Time to set your clocks 16 hours ahead everyone, its Aussie Open time!
We are heading into this tournament with a bit of an odd feeling already, with Rafael Nadal forced to pull out, postponing his return to the tennis world, and some other highly ranked players pulling out due to injuries. The tennis world has felt a little stale since Andy Murray’s first major win at the US Open last September, but despite the lack of buildup for the first major tournament of the year in the tennis world, it is shaping up to be a very interesting few weeks in Melbourne.
Best First Round Match: Gael Monfils vs. Alexandr Dolgopolov
If you watch tennis to witness the beauty and grace of a Roger Federer one-handed backhand, this is not the match for you. Lets just say Monfils and Dolgopolov play a style of tennis that is not taught at your local racquet club. Both have great speed and power that make them fun to watch, both are aggressive almost to a fault, and both have a unique swing to say the least. There will be a lot of unforced errors in this match, but there will also be spectacular shots by these just because of how much court they both cover and the all out mentality they play with. You never know what to expect from either of these guys, so it’ll be a treat to see them on the same court against each other.
Honorable mention: Lleyton Hewitt vs. Janko Tipsarevic
Yes, Hewitt is old. And everyone thought he was going to retire at the end of last year, and at the end of the year before that too. But he’s still got something left in the tank! His run into the fourth round at Melbourne last year was one of the most entertaining parts of the tournament, and with the crowd behind him and an opponent in Tipsarevic who has never really had much success Down Under, I think he has a chance of pulling off the upset. At the very least, he’ll make it an entertaining match to watch.
Upset Alert: Jurgen Melzer
Melzer was upset in the first round of 3 of the 4 Slams last year, so it should come as no surprise that he’s on upset alert. His first round opponent, Mikhail Kukushkin, actually made a run into the fourth round of the Australian Open last year, and was involved in 2 five set matches along the way before being ousted by Andy Murray. If he beats Melzer, I think a five set match in the second round against Italian Fabio Fognini is possible, and would be a very fun match to watch.
Young Player to Watch: Jerzy Janowicz
I’m always looking to see guys make unexpected runs deep into tournaments, because the mens draw later on in Grand Slams always looks about the same. Janowicz is 22 years old and got his first experience in a Grand Slam last year, making the 3rd round of Wimbledon, but that wasn’t his most impressive feat. At the Paris Masters, he became the first unseeded man to make the finals since 2003 by beating Gilles Simon, Marin Cilic, Philipp Kohlschreiber, Janko Tipsarevic, and Andy Murray. Janowicz has only ever been a qualifier at a major, so coming in as the 24 seed is a new experience for him. He obviously has inexperience and inconsistency to work past, and he overuses the drop shot at times, but he is a very talented player. Every once and a while he will rip a winner that makes you stare in awe, and he keeps a lot of points going with his court coverage. Honestly, looking at the quarter he’s in, it isn’t the biggest stretch to see him giving Nicolas Almagro fits in the third round and possibly moving even past that match. I’m not saying he’s going to come out of that quarter, but he’s a tough, young 24 seed and is one of the budding young stars of the game.
Djokovic’s Road to a Three-peat:
At first glance, there are no real threats to knock Djokovic out before the quarterfinals. He won’t get a cakewalk in his first rounder, Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu, but he won’t be tested either. The match I’m looking forward to watching for Novak is his second rounder, potentially against American Ryan Harrison. Harrison is the talk of American tennis right now at only 20 years old with an incredible skill set. His knock in the past has been his hot headedness, but after taking a set off of Juan Martin Del Potro at the US Open and beating John Isner in Sydney this year, he seems to be maturing and moving on from that issue. Unfortunately, luck is not on his side with this early meeting with Novak, but you can bet on seeing some fireworks during that match at the very least. Until his meeting with Tomas Berdych in the quarters, there aren’t any players that will give Djokovic any trouble. And Djokovic has won 9 straight against Berdych, dating back to 2010, so I think it’s safe to say that Novak will be in the semifinals once again.
The Ageless Wonder: Roger Federer’s Draw
Seriously, this guy must have found the fountain of youth or something. After appearing in only one major final in 9 tournaments from 2010-2012, Federer broke his championship drought with a Wimbledon victory last year after everyone thought that his illustrious career might have finally been coming to an end. And now we’ve reached the encore performance by the Swiss Maestro. Federer faces talented, but inconsistent, opponents in his first few rounds, the type of players that he dispatches without hesitation. His fourth round matchup will be much more interesting, because it will likely be against either the German serving machine Philipp Kohlschreiber, or the 20 year old Canadian phenom Milos Raonic. Raonic has struggled recently, but he had an impressive Australian Open last year and his big serve is one of the best in the game. Assuming that Federer gets past that slight test in the fourth round, he will likely meet former Aussie Open finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Tsonga is a ton of fun to watch, and his 4th round match against Richard Gasquet will be an entertaining one, but he has come up just short in matches like this against Federer in the past, and I don’t see reason to believe history won’t repeat itself.
Great Britain Finally Has a Champ:
The transformation over the past year for Andy Murray from British hothead that couldn’t quite keep up with the big boys, to the gold medalist and US Open champion has been incredible to watch. When he came up just short at Wimbledon and finally broke down, letting everyone see the amount of pressure that was put on him being the only hope of an entire nation of people, he turned a corner. He was so close to victory he could taste it, and since then has without a doubt been the most impressive player on the ATP tour. Of course, his draw is a challenging one. His tournament starts with Robin Haase, a Dutchman with a big forehand and a bigger serve. Haase will make Murray work for it, as he has in the past, but Murray will move on. He shouldn’t face another challenge until his quarterfinal match, but that one is a real treat for us all. If all goes according to plan, Murray will square off against Juan Martin del Potro, who admittedly has not been as successful over the last few years as expected since he won the US Open in 2009, but boy is he talented. That will be one of the best matches of the tournament and I cannot wait to watch it. The result will all depend on Murray keeping his composure and staying confident; as long as he doesn’t get down on himself, Murray should make it past del Potro and into the semifinals.
David Ferrer: The ‘Other’ Top Seed:
With Rafa out, David Ferrer becomes the fourth seed at the Australian Open, and honestly, he deserves a lot more mention than he gets. Everyone talks about the now “big four” with Novak, Roger, Rafa, and Murray, but then the attention goes to the del Potro’s and Tsonga’s of the world, and then the young up and coming players like Milos Raonic. At 30 years old, David Ferrer is getting up there in age for a tennis player, so he doesn’t have much time left in his career to finally make that elusive Grand Slam final, but he has absolutely gotten better with age and he has been most successful at the Australian Open over the course of his career. Ferrer’s draw is a favorable one too, possibly a frustrating match against big server Ivo Karlovic in the second round, but he should be able to get past Karlovic, and what could be another fun match to watch in the third round against Marcos Baghdatis. But nobody in Ferrer’s draw has much experience going deep in Grand Slams, with Janko Tipsarevic and Nicolas Almagro as the highest seeds in his quarter. I think Ferrer cruises through his portion of the draw, and into the semifinals without much to worry about.
This Year’s Champion Will Be…
Novak Djokovic. Yes, I picked chalk for the most part this year, and I hate it. But the top seeds have distanced themselves from the pack on the ATP tour and I don’t see a diamond in the rough making a deep run in the Aussie Open. I would LOVE to see a guy like Milos Raonic pound his way into the semifinals, but he has no momentum coming in and isn’t consistent enough for me to expect much of. But Novak has been unreal over the last few years. He’s made 7 of the past 9 Grand Slam finals, won 4 of those, and has won back to back Aussie Opens. The smart money is on Djokovic, who I have beating Andy Murray in the finals this year. And I honestly do hope that I’m wrong and that all of my picks are ruined by upsets, because tennis is severely lacking in parity.
I will be watching every minute of this tournament that I can, and that includes the bizarre hours that I will need to keep in accomplishing that. And you can bet that I’ll be tweeting away updates on my predictions and observations as the tournament unfolds, so follow me @PF_Flyers14 if you want more on this year’s Australian Open!