Tennis seasons’ first grand slam begins Sunday night in Australia. For the next two weeks, American tennis fans will be staying up late and waking up early to catch some of the top players on the blue hard courts down under.
Coming into the tournament, Rafael Nadal is the number one player in the world. Meanwhile, Novak Djokovic, who has won the last three Aussie Opens, looks to claim his 7th career major title. Roger Federer has struggled mightily the last 6 months, losing early at Wimbledon, the US Open, and losing in the Brisbane final last week to Lleyton Hewitt. Anyone of the top 8 can make a run here in Melbourne.
Breaking Down the Chances of Top Players
Rafael Nadal- The unquestioned number one player in the world right now. He claimed two major titles last year, including the US Open, to cap off an excellent year. Last year, Nadal missed the Australian Open, and did not return to the courts until February. This year, he picked up his first title in Doha defeating Gael Monfils in 3 sets. Nadal is playing some of the best tennis of his career, and is going to be tough to beat. However, Rafa was handed a challenging draw. He opens with Bernard Tomic, a young Aussie player who gave Nadal a run in the 3rd round in Australia two years back. Nadal will have to deal with a fairly strong first round opponent, and a crowd that will be rooting for Tomic to pull off the major upset. If Nadal gets past Tomic, which he should, he could see flamboyant star Gael Monfils, who is on the return from injury, in the third round. Monfils is a wild card. When playing his best, he can beat any player in the world. Later on, Nadal could see 2009 US Open Champion Juan Martin Del Potro in the quarterfinals. On his half of the draw, Nadal could face either 17-time grand slam champion Roger Federer or reigning Wimbledon champion Andy Murray in the semifinals. Nadal is going to have to bring his A game if he plans to run through the gauntlet and reach the finals.
Novak Djokovic- Novak is a big time fan favorite down in Australia. He has won 4 of his 6 majors here, and 3 in a row. Last year, Djokovic handled Andy Murray in the Aussie Final, and has had limited success, by his standards, since then. He lost two straight grand slam finals, to Andy Murray at Wimbledon, and Rafa Nadal in New York last summer. However, the Djoker has returned to his favorite major and looks to pull off a 4-peat. Unlike Nadal, Djokovic has been given a favorable draw. His first round opponent is Lucas Lacko, who should give him no problems. He could also see Dmitry Tursunov, Ernie Gulbis, Fabio Fognini, and Stan Wawrinka. The only player on that list who gives Djokovic any trouble is number 8, Stan Wawrinka. The and Novak barely pulled it out.
Andy Murray- Murray took time off after the US Open to have back surgery and get healthy. He had an outstanding year last year, making 2 grand slam finals, and becoming the first British man to win Wimbledon since Fred Perry in 1936. Murray is not the favorite, but few would be surprised if he won the tournament. He, like Nadal, was placed on the tougher half of the draw, and could see Roger Federer in the quarterfinals. In order to win, he will likely have to beat Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic back to back to back, which is quite the challenge.
Roger Federer- Federer suffered one of his worst years as a pro last season. No grand slam finals appearances, only made one semifinal, and it appears father time is catching up with him. He lost to players like Sergiy Stakhovsky, Tommy Robredo, and Frederico Delbonis. I am not ready to write off Federer for his career, but if he has anything left, this is the year. He may not win another major, but if he makes a final, or is in contention on the final weekend, he proves to the world he still has what it takes.
John Isner- Someone in American tennis needs to win big matches at a major. Has not happened since Roddick retired.
Philipp Kohlschreiber- Tough player to beat, could make a second week run in Melbourne.
Lleyton Hewitt- If Hewitt manages to beat Andreas Seppi, he has a legitimate chance at making the second week because his draw is favorable. Not to mention, he is playing on home soil.
Gael Monfils- This guy should be a dark horse at every major. He can beat anyone on any day, and before injuries, was 7th in the world. But he has his work cut out for him, as he drew Rafa in the third round.
Djokovic loves playing here. Australia loves him; he has a favorable draw, and will be fresher than Nadal when the two meet in the final. Djokovic over Nadal in the final- 7-6 6-3 5-7 6-4
You can catch the Australian Open on ESPN and ESPN2 from Sunday night, January 13th, to Sunday morning, January 27th.