Monday, January 17, 2011

Australian Open 2011: The Long Overdue Preview (Part 1)

Am not sure how it happened but I’m actually exhausted and it’s only the first day of the Australian Open! Staying up late for the warm-up events and the qualies has worn me out which is why this preview is in fact long overdue but it never hurts to break down the draw even if the action has already started. So here are my thoughts on the 2011 Australian Open men’s draw…

The Federer Quarter

Defending champion, Roger Federer, is seeded second in Melbourne this year and had a quick first round win over Lukas Lacko of Slovakia on opening day.

The Swiss has his work cut out for him though in the second round where former top tenner, Gilles Simon, awaits. I’m not saying Federer isn’t in top notch form and that he shouldn’t be able to beat the Frenchman. BUT let’s check the facts on Simon. He is a former world number 6, he is coming off a title win in Sydney where he beat Viktor Troicki in the final in straights and guess what? Simon is 2-0 against Federer. Both wins came back in 2008 but it surely helps with the confidence entering a match against the best player of all time knowing that you’ve beaten him each time you’ve played him before. Since early rounds are usually a bit tricky for everyone, you never know, this match could get interesting, maybe Gilou could snatch a set of the Fed. Maybe not, but it’s a less than favorable second round match for the world number 2.

So who else is in Federer’s quarter…? Fellow Swiss, Stanislas Wawrinka [19], who like Federer, opened his 2011 season with a title win (in Chennai), Gael Monfils [12], who had a tough 5 setter against Thiemo de Bakker on Monday, and Andy Roddick [8] who cruised through his first round.

Interesting 2nd round match-ups:

Roger Federer [2] vs Gilles Simon
Mardy Fish [16] vs Tommy Robredo
Grigor Dimitrov [Q] vs Stanislas Wawrinka [19]

Possible quarterfinals:

Roger Federer [2] vs Andy Roddick [8]
Roger Federer [2] vs Gael Monfils [12]
Roger Federer [2] vs Juan Monaco [26]
Roger Federer [2] vs Stanislas Wawrinka [19]

Federer’s thoughts on who should be considered the clear favorite for this year’s Aussie Open:

“He [Nadal] should be favorite. He's holding the three slams. I hold this one still, but just, so... Of course, I won the World Tour Finals, I've been playing really well on the hard courts right now. But he's been the one dominating the slams. Had hardly any tough matches in the last three slams. That makes him the favorite. I don't have any problems not being the favorite really.”

The Djokovic Quarter

Third seed and 2008 Australian Open champion, Novak Djokovic, fell in Federer’s half of the draw. So a possible rematch of last year’s US Open semifinal is very possible, which depending on how Djokovic sees it, could be good news for the Serb since he got the best of Federer last September before falling to Nadal in the final in New York.

But for Djokovic to make it to the semis for a possible clash with Federer, he might have to overtake the likes of 2010 Wimbledon finalist, Tomas Berdych [6], Richard Gasquet [28] and Fernando Verdasco [9].

The real surprise that already happened in this quarter is Nikolay Davydenko crashing out of the 1st round to unseeded German, Florian Mayer, in 4 sets. Davydenko reached the Doha final earlier this month where he beat an ailing Nadal in the semis but sadly his solid Oz Open prep was clearly not enough for the Russian to make it to the 2nd round.

Djokovic however must be delighted to have one less problem to worry about in his quarter.

Interesting second round match-ups:

Tomas Berdych [6] vs Philipp Kohlschreiber
Janko Tipsarevic vs Fernando Verdasco [9]
Nicolas Almagro [14] vs Igor Andreev
Viktor Troicki [29] vs Nicolas Mahut

Possible quarterfinals:

Novak Djokovic [3] vs Tomas Berdych [6]
Novak Djokovic [3] vs Fernando Verdasco [9]
Novak Djokovic [3] vs Richard Gasquet [28]

Possible semifinals:

Roger Federer [2] vs Novak Djokovic [3]
Roger Federer [2] vs Tomas Berdych [6]

Final thoughts on this half

Federer has the opportunity to avenge one of two tough losses he had suffered at Grand Slams last year – to Djokovic at the US Open semis and Berdych at the Wimbledon quarters and since he is back to his supernatural form with confidence high as ever, Djokovic and Berdych should be worried… Very worried!

Djokovic’s thoughts on Rafa and Roger:

“I guess I'm in this small group of players behind them that is trying to challenge them in each event. How far back, I mean, I can't say. Rankings are showing everything, and results they have made are probably two out of maybe five best players to ever play this game. To be able to compete with them is a big challenge. Every time we play, you know, they take my game as well to another level. They make me play better. In case I get to play them in this tournament, I will look forward to it.”

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