Will there be a “Rafa Slam” in two weeks time with Rafael Nadal winning his fourth straight Major title? Will Roger Federer defend his 2010 title? Or will it be someone else holding up the first Slam of the year?
The draw for the 2011 Australian Open was released about an hour ago and here are the highlights.
In Nadal’s top quarter, Rafa could meet friend Feliciano Lopez in the third round with a date against either Marin Cilic or John Isner in round four – given Cilic’s frighting play of late I think Isner will be the guy. In the quarterfinals I think I will lean right now to the winner of the Lleyton Hewitt-David Nalbandian first round showdown which is the best match on the board. David Ferrer is also lurking and will be a test in the third round.
Nadal also landed Robin Soderling and Andy Murray in his half. The No. 4 and 5 seeds are on the bookends of the second quarter and they both have favorable draws. Murray’s draw is extremely soft with a banged up Marcos Baghdatis, an unproven Juan Martin Del Potro and a so-so Jurgen Melzer as possible obstacles. Soderling’s got the tougher end with the streaky tandem of Ernests Gulbis and/or JW Tsonga. Right now it looks like a Murray-Soderling quarterfinals but Tsonga could catch fire and surprise.
While the top half is loaded with three of the Top 5 plus former finalists Baghdatis and Tsonga, the bottom 64 is equally as tough with Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Andy Roddick.
Djokovic may have the best quarter and easiest road to the SF of any of the top four. The Serb could get a US Open rematch against his countryman Viktor Troicki in the third round, then I’ll say Nicolas Almagro in the 16s with Nikolay Davydenko in the quarterfinals. Davydenko, to me, is the top pick right now of a pretty open quarter that features Tomas Berdych, Fernando Verdasco and Richard Gasquet. For someone, there’s a great opportunity to play Djokovic in the quarters, who’ll step up?
Federer’s section looks good early (though Simon and Montanes have wins against the Swiss) but then he could get American Mardy Fish in the fourth with either Andy Roddick or Gael Monfils in the quarterfinals. Fish and Monfils, who I think will emerge, both have wins over Federer on a hard court. Still Federer has to be encouraged by his draw with really no single super troublesome player to worry about.
So the semifinals by seeds look like: 1. Nadal v. 4. Soderling, 3. Djokovic v. 2. Federer.
The quarterfinal pairings: 1. Nadal v. 7. Ferrer, 4. Soderling v. 5. Murray, 6. Berdych v. 3. Djokovic, 8. Roddick v. 2. Federer.
Among the better first round matches (and there’s a bunch!): Hewitt v. Nalbandian, Monfils v. de Bakker, Troicki v. Tursunov, Fognini v. Nishikori, Chardy v. Tomic, del Potro v. Sela.
Overall, I think the draw is fairly balanced. Nadal’s looks easy however Isner or Cilic could give him problems and then there’s that Nalbandian X-factor. The second quarter could see Soderling, Murray or even Tsonga emerge. Djokovic looks great in that third quadrant while Federer could get tested late in his quarter.
So all the top guys should have an obstacle or two in their way to the semifinals.
As for my pick, right how it’s Federer beating Djokovic in the semifinals and then winning the title over any one of Tsonga, Nadal, Murray or Soderling. I’m not sure of who just yet!
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