Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Aussie Open preview

Let's do this!

1. Rafael Nadal: Very suspect preparation for this tournament (three matches), especially considering that he ended '08 with an injury. The draw won't be altogether helpful if he's feeling any rust. There's Dmitry Tursunov, Richard Gasquet -- and the guy who just beat Nadal a week or so ago, Gael Monfils. However, Nadal is basically awesome. There is that factor.
2. Roger Federer: Here's something I didn't know: Apparently, having previously been world No. 1 gives you the ability the determine who can win a major. Federer seems amazed that anyone would pick Andy Murray as the favorite. There seems some hesitance on his part to let Murray into the club. Could he be a bit touchy about his own tenuous membership of that club?
Federer, of course, is always a strong competitor. He saved his season last year by winning the U.S. Open, but he comes to Australia still with a lot to prove. He mainly needs to prove he can hang with everyone else in the club. The ones will full privileges, that is. Such as Novak Djokovic, who he might face in the semifinals. If he's not careful, Fed's going to have to count all the way to three to get to his ranking come French Open time. (Which would be just what he needs for that tournament.)
3. Novak Djokovic: The reigning champion seems to have been rewarded with a sweet draw. Looks like the second best player in his quarter would be David Nalbandian. To defend his title, though, he'd probably have to beat Federer in the semifinals. As we discussed, Fed might have a slight chip on his shoulder. Plus, no mono.
4. Andy Murray: I wish Murray would lose again in the first round of this tournament. Because that would mean you'd have to lose to Andrei Pavel. Pavel's no slouch, but he's not really Jo-Jo Tsonga, either. It'd be hard for Murray not to find some confidence in his 2008, even though it took some time for him to warm up.
You know, George W. Bush once said, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice ... eh, heh, heh ... y'can't fool me twice!" Wise words indeed. I only mention this because I chose Murray to make the semis last year, and this year, I've gone a bit further. Read on.
5. Jo-Jo Tsonga: Tsonga might return to the site of his coming-out party with confidence, but his draw wouldn't be an easy one. He could meet Murray in the quarters this time. Or he might not show up. Looks like he's tweaked his back and is unsure about playing. It'd be a shame if he couldn't compete.
6. Gilles Simon: Is that right? Ranked sixth at a Slam?? Seriously, Simon's got a great game. He's like a backboard for the most part, but he has the ability to change the direction and add some pace. He deserves his ranking, but he sure doesn't deserve having to play consistent wild card Ivo Karlovic in the third round. Or Monfils in the fourth round. Or Nadal in the quarters. Crikey.
7. Andy Roddick: God bless Andy Roddick for keeping the hope alive, but this is about where he belongs in the rankings right now. This might actually be a bit kind. After all, if Nikolay Davydenko were here (out with injury), he'd be eighth. Whatever. In filling out the draw, I hesitated when I got to Roddick v. Querrey. And again with Roddick v. Nalbandian. In a nutshell, I'm not holding out much hope for Roddick to meet Djokovic in the quarterfinals.
8. Juan Martin del Potro: Del Potro was on a roll last summer, and even into the fall, where he was widely expected to take Argentina past Spain. We all know by now that didn't work out. It'll be interesting to see if he can get back on the horse. A rematch with Feliciano Lopez in the third round might be the motivation he needs.
9. James Blake: Ernests Gulbis in round three. This would be a good time for Blake to beat Gulbis for the first time, and I suppose anything could happen. Sure. James Blake could win the Australian Open. And Andy Roddick could win the French. I could quit my job to become the tooth fairy. See where I'm going here?
10. David Nalbandian: Well, it's only January, so it's hard to know what to expect from Nalbandian. Doesn't seem like he really gets going until somewhere around September (after the Open), but if he was on his game, he could handle his draw until Djokovic in the quarters.

The stragglers:
Gael Monfils (12): Nice win against Nadal this month. Make it happen in a major.
The Fernandos (13 and 14): Pretty boy Lopez and F. Verdasco should still be riding high after their Davis Cup win. Lopez in particular was impressive then, coming up with the big win against del Potro and in doubles. Verdasco, who is not exactly known for his consistency, finished off Jose Acasuso. Who knows?
Marat Safin (26): For old times sake. And because he allegedly shows up to a tournament with his pretty face bruised from a fight. Sounds like a hell of a story to bring to a tournament, but not really boding well for someone already talking retirement. Will he make it to Wimbledon? The French? Yeah, if someone doesn't piss him off, I guess.

I can't believe they're still seeded!
Rainer Schuettler (30): Kicking it old school. Emphasis on old.

First round matches to watch:
Lleyton Hewitt v. Fernando Gonzalez: Here's my question: What good is it to be a home boy like Hewitt only to get a draw like this? Good luck, Lleyton.

The way it'll go down:
Quarterfinals: Nadal v. Monfils, Murray v. Gulbis, Nalbandian v. Djokovic and del Potro v. Federer
Semifinals: Nadal v. Murray, Djokovic v. Federer
Final: Murray v. Djokovic
He is the champion, my friend!: Andy Murray. Prize money should be just enough for those braces.

1. Jelena Jankovic: I've decided that Jankovic deserves to be number one -- in a way. She's played more than the other top contenders, and manages to stay fairly consistent. Realistically, though, if she wants a Slam and wants to stay numero uno, she's gonna have to ease off on that frenetic schedule.
As far as that other, small matter of winning her first major title, Jankovic can work with this draw. Nathalie Dechy and "Candy" Bartoli will be good warmup matches. The quarters could bring Vera Zvonareva and Dinara Safina in the semis.
2. Serena Williams: Well, we all know Serena's general policy about dominance -- "Never say No. 2!" Unless she's adressing a baby. Along with wanting to be No. 1, she also has what looks to be an easy draw .... that could suddenly become a brick wall in the form of her sister.
3. Dinara Safina: Here's one thing that can happen that will automatically make women's tennis more interesting. Dinara Safina could start to believe in herself. Last year, it was understandable that she blinked in the French finals. And in the U.S. Open semis. 6-3, 6-2 in a semifinal of a Grand Slam? Blinked. More like trying to play tennis with your hands around your throat.
Regardless, it'd sure be nice to see Safina live up to her potential. She certainly has the ability to advance to the semifinals and beat Jankovic. But will she?
4. Elena Dementieva: For all the jokes made here at TWA at Dementieva's expense, let's show some appreciation (so we can get back to the slow-serve jokes) for how she makes the most of what she has. Not that she doesn't have a lot. Some of the most solid groundstrokes in women's tennis, and the ability to make things tough for those in the top 10, regardless of where she's ranked. She could face Venus Williams in the quarters, and give her a tough match. And if she loses, at least we'll all have her post-match conference to look forward to, where she waxes philosphically about the Williams sisters fixing their face-offs.
5. Ana Ivanovic: Toss-up. After winning the French last year, she was waylaid by a thumb injury, which appeared to wreck her confidence. She managed to win a title at the end of the season to end on a positive-ish note. Having said that, she could draw Caroline Wozniacki in the fourth round. That'd be the same Wozniacki (is there another one?) who almost beat Serena Williams last week. Then maybe Safina in the quarters, and Jankovic in the semis. It just depends on the state of her game.
6. Venus Williams: I'm not really a morning person. I start really waking up starting at around noon. By three, four o'clock, I'm on fire. You sort of get the same idea about Venus in the scope of the yearlong schedule. She generally poops out in the early tournaments of the year, but by Wimbledon, she's kickin' butt. She did end the '08 season on a roll, and it could help her that the offseason's only about 18 minutes. She should be able to take advantage in a draw that includes Flavia Pennetta, Patty Schnyder and Dementieva. Looming in the semifinals would be her very own sister, and their latest matches have been hard-fought, high-quality battles.
7. Vera Zvonareva: So, the last time anyone questioned whether Zvonareva belonged in the top 10, it was the year-end championships in November. She beat everyone there except Venus. Lesson: Don't mess with VERA! Anyway, she's the player with the hottest streak in her quarter of the draw. She's taken down some big names at majors, including Venus in '03. But if she doesn't want to be discounted again, she might want to update that Slam resume.
8. Svetlana Kuznetsova: Yikes. How can someone like Kuznetsova have so much game with such an unsteady hand? To be fair, a lot of people would have been glad to have had the year she had in '08 -- fairly consistent appearances in late stages in tournaments, but with no titles. But those people probably don't have her bag of tricks, either. Being in the same quarter with Aggie Radwanska and Serena Willliams isn't really going to help her confidence problems.
9. Aggie Radwanska: I believe this is only Radwanska's second appearance in the top 10 for a major, and she's been rewarded nicely for it. The biggest obstacle for her (before the quarters) is the aforementioned Kuznetsova. Her issue is that she can easily overpowered, so basically, to win a major, she needs some face time with a hamburger.
10. Nadia Petrova: With Petrova, I always wonder 'What if?' What if she hadn't gotten injured before the French Open in 2005, where she was the huge favorite going in? Would she have gotten her first major and run with that confidence for years? Well, all we know now is she'll have a heck of a time getting past Zvonareva in the fourth round.

The stragglers:
None worth mentioning. Now, of course, Daniela Hantuchova's going to make a semifinal run because I said that.

I can't believe they're still seeded!:
Kuznetsova: Although I guess you get points for being a bridesmaid and never a bride ...
Marion Bartoli (16)
Amelie Mauresmo (20): This is what I mean about the wading pool that is women's tennis. Amelie Mauresmo made two semifinals last year. In one of them, she lost to Nathalie Dechy. Unh-huh. She's been struggling in mediocrity for ... well, since she won two majors. But ... she did beat Ivanovic last week. So who knows, right?
Having said that, I read a quote from Mauresmo a while back that really made me feel her pain. Last February, she admitted that: "I sometimes ask myself what the hell I am doing there, in front of half-empty stands."
And at the risk of going off on a rant (especially one I've been on before), that should never happen. With all the storylines and characters on women's tennis, they shouldn't be playing in mostly-empty stadiums. I'm not saying tennis could be as big as, say, football, but it deserves to attract a bigger audience than it does. "Gee, how do we get someone to watch two hard-hitting, history-making sisters play for a Grand Slam title? Hunh. I'm stumped."
OK, that was a rant. Back to the program.

First round matches to watch:
Sania Mirza v. Marta Domachowska
Hantuchova v. Casey Dellacqua: I'm thinking Dellacqua, actually.
Jelena Dokic v. Tamira Paszek: Talk about "Whatever happened to ..." Hopefully, Paszek won't beat her too badly.

The way it'll go down:
Quarters: Jankovic v. Zvonareva, Safina v. Wozniacki, Venus v. Dementieva, Radwanska v. Serena
Semifinals: Jankovic v. Safina, Venus v. Serena
Final: Jankovic v. Venus (I think)
She is the champion, my friend!: One of the above, although I'm giving Venus the edge on experience.

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