Sometimes, you see something happening for a long time. Like, you see it, but you don't see it. I'm referring, of course, to the evolution of the men's tennis landscape. It has changed. Did you know that? Let's take a look at the men's draw:
Some things worth noting:
1. Roger Federer is ranked 17th in the world. Right, right. I know he's been out with injury and while he's been gone, other men have climbed the ladder, the one he used to occupy alone (with occasional company by Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic). But there is a 17 next to Federer's name at this tournament. Like, what. What does this mean, in relatable terms? It means that Federer's quarter is not really his. It's Kei Nishikori's. It means that Federer's third round opponent is Tomas Berdych, not some tomato can who's wandered in off the street. It means that if Federer wants to get into the semis here, he has to possibly beat Berdych, Niskikori and the world No. 1, Andy Murray. So. The landscape is changing.
2. Have you ever seen "The Dark Knight?" You know that part where the Joker is talking about how he and Batman are destined to lock horns forever?
Damn, that is a good movie.
Anyway, after watching Murray and Djokovic face off in that Brisbane final, I think that they are destined (this season, anyway) to rumble for a lot of titles. Murray lost their most recent match, but not other recent matches. I used to get the sense that Murray didn't really believe he could beat Djokovic before, and now he absolutely believes it. Djokovic acknowledged how important it was for him to win that match, because if anyone is wanting to blink here, it would be Djokovic. This is like watching Federer/Nadal all over again -- one proven dominant player, one dogged aggressive challenger who says really nice things once the match is over, but is not nearly as deferential on the court. I don't know how everything before the final will pan out, but I do believe Murray and Djokovic will be the last ones standing. And there are plenty of obstacles for both men, but it's safe to say they're watching each other closely.
3. There are a couple other players that could bring some ruckus to this party. One of them is Milos Raonic. I still cannot believe he has shed himself of Carlos Moya after the best season of his career. (And it's not like Moya hasn't found himself some other work.) Raonic is now working with Richard Krajicek, who could probably help young Milos take it another step this year at Wimbledon. Raonic has a pretty tender draw. Sort of. There's Nadal, who is an unknown quantity at this point. Gael Monfils? Really, who knows with that guy? Alexander Zverev has promise, too. But this looks like Raonic's table to run. I'd really be interested to see him face off with Djokovic.
4. The other ruckus person is Nick Kyrgios. I have a crazy theory about Little Nicky. Now his season didn't end in the best way last year, and he's not exactly what you would call a fan favorite. If I were going to characterize his status in the eyes of tennis fans, I would say he is basically the opposite of fan favorite. But this is why I think he could pull something off here. It seems to me that he is fueled by haters. There are no more passionate haters of Nick Kyrgios than Australian tennis fans. They think he's a rude punk -- he's no Pat Rafter, and he shows no signs of mellowing into what Lleyton Hewitt has become. And Australians are almost as delusional and desperate as Americans these days for their next big hope. Bernard Tomic ... er, no. Sam Stosur? Hm. Sam Groth? Thumbs way down. Kyrgios is the next big hope and they hate him. So how to really get under haters' skin? Win the home slam and make sure they never forget you. Kyrgios can beat anyone in his quarter and maybe the top half. The operative word is "can." But will he? Is he interested enough? These are things we don't know.
First-round matches to watch:
1. Ryan Harrison v. Nicholas Mahut: Mahut versus a big-serving American? What could go wrong?
2. Mikhail Youzhny v. Marcos Baghdatis: Hello, everyone! Welcome to the 2008 Australian Open!
3. Tommy Haas v. Benoit Paire: TOMMY M&@^(*@(F(#***# HAAS.
4. Dmitry Tursunov v. Radek Stepanek: Hello everyone! Welcome to the 2006 Australian Open!
5. Novak Djokovic v. Fernando Verdasco: Well. This is a nice, easy match to start.