the start of a year since either 2002 or 2003. In January 2004, it was a smart bet that Roger Federer, who won the 2003 Masters Cup convincingly, would soon ascend to the top of the sport. Who the smart bet to finish 2010 at #1 is is not so clear.

My standards for predicting the field revolve around two questions:

1. Does a given player have the game and nerve to win seven consecutive three out of five set matches?

2. How many tough matches might a player have to win in order to take the title?

Question one led me to specifically name Marin Cilic, Robin Soderling, Fernando Verdasco, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Jeremy Chardy of the 121 players linked together to form the field. Each seems to posses a realistic even if unlikely chance at putting together seven big matches. In the cases of Cilic and Chardy, I argue that a talented young player can sometimes transform during an event a la Pete Sampras or Marat Safin’s initial U. S. Open title runs. Players such as David Ferrer or Lleyton Hewitt may have enough consistency to be a threat in any single round while not possessing enough heft to have much of a chance at winning the title. The draw is not so wide open as to invite a Thomas Johansson type winner in 2010.

Question two is draw specific, and I will briefly look at how the draw shakes out for our top four seeds:

Roger Federer may get a tough challenge before the round of 16, but it is possible that Roger will have to play Hewitt or Baghdatis in the fourth round before then potentially facing either Nikolay Davydenko or Fernando Verdasco just to reach a potential semifinal date with Novak Djokovic or Robin Soderling. Gilles Simon, 2-0 versus Federer, withdrawing helps Roger, but I think the prospect of having to play one or two gut check opponents before having to play his “A game” for three consecutive matches to take the title is not ideal.

Novak Djokovic gets a pretty solid draw. Jeremy Chardy in the third round is not an easy match, but it is a match that Novak should win. If they face off in the round of sixteen, Tommy Robredo will make Novak earn it physically, but Novak’s road to the quarters is not terribly daunting. Soderling or Tsonga in the quarters will not be easy, but Nole avoids Roddick and Murray who have won a combined six straight versus the World #3. If one wants to pick a surprise quarterfinal opponent for Novak, look no further than fellow Serb Janko Tipsarevic. Tipsy has enough nerve to potentially out steady the big punchers in his portion of the draw. If Novak faces Mr. Momentum Nikolay Davydenko in the semifinals, it would be good to remember that Novak was the only player to defeat Nikolay at the 2009 season finale. Along with Chardy, asthma problems may be the only foe powerful enough to keep Novak out of the quarterfinal round.

Juan Martin del Potro has a pretty straightforward draw to the quarterfinal round. James Blake could bother him in the second round, especially if it is a day match and heat becomes an issue for the lanky Argentine. I know René LaCoste was called The Crocodile, but until he proves otherwise I think the JMDP’s game is a bit like a crocodile. Each possesses explosive power that can crush their target, but both lack stamina. If Marin Cilic can navigate a few wily veterans, Del Potro and Cilic will have a rematch of their 2009 U.S. Open quarterfinal clash. Cilic reached his first Grand Slam quarterfinal and posted wins over Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal in the last six months. The Croatian just won a tournament and should be full of confidence. The 6’6” Cilic versus the 6’6” (or taller) Del Potro ought to be a battle worth watching. Andy Roddick has a decent draw to reach Del Potro or Cilic in the quarterfinals. Fernando Gonzalez always has a puncher’s chance and may want to show Larry Stefanki he made a mistake to jump ship and become Andy Roddick’s coach. Still, I expect Roddick likes his draw and hopes Cilic and Del Potro go five sets before deciding who his quarterfinal opponent will be.

Rafael Nadal is the second seed and defending champion. He showed signs of his form returning at Qatar. Still, this draw is not ideal. The first two rounds look pretty good. Philipp Kohlschreiber could pose a few challenges in the third round. Ivo Karlovic and Radek Stepanek face off in the first round and the winner is a good bet to face Rafa in the fourth round. I don’t think either can beat Nadal in a five set match. So far so good? Well, Andy Murray is slated to face Nadal in the quarterfinal round. Murray was #2 in the world as recently as September, 2009. Murray has been an enigma as some have tabbed him to be the next number one while others point to his lack of aggression hurting his chances to ever win a Grand Slam as longer matches and events give aggressive players more time to find their range. Still, Murray has a great return of serve and his less than aggressive style of play will likely force Rafa into a lot of long points. Nadal could lose to Murray outright, but if he doesn’t, he will need to win quickly lest a long match with multiple service breaks sap him of the strength and confidence he will need to face Juan Martin del Potro in the semifinals. If Nadal can dispatch Murray efficiently and if Roddick or Cilic take out Del Potro, Nadal has a pretty good draw. As an aside, I think Rafa would likely prefer Roddick to Cilic in the semis while Roddick would prefer to face Murray. Still, if the seeds hold up Nadal will have to play his “A game” twice just to reach the final again where Federer, Djokovic or Davydenko may be waiting for him.

Barring major upsets, I think the players coming through Djokovic and Del Potro’s quarters of the draw will be slightly more ready for the grind of the semifinal and championship matches. My guess is that in those honest moments before falling to sleep most of the top eight seeds would prefer a different draw. Regardless, I think the player who benefits from an upset or two will be the player to watch on the final weekend.

My final selection is not easy. Djokovic and Del Potro jump out at me as finalists, but health and stamina issues are not easy to ignore given the Australian heat. Andy Murray, who might have overplayed last year, has kept quiet since September, 2009. Maybe this tactic will leave him rested enough to go the distance or maybe it was an over correction that will leave him short on confidence and match toughness. Roger and Rafa have had some patchy results as of late. Therefore, I tentatively pick Novak Djokovic to win his second Australian Open title with a four set victory over Juan Martin del Potro. One thing I know is that men’s tennis needs to go back to two power system of the 2005-2009 so analysts can look smart.

As for the women’s draw, expect Serena Williams to reach the semifinals. There Caroline Wozniacki or Venus Williams will be waiting. Venus has not been great anywhere other than Wimbledon for several years, but maybe this draw is soft enough to regain some momentum. Kim Clijsters, Justine Henin, Elena Dementieva or Yanina Wickmayer could each reach the semifinal round in a quarter that actually has more depth than a Twilight Saga film (yes, that was a shot at the poor quality of women’s tennis over the past few years). Depending on physical and mental health, Jelena Jankovic, Dinara Safina, or Maria Sharapova could claim the last semifinal spot. I’d love to see an unexpected player somehow win this event, but my gut says Serena Williams defeats either Kim Clijsters or Justine Henin in two tough sets to claim the title.


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34 Comments for Handicapping the Australian Open Field

Kimo Says:

Ivo and Radek again? Sheesh!!!

I think the draw is pretty fair on both Roger’s and Rafa’s sides.

I think either Delpo or Djoko can reach the final, but I’d be very surprised if both did.


Cindy_Brady Says:

I see no reason why Del Potro can’t win the whole thing. He now knows “the taste” of winning a grand slam and what it takes to do it. Even down against the great Federer at Flushing Meadows he didn’t give up. He hung tough and wore Federer down.

Daveydenko should be incredibly confident but I still think Federer will win this time should they meet in the quarters.

Not crazy about either Nadal or Djokovic’s chances. Djokovic’s been lacking confidence lately and Nadal’s game clearly isn’t what it was at this time last year. Both have much to prove.

Until Murray steps up and lives up to expectations and wins a slam, I’m not picking him. He’s the Phil Mickleson of tennis right now.

Seems like a dark horse always emerges at the AO from out of the blue. Wonder who it might be this year.

Overall, the event is wide open. Is there a “Brian Teacher” out there in the field waiting to surprise everyone?


Kimmi Says:

Simon was troubled by knees (tendinitis?) from the time I watched him play in Cincy last year. He continued to play almost every tournament till end of the year. He might have done himself more bad than good.


Cindy_Brady Says:

I agree Kimmi,

Don’t know who was giving Simon advice, but it was bad advice. Playing through tendinitis doesn’t generally work. The best remedy is rest. At the very least, he should have scaled back his schedule.

Now the result is a ruined 2010 for him. Good Grief!


Tennis online Says:

Hope this year Davydenko will start to win Grand Slams, Roddick also has a good chance.


jane Says:

Dan says ” in a quarter that actually has more depth than a Twilight Saga film (yes, that was a shot at the poor quality of women’s tennis over the past few years)”

Ha-ha – thought that was a shot a Meyers writing. Not too deep itself. lol.

I liked reading your break down of the draw. I have no clue who’ll win. The reasons for doubting and supporting people – health, confidence, non-confidence, match ups, weather, stamina, patchiness – they all make sense, which only serves to make me more confused.

Guess I will just sit back and watch.


Cindy_Brady Says:

Jane,

I’m with you. It’s wide open. Anyone’s slam to win this year.


jane Says:

Fed, Novak, Andy R and some of the ladies are doing a “Hit for Haiti” charity event at the Melbourne Park today. Good for them!

http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/sport/2010/01/17/1247ec564623


Cindy_Brady Says:

Fantastic of them to help the poor souls of Haiti. Personally, I donated $500 to help. Wish I could do more. Those people need help!!


Mike Swanquis Says:

Depending on how his knees hold up, Andreev in Round 1 could be Federer’s toughest challenge until the quarters. As for Chardy, I agree he’s very dangerous, but I also agree the Aussie plays too slow for him to knock off Djokovic.

And didn’t Santoro retire? WTF?! This “tearful year-long retirement tour, only to come back and play the next season” spiel is starting to get old.


Fot Says:

Here’s more on the special event:

ROGER FEDERER

Q. Can you tell us more about what you’re doing for the people of Haiti tomorrow.

ROGER FEDERER: I had the idea that we could do something, you know, to help Haiti after the tragic earthquake. So I spoke to some other top players. I got some connections, you know (smiling). They all said, Yes, we should do something.

So we’re going to play doubles or mixed doubles tomorrow, also with top women’s players, try to fill the stadium. This is where you guys can help. Maybe put it out in the press. I think there will be a donation at the door of $10 to come and see us play.

I think it’s something as a tennis family we’re very happy to do. I know it’s on the eve of the first Grand Slam of the season, so it’s for some not so easy maybe mentally to separate, you know, a few things. But I think it’s a great initiative.

Happy we can go through it, have some fun tomorrow. Maybe nice day also for families to come and see some top players play.

Q. Chosen your partner yet?

ROGER FEDERER: I haven’t chosen yet. I’ll pick wisely (smiling).


Kimmi Says:

Interesting look about the OZ Open gear for NIKE players.

click on the name to see the details.

http://ozlookbook.nikemedia.com/#


Dan Martin Says:

Jane yeah it was a shot at the books and movie franchise as well. :)

I think this is a really odd event. I think each of the top four would rather have Soderling in their quarter as he has a great first plan in a match, but I am not sure how much he can adapt if that plan is not working. Murray and Roddick would each have been bad for Nole in the quarters based on recent head to heads so Nole gets the ideal quarterfinal opponent who may not get past players such as Tsonga anyway. Nole would probably have preferred Nadal in the semi to Federer based upon the 08 and 09 U.S. Opens. I think Federer would have liked Soderling in the quarters and then Novak in the semis so he like Nole got 1/2 his wish. Nadal actually has a good draw to the final minus needing to on paper beat Murray and JMDP. The first 3 – 4 matches look routine to Rafa now that Isner has shifted in the draw. JMDP probably feels pretty good versus Roddick, but in a 3 of 5 set match Roddick is apt to be more fit. It is a great draw with a lot of nice potential stories.


Dan Martin Says:

Oh yeah Azarenka is the only real obstacle Serena has to the semi.


Ben Pronin Says:

“JMDP probably feels pretty good versus Roddick, but in a 3 of 5 set match Roddick is apt to be more fit.”

This is what, at least I, thought when JMDP played Nadal and then Federer at the US Open. If he can take Federer out in 5, then he can take Roddick out in 5. He might not have to go 5 though. All 3 of these guys are more fit than JMDP but his game allows him to not worry as much. If he’s playing close to or equal to his best, then he’s able to finish points quickly and not get dragged into exhausting rallies.


Kimmi Says:

If anyone interested, live streaming for “Hit for Haiti”

http://www.australianopen.com/en_AU/scores/hitforhaiti.html?fpos=r1


jane Says:

Thanks Kimmi – am watching Novak play the 4th lady a.t.m. LOL.


Kimmi Says:

yes, jane..its funny. I have been laughing a lot


jane Says:

Novak – what a goof, with the towel in his pants/shirt. Some fun volleying at the net.


Kimmi Says:

jane, do you think serena had an injury couple of days ago in sydney? she is moving pretty well…


jane Says:

She is moving well, and she looks really fit too. Honestly, I think she looks good right now, slim and ready to go, not injured. I also think the bangs suit her face nicely. Rafa is funny “I feel confident now.” And the Fed/ Kim rally was fun too. They’re all clearly having fun hamming it up. Now Fed is telling them Rafa’s game plan. Rafa tells Kim to go to Fed’s backhand. LOL.


jane Says:

Now they’re playing triples. Fed/Serena/Sam vs. Novak/Rafa/Kim. Hilarious.


Kimmi Says:

yeah its funny. Roddick and hewitt were there in the beginning but then they left. Rafa and kim play tomorrow, they should not get too tired.


Kimmi Says:

LOL..they realise the match will not end..they stop it.


Bjorn Borg Says:

I like most of Dan’s predictions, esp. he has Del Potro in the final. A quarter final spot would have earned Dan my thank you.
I just “believe,” if Del Potro reaches the quarter, it will be hard to stop him, no matter who it is on the other side of the net and how well he is playing on that day. So, if you don’t like the Argentine, pray he does not get there. If he does, he won’t hesitate to take the 2nd major title. That’s just my conviction.


sar Says:

I didn’t see it but heard that they brought in Tomic AFTER Hewitt left. Guess Tomic and his dad don’t like Hewitt.

Also, why didn’t Fed bring in Murray?


Dan Martin Says:

Ben, I think the heat down under is something JMDP will have issues with in any day match that gets extended.


sar Says:

JJ to enter doubles draw with Shenay Perry. I think she needs doubles play. Bravo!


Bjorn Borg Says:

Dan,
Sure, JMDP has never lived in a hot place. He comes from Tandil of Antarctica, not Argentina. But you got one thing right: Antarctica, Argentina and Australia are in the southern hemisphere, where summer is December 21 to March 21. In Tandil, the average high temp. in February is 90+ this year. The hottest season is similar to Australia’s: Nov. through Mar. Can you enlighten us why JMDP, not players from cold Europe, will have issues with the heat down under?


Dan Martin Says:

I think the thing with JMDP is not about country of origin as much as it is about his height. Taller players can have all sorts of joint and ligament issues that might make certain cross training harder to indulge in than the prototypical 6’1″ player. JMDP could get into Iron Man shape only to have a knee or hip bother his stroke production. I thought it was brilliant that he skipped Cincinnati last year when he was clearly gassed after winning DC and going to the final in Canada. The two weeks of rest plus days off between matches in NY helped him take home the big trophy. I live in Ohio and covered the Cincinnati event and would have loved to have seen him play, but he made the right move. JMDP looked tired against Federer in Paris. For the record, JMDP is my second favorite active player in the world. I just think the sort of drills a lot of players use to get into great shape are not as practical for a 6’6″ (or more) person.


Andrew Miller Says:

I think predictions are off because of one fact: if the top ten are as strong as ever, that means #11 to #50 are as strong as ever.

Look for upsets to smooth paths for a few of these guys. Australia is great because it rewards people that worked hard in the off-season – those guys now look like Del Potro, Davydenko, Roddick, Nadal, Federer, Cilic. Isner may surprise again – he loves hard courts. Baghdatis should play well but he’s a wildcard.

Everyone else is either not playing that well or not in good enough shape. Australia is about the grind and only a few players will make it through.

I put my chips on Roddick here – he looks ready to take care of business; he can beat the big guys and hang with the small guys. Unless he gets ousted before the round of 16.

Again, this tournament is going to be about upsets – lots of them.


Dan Martin Says:

Andrew I think you are correct. The player whose draw gets cleared the most will only have to go to the well once or twice to take the title. A player whose draw holds to form may have to play 4 great matches to win the event. It is possible to play great 4 times, but I’d bet on the guy who only has to do it twice.


izlesene Says:

Australia is great because it rewards people that worked hard in the off-season – those guys now look like Del Potro, Davydenko, Roddick, Nadal, Federer, Cilic. Isner may surprise again

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