Off-season, shmoff-season. As a fan, the return of the Australian Open is exciting, but let's face it: If there's one Grand Slam that can be iffy in terms of results, it's this one. There's no time for players to recover from major injuries or not enough time for them to play themselves into shape. Although for players like defending champ Serena Williams, that might not be too much of a problem. Anyway, the Aussie Open preview rundown:
1. Roger Federer: What can be said about Roger that hasn't already been said? "Federer's a hack!" That's right, and he won't win the Australian Open! No, I mean that part. And, no, you can't have any of what I'm smoking.
2. Rafael Nadal: Nope. For someone who's been ranked No. 2 for forever, it's starting to seem as though Nadal has plateaued. Injuries have been a major part of the story for him, and if he can't stay healthy and fit, it doesn't matter how talented his is. He's been having trouble of late beating folks like Carlos Moya, for cryin' out loud. A 6-0, 6-1 loss to Mikhail Youzhny in his last tournament final? I'm not saying Nadal is washed up. I'm saying he does a great beached whale imitation.
3. Novak Djokovic: He's funny as hell, but he's probably not laughing about that U.S. Open final. He showed, though, that he's ready to be a threat at the majors. Assuming he's learned something about coping with that big-match pressure, I think he's going to be dangerous.
4. Nikolay Davydenko: Before we get into Davydenko's chances for the Aussie, check out his comments about the never-ending gambling probe. "Maybe they just found one tennis player who they want to remove from the world's top 10. Maybe there is someone below me in the rankings who is more popular and they want to increase his popularity."
He really said that. If he's not a gambler, he certainly is delusional as all hell.
Anyway, Davydenko's in Nadal's half, which is the one without Federer, so that's good. However, his results have been spotty since Gamblegate, so I wouldn't expect much. A loss to Youzhny in the fourth round, perhaps.
5. David Ferrer: He wrapped last year in style, waxing the likes of Nadal, Nalbandian and Djokovic. Is he consistent enough to navigate his quarter of the draw, which includes Djokovic, Nalbandian, Andy Roddick and Lleyton Hewitt? We shall see.
6. Andy Roddick: Look, when you think semifinals, let alone finals, of Grand Slams, you don't think Roddick. Unless it's the French Open, when you're thinking first round. Or qualifying. It's a little surprising, but even with Jimmy Connors aboard, Roddick has made little headway against the top 5. As in, none. Well, except Davydenko. Anyway, it's a little like watching a bird trying to fly with a broken wing. Just goes to show: If you've got heart and little else, sometimes you just land on your ass.
7. Fernando Gonzalez: Anyone who thinks Gonzalez could ever beat Federer again needs to stay out of my stash. 2007 was pretty hit-and-miss for Gonzalez and while you can't help but get confidence out of beating the world No. 1, I think there's a lot more miss ahead for the flaky Gonzo. Although a fourth-round battle of the flakiest, between Gonzo and James Blake could be entertaining. Or really bad.
8. Richard Gasquet: Tough player, but inconsistent. Last year's Wimbledon campaign was impressive, but he needs to stay healthy and become a consistent threat at Slams. Not really seeing it here, though. But I think he's going to make Murray wish he had a coach in the fourth round.
9. Andy Murray: Speaking of ... You know it's bad news for you, Brad Gilbert, when your boy admits to listening to you only sometimes. That's the point when you break out the classifieds. It is interesting however, that whenever Gilbert is canned, that player appears to tank. Of course, there's Roddick and I count Agassi as well, although he was already 74 when he fired Gilbert. A curse is a curse. Back to Andy: I think he'll be all right. I expect a little tussle between he and Gasquet in the fourth round, and I'm tagging Murray, for the semifinals, too. Keep your head up, Andy. Jimmy Connors might be free any day now.
10. David Nalbandian: If it weren't for the injuries, we'd be talking about a Slam winner, methinks. He's not really flashy. He's got a great economic, meat-and-potatoes game. I'd like to pick him for a finals appearance here, but his spazzy back might prevent him from showing up at all.
Bringing up the rear:
12. James Blake: O, how the flaky have fallen! One second, the Selsun Blue spokesman's challenging the very best in the world, and the next, he's losing first round matches to Fabrice Santoro in baby tournaments. It's probably crazy to expect him to make the quarters. But you've got to think he can beat Ljubicic in round 3, right? Right?
14. Mikhail Youzhny: It's not Davydenko's quarter. It's Youzhny's quarter. What's he going to do with it?
19. Lleyton Hewitt: Remember what I said about having a lot of heart and little else?
Fabrice Santoro: I know it'll never happen, but I want Fabrice Santoro to win a Grand Slam. Just one. (TiVo that second round between he and Federer.)
I Can't Believe They're Still Seeded!
Ivan Ljubicic (17)
Juan Carlos Ferrero (22)
The way it'll go down:
Quarters: Federer v. Blake, Djokovic v. Nalbandian, Murray v. Youzhny, Roddick v. Nadal
Semis: Federer v. Djokovic, Murray v. Nadal
Final: Djokovic v. Murray
1. Justine Henin: No man problems now. Watch out, girls.
2. Svetlana Kuznetsova: She's not a glamorous player, but she's been clawing her way back to the top of the game over the last year. She's a much better player than she was when she won her major. She's going to roll to the semis -- at least. She'd have to have the edge, whether she plays Venus Williams or Ana Ivanovic.
3. Jelena Jankovic: Sounds like Jankovic: It's Jan. 12, and she's already dealing with an injury. She's got a nice draw, though. Anytime you're in the same quarter with Amelie Mauresmo, you've got to like your chances.
4. Ana Ivanovic: Maybe she's figured out how to beat Venus in her offseason.
5. Maria Sharapova: Her seemingly endless streak of cushy draws has finally ended. Second round: Lindsay Davenport.
6. Anna Chakvetadze: You know, if I'd been a victim of a home invasion, I would not be in the mindset to play tennis. So props to Chakvetadze for showing up. She looks to have a good chance to make the quarters.
7. Serena Williams: The buzz on Serena is the fact that she's looking fit, which should be a given for any pro athlete, but whatever. Maybe those losses to Henin last year finally gave her the kick she needed. Anyway, she's going to need that newfound fitness, because she's got a nasty draw. The third round could be a battle with Victoria Azarenka, who made waves last year by beating Hingis at the U.S. Open last year. Then there's Nicole Vaidisova and Jankovic. That's just to get to Henin.
8. Venus Williams: She's got a spotty Australian Open history, but her draw's not bad. She could ride the likes of Marion Bartoli and Ana Ivanovic to the semis.
9. Daniela Hantuchova: I still think she needs a burger, and none of that vegan crap, either. She's been playing well lately, but is missing that Grand Slam success. That's why I'd give Chakvetadze the edge should they meet in the 4th round.
10. Marion Bartoli: C'mon, Marion. You have got to learn to share your food. Don't you realize there are tennis players starving in Slovakia? Unless Pierce Brosnan shows up, I wouldn't expect much from Bartoli. Quarterfinals loss to Venus will probably be the end of road for her.
Bringing up the rear:
11. Elena Dementieva: Always hanging around, despite that serve. She could give Sharapova or Davenport trouble in the fourth round.
13. Tatiana Golovin: I feel like I've been saying this for a while, but it's time for a Golovin breakthrough. That's going to be a little difficult with Henin lurking in the fourth round.
18. Amelie Mauresmo: I see a third-round loss to Patty Schnyder and an angst-ridden post conference in Mauresmo's future. I swear, I have never seen anyone react as badly to winning two Grand Slams than Mauresmo.
20. Agnes Szavay: Miss Thing generated a lot of buzz last year. Will she make more noise? I can tell you that Nadia Petrova's not going to be happy to see her in round three. Neither will Kuznetsova in round four.
Lindsay Davenport: True, she has played some small tournaments, but she's been beating the players she's supposed to -- and convincingly. You can't say that all the time about women's tennis. Since she's been back, she's split matches with Jankovic, and beaten Hantuchova. Might sound crazy, but I think she could beat Sharapova.
I Can't Believe They're Still Seeded!
Nadia Petrova (14)
Patty Schnyder (15)
Virginie Razzano (30)
The way it'll go down:
Quarters: Henin v. Davenport (yup.), Jankovic v. Vaidisova, V. Williams v. Ivanovic, Chakvetadze v. Kuznetsova (say that three times fast)
Semifinals: Henin v. Jankovic, Venus v. Kuznetsova
Final: Henin v. Kuznetsova
Winner: Don't make me say it.