The countdown is on. We are just five days Australia time from the start of the first Grand Slam of the tennis season, and less than three from the release of the tournament main draws. Unfortunately, injuries remain a deep concern but the good news is Roger Federer’s back is much better and even Serena Williams is practicing again.
While Federer appears to back in good spirits, Rafael Nadal, who was blown out by Gael Monfils, is still unsettled.
“I see myself capable of having a good tournament but you never know,” Nadal said to AFP. “I am happy with the level of my game, of how I am doing things and I think I am sowing seeds that will bear fruit. But maybe not in Australia.”
“Maybe not in Australia”? If not Australia, when Rafa? Indian Wells?? Clearly, Nadal is lowering expectations, as if there were any with his bad shoulder.
As for Andy Murray, he made a nice start with new coach Ivan Lendl winning Brisbane over the weekend. And with that title the English-speaking media will no doubt hype up the new partnership and his alleged new outlook. In that case I’ll reserve judgement until I see Murray/Lendl operate on the biggest of stages.
And just where has Novak Djokovic been? After roaring through some practice sets at the Abu Dhabi exo the Serb has been out of the spotlight perhaps solely focused on defending his Australian Open title. And it’s a big one and he’s got to know it. Djokovic just hasn’t been the same player since the US Open and if he fails to win in Melbourne I think that could really open the door for Nadal, Federer or someone else to dethrone him at the top spot.
If Djokovic can get back on top, then just like last year, he could catch fire and run the table once again. Confidence is huge in tennis and the player who as the most often wins.
Djokovic will of course be the top seed when the Australian draw come out Thursday night (8pm ET?). Based on seedings Novak will be placed with either Federer or Murray in his half with Nadal getting with the other.
Novak’s had success against both as has Nadal. But with Nadal ailing the obivous choice for Federer/Murray is to land Nadal’s side.
And then there’s JW Tsonga. The Frenchman continued his strong 2011 finish by impressively winning his opening event in Doha. And we know Tsonga can play well in Melbourne. Seeded 6th, Tsonga will be drawn to play one of the “Fab Four” in the quarterfinals, but who? That could very well be the determining factor in who wins the Australian Open.
Tonight in Sydney the warmups continue. Everbody’s “X-Factor”, Juan Martin Del Potro, opens his 2012 season against Lukas Kubot. If the conditions are right – not too hot, not too cold – and the draw favorable I really think Del Potro has a good shot in Melbourne. Before then he’s the top seed this week at a weak Sydney men’s field. Second-seeded John Isner is also playing tonight.
And in the women’s draw top ranked Caroline Wozniacki and Petra Kvitova continue their tug of war for No. 1. Yesterday both girls won tough three setters. Tonight, Kvitova faces Daniela Hantuchova while the Dane gets good friend Aggie Radwanska. Kvitova will overtake Wozniacki for the No. 1 ranking if she wins the title. If she doesn’t she’ll likely get it during the Australian Open.
A boat ride away in Auckland, soon-to-be Top 20 (18 months?) Ryan Harrison ousted Sam Querrey yesterday. Ryan is back on later today along with top seed David Ferrer and Fernando Verdasco.
SYDNEY WEDNESDAY SCHEDULE
CENTRE COURT start 12:00 noon
 J Del Potro (ARG) vs L Kubot (POL) – ATP
M Baghdatis (CYP) vs [WC] M Ebden (AUS) – ATP
 V Azarenka (BLR) vs  M Bartoli (FRA)
Not Before 7:30 PM
D Hantuchova (SVK) vs  P Kvitova (CZE) – WTA
 C Wozniacki (DEN) vs  A Radwanska (POL) – WTA
COURT 1 start 11:00 am
[Q] B Reynolds (USA) vs  J Isner (USA) – ATP
F Fognini (ITA) vs  R Gasquet (FRA) – ATP
L Safarova (CZE) vs  N Li (CHN) – WTA
A Bogomolov Jr. (RUS) vs  V Troicki (SRB)
[WC] L Safarova (CZE) / V Zvonareva (RUS) vs  L Huber (USA) / L Raymond (USA) – WTA
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Andy Murray Got Drug Tested, Then Met Prince William [Video]
Azarenka, Serena, Sharapova Battle In Istanbul For No. 1 Ranking, Player Of The Year Honors
WTA Cincinnati Preview: All Eyes on Serena Williams; Venus and Clijsters Out
Serena Williams Victorious In Return At Brisbane; Andy Murray Debuts Today [Video]