Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Armchair Line Judge's guide to the Aussie Open 2015

It's mid-January, and only about eight weeks since the year-end championships, so it must be time for another major! This lengthy layover only tends to ensure erratic results, so with that in mind, let's predict what's going to happen!  
For this preview, we're gonna do the Armchair Line Judge's call for the Top 10 on both sides for players' chances to advance to the semifinals:

The Women

1. Serena Williams: In. Yeah, Hopman Cup was kind of a disaster, but she's usually most dangerous right after a bad patch. Hmm, though. Vera Zvonareva looming in round 2. Hmm.
2, Maria Sharapova: In. What a sweet draw for her. If seeds hold, she would get Genie Bouchard in the semis, which might be tough, but I'm not on the Bouchard bus yet. That might be because I'm not a teenage boy, though.
3. Simona Halep: In. Definitely for the semis, and perhaps beyond …
4. Petra Kvitova: You know what they say about Petra. There's no kvit in her. (Get it?) But she still gets the 'out' call here. Even if she were in, could she beat Venus Williams or Ags Radwanska in the semis? I'm not even sure she can beat rising star Donna Vekic in round 2. Just too inconsistent.
5. Ana Ivanovic: Out. Ekaterina Makarova is like kryptonite to top players Down Under.
6. Agnieszka Radwanska: In. Big win against Serena at Hopman Cup, which, yes, is just a warmup, but she's come close before against the big players, and that win is a big deal. Plus, I love the Navratilova hire. Not saying we're talking instant results, but this will be interesting. And I'ma live on the edge here and say that this coaching change is going to bring a major this year, but I decline comment on which one.
7. Genie Bouchard: Out. Yeah, I know, she beat Serena at Hopman, too. But still, I say next year for her, because she doesn't have a complete game and thereby doesn't have the tools to do that consistently. Radwanska? She does, except for that serve. And is it just me whose shoulder area aches every time I see her hit a forehand?
8. Caroline Wozniacki: Good job, Caroline Wozniacki! You're rebounding from a tumble from world No. 1, only to return stronger and more confident about taking on the heavy hitters on the big stages – and beating the likes of Maria Sharapova. So … ladies and gentlemen, let's see Woz's prize for a solid 2014! Drumroll … Young American Taylor Townsend in Round One and probably Victoria Azarenka in Round 2! What? Why'd everyone get so quiet? Out.
9. Angelique Kerber: Whaaa?!?? What's she still doing in the top 10? OUT!
10. Ekaterina Makarova: Out, but like just outside the line. Or could she beat Halep for a semi spot? Might need a ShotSpot for this one.

First round special: Sloane Stephens against Victoria Azarenka. Both unseeded and back on the stage where Azarenka lost a lot of respect for that “oh, my sore brain” stunt. But this one is interesting in name only. Stephens is kinda in the wind right now, and Azarenka, even returning from injury, still looks like a threat in this draw. A higher-quality match might be Dominika Cibulkova and Kristen Flipkens. Ooorrrr, Wozniacki and Townsend. Maybe.
Upset comin': Camilla Giorgi over No. 12 Flavia Pennetta in the first round.

The Men

1. Novak Djokovic: In. But that's a loaded portion of the draw. Lleyton Hewitt? Jerzy Janowicz? Juan Martin del Potro was in it, too, until he backed out with an ongoing wrist issue. And then there's Gael Monfils, whose face should accompany the dictionary definition of “wild card.” All interesting, but all those guys are a bigger potential problem for Milos Raonic.
2. Roger Federer: In. I think that's in. I'm just wondering about Andy Murray and Grigor Dimitrov, who has a ton of potential, but hasn't done anything yet.
3. Rafael Nadal: Oh. Here's Rafa Nadal again, like he is every year at the Australian Open. Folks ask him how he's gonna do, and he shakes his head, buries it in his hand and mumbles that he's terrible, that he has no shot. Which means that he's gonna win the whole damn thing. Ooh. Lukas Rosol as a possible third round opponent? Yeesh. If – big 'if' – Nadal can survive the first couple rounds, it could be enough for him to recover his form and then opponents like Richard Gasquet and Tomas Berdych won't seem like much. But if he's still that much out of sync, then, yeah, he could lose to Mikhail Youzhny right away. So, the line call? In, but right on the line. Which means that any old line judge could call it out.
4. Stan Wawrinka: Not a bad draw for Stan, the defending-champion man. Not until he would get to Kei Nishikori. Talk about a popcorn match – that Wawrinka won't win. Out.
5. Kei Nishikori: In. See above.
6. Andy Murray: Apparently, Murray just cleaned house in his camp and got rid of all the Amelie Mauresmo haters, and he's ready to go. Good, because his ranking is not Big Four-worthy, because it's six. To change that, he's gonna need to win another major. To do that, he's going to have to take down Dimitrov and Federer just to get to the semis. Sorry, but out.
7. Tomas Berdych: You know, if the wind blew the right way for him – meaning that Nadal loses early and that No. 11 Ernests Gulbis can't mount much of a challenge, this could be Berdych's chance for the semis – and beyond. But if it is just the regular wind, then no, he's not going to beat Nadal. Out. Probably.
8. Milos Raonic: I get it. He's big. He's talented. Big serve. Big forehand. Wears that koozie on his arm. Seems to be settling into his role in the top 10. Yes, he'll go far, but it will be the most boring tennis you'll ever see, especially in the early rounds. It's just hard for me to get excited about Raonic. Even if I were, it'd be difficult to get amped up about his chances against Djokovic, because he's not going to beat Djokovic, unless he's not really over the flu. A relieved 'out' call here.
9. David Ferrer: And then there's David Ferrer, who is like a Labrador retriever. He will go after every ball, and make his opponent do one more thing, and it's often enough to win a match. Now that is some tennis that I want to watch. He's entertaining, determined … and a bit long in the tooth … and hair. (Someone needs to say it – Davey. Get a haircut!!!) He's slated to run into Nishikori in the fourth round, and I don't know if that's going to go well for him. Out. Moo.
10. Grigor Dimitrov: In all likelihood, out. Whenever I see him play, though, I wonder why he hasn't yet made his move at a major. Like a real move. He's got all the tools, but he seems to be mentally inconsistent. He could be humming along in a match, and then try a drop shot when he should have hit a groundstroke up the line. But you know who also used to do that? Andy Murray. So there's hope?

First-round special: It was gonna be del Potro vs. Janowicz, but no del Potro now. Without that, I'm gonna say Nadal v. Youzhny will be a good one, assuming Youzhny doesn't brain himself before the conclusion. Nicholas Almagro vs. Nishikori – Nishikori better be ready right away for this one. Also Sam Querrey v. Vasek Pospisil.

Upset comin': Borna Coric over No. 29 Jeremy Chardy in five, methinks.

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