Australian Open 2012: Predicting the Finishes of Andy Roddick and the Americans
It was the 2003 U.S. Open when this picture was taken. The 21-year-old upstart American tennis star, Andy Roddick, had just clinched match point over Juan Carlos Ferrero.
As he screamed and laid on the ground in celebration, Americans joined in his triumph. With the age of Agassi and Sampras ending, Andy Roddick and his first major championship looked to usher in a brand new era of American tennis.
Eight years and 32 Grand Slam tournaments later, Roddick's major victory total remains at just one. There has been no superstar status, no next great tennis star, just someone who by many estimations has been a failure—and failure is something that American tennis has really not been accustomed to in the past.
Since the beginning of the Open Era in 1968, America has been relevant in the tennis world.
Starting with Arthur Ashe, the first great American modern era tennis star, to the Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe-dominated 1970s and '80s, followed by the reign of Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras in the '90s and early 2000s, American tennis has prospered through the years.
Tennis was always America's game, and when one set of superstars retired, there was always another to take their place. That was supposed to be the case with Roddick, but he never panned out and as a result, American men's tennis has seen a drought in major championship victories.
With work being done to bring tennis back to prominence in America, it is not outlandish to think that a major championship is not that far away. As the 2012 Aussie Open begins, it is time to take a look at the nine Americans (plus two who won qualifying spots) who qualified for this year's draw and each of their chances to advance and possibly bring America that much-desired men's singles crown.
Slideshow order is based on how I am projecting each player will finish, with the earliest projected exits listed at the beginning.
Nick Laham/Getty Images
Current Ranking: 276
Best Australian Open performance: N/A
Best Major performance: N/A
Coming off of winning a qualifying spot to enter the main draw of this year's Australian Open, Kudla will be participating in his first Grand Slam tournament for Men's Singles. Having turned pro in 2008, the former #3 ranked junior in the world, has only participated in one US Open for doubles where he and his partner lost in the first round.
Qualifying for the Australian Open is a great step forward in the 19-year-old Kudla's career. Now that he is making his first Grand Slam appearance, Kudla will get some much needed experience and ranking points moving forward. Unfortunately, he will have to face up against the veteran Tommy Haas in the first round and it doesn't look as if this qualifier will be able to beat the more experienced Haas.
Projected Finish: It is great that Kudla is making his first main draw appearance but for the youngster it will likely be a short one as Tommy Haas should easily take care of him in the first round.
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Current Ranking: 167
Best Australian Open performance: 2nd round (2007)
Best Major performance: 2nd round (2007 Australian Open)
The second of two American qualifiers, Kuznetsov earned a spot in the main draw for just the third time since turning pro in 2004. Having participated in two US Opens and one other Australian Open, the hard court has been his best career surface. Kuznetsov's game is nothing special and unfortunately for him, the draw has not been kind as he is set to face 10-time grand slam winner, Rafael Nadal, in the first round.
Projected Finish: Kuznetsov has little to no chance to advance into the second round as Nadal should easily overpower him in the first round of the tournament.
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
Current Ranking: 158
Best Australian Open Performance: Second round (2008)
Best Major Performance: Third round (2009 Wimbledon)
Making only his second Aussie Open appearance since turning pro in 2007, the 24-year-old Levine is certainly looking to make his mark on the Grand Slam stage.
After not participating in or qualifying for the majors in 2011, Levine can hope to improve upon his career-best 2009 results, which saw him make a second and third appearance.
There is nothing special about Levine's game and it is unlikely that he will be able to challenge any opponent in the draw in this Australian Open. He lacks the major experience to really cause his opponents trouble, so he will likely be a first-round American casualty.
Projected Finish: Against the 26th-ranked player in the world, Levine will fall in the first round in straight sets.
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
Current Ranking: 98
Best Australian Open Performance: Second round (2008, 2011)
Best Major Performance: Fourth round (2001 French Open)
Michael Russell, who turned pro in 1998, has really not had much Grand Slam success throughout his career. His best finish came in the 2001 French, but other than that, Russell has never made it past the second round.
He is certainly not lacking the experience, but Russell just does not have the skill set to be a top-ranked player. Being ranked in the top 100 is solid for a player of Russell's level; it is unlikely he will ever crack the top 50.
In the first round of the 2012 Australian Open, Russell is set to face 27th-ranked Juan Ignacio Chela. Russell might manage to win a set or two, but Chela should prove to be too tough to beat. Although not a superstar himself, Chela is a much better player than Russell and really shouldn't have any trouble against the seasoned American.
Projected Finish: Russell fails to improve upon last year's Australian Open results and loses in the first round.
Phil Walter/Getty Images
Current Ranking: 84
Best Australian Open Performance: First round (2010, 2011)
Best Major Performance: Second round (2010 U.S. Open, 2011 Wimbledon)
At only 18 years old, Harrison is a teenager with a lot of potential. His game, although still a ways away from top-10 caliber, features some pretty impressive shots and he has a solid ability to play the game.
Harrison is pretty athletic and although not the most physical player out there, he is a grinder. Having just completed his best season as a professional in 2011, Harrison is hoping to build off of those results.
2011 was the first season since he went pro in 2007 that he qualified for all four Slams, and although he has yet to win an ATP title in singles, his style of play indicates that with just a little more experience and training, it won't be that long until he gets his first tour victory and breaks into the top 50.
Unfortunately for Harrison the draw is not kind to him. Despite being ranked in the top 100, Harrison's first-round match will be against No. 4 Andy Murray as he too looks to finally win a major.
Although I can see Harrison putting up a fight against Murray, the Scot is just too good right now for Harrison to beat him. Give it a couple years, however, and that result could change.
Projected Finish: A talented player with a good set of tools, Harrison unfortunately will not have a career-best Aussie Open finish and will once again lose in the first round.
Julian Finney/Getty Images
Current Ranking: 94
Best Australian Open Performance: Third round (2007, 2008)
Best Major Performance: Fourth round (2008 U.S. Open, 2010 Wimbledon, U.S. Open)
After breaking onto the tennis scene, Sam Querrey has unfortunately faced a few recent years in which he hasn't seen much success. In 2011, while he did record his best finish at the French Open by making the second round, he also lost in the first round in the Australian Open, which was the only other Slam in which he participated in 2011.
Once the 17th-ranked player in the world, Querrey has taken a step back including not qualifying for some of the major tournaments. Unfortunately for him, it does not seem that in 2012 his results will be any different.
Querrey will likely win his first-round match against No. 135 Kenny De Schepper of France. To make it out of the second round, however, will not be an easy task. Querrey likely will be matched up against 18-year-old Australian sensation Bernard Tomic.
Tomic has experienced a meteoric rise to the top 40 in the world since turning pro in 2009. His best Australian Open result came last year when he made the third round, and his best major performance also was in 2011 as he reached the quarterfinals of Wimbledon.
Projected Finish: Facing either Tomic or Fernando Verdasco, it is unlikely Querrey will advance out of the second round.
Mark Kolbe/Getty Images
Current Ranking: 72
Best Australian Open Performance: Second round (2011)
Best Major Performance: Second round (2011 Wimbledon, Australian Open)
A pro since 2007, the 24-year-old Sweeting is coming off of his best season. In 2011, for the first time in his career, Sweeting participated in and qualified for all four Grand Slam tournaments and won his first ATP Tour title at the U.S. Men's Clay Court Championships in Houston.
In just his second Australian Open appearance, Sweeting managed to make it to the second round, and it looks like 2012 will see him duplicate these results.
Sweeting has a first-round matchup against No. 90 Matthias Bachinger of Germany. Although the winner of this match probably will be a toss-up, I give a slight edge to Sweeting.
The only problem is even if he does manage to win, his second-round matchup would have him facing world No. 5 David Ferrer, in which Sweeting would likely be easily defeated by the much better Ferrer.
Projected Finish: Ryan Sweeting will lose in the second round to David Ferrer.
Sandra Mu/Getty Images
Current Ranking: 40
Best Australian Open Performance: Second round (2010)
Best Major Performance: Fourth round (2011 U.S. Open)
Last year's U.S. Open was a coming-out party for this 22-year-old tennis player. Not only did he perform well at the season's last major, he also wowed a lot of opponents and easily won over the hearts of fans.
Young began his major tennis journey turning pro in 2004. He has only qualified for three Australian Opens before this year; his best career result came in the 2011 U.S. Open.
To get to the fourth round, Young, a wild-card qualifier, upset 24th-ranked Juan Ignacio Chela in the third round in straight sets and the 14th-ranked Stanislas Wawrinka in the second round. He displayed both quickness and a solid swing as he advanced through the tournament.
He also showed improved confidence and physicality, things which plagued him in the past. In addition to his career-best major championship finish, Young completed his breakthrough year on the ATP tour by reaching his first ATP World Tour final at the Shanghai Open. Young faced Andy Murray, who easily won the final and also was the one to defeat Young and keep him from the quarterfinals of the 2011 U.S. Open.
The good thing for Young is if he advances through the draw, he won't have to face Murray until the final.
The bad thing?
In order to get to those semis, Young has to move his way through Rafael Nadal's quarter. Young should win his first match since it is against a qualifier. In the second round he likely will face No. 28 Ivan Ljubicic. Young could have an edge in this match and I predict that he'll beat the Croatian.
If Young wins, barring any unforeseen upsets, he would face Nadal in the third round where his Australian Open would likely end.
Projected Finish: Third-round exit. Young is a solid young player but ultimately a healthy Nadal will prove to be too much for him and Nadal should win this match easily.
Nick Laham/Getty Images
Current Ranking: 16
Best Australian Open Performance: Semifinalist (2003, 2005, 2007, 2009)
Best Major Performance: Winner (2003 U.S. Open)
Roddick, a former world No. 1, goes into this year's Australian Open as just the 16th-ranked player in the world. He is no longer the top American and is only one seed higher than John Isner.
By all means he has become the third-best American tennis player. There is no denying Roddick is talented; his serve is still one of the best in the game. He has lacked the consistency needed to win, however, and although he has improved his ground game, it is not good enough to contend with the likes of the top 10. His serve is not enough to propel him further in draws anymore either.
In this year's Aussie Open, Roddick opens with a first-round match against Robin Hasse. Although Hasse will be a formidable opponent, Roddick's serve will be enough for him to hold and he can use Hasse's weaknesses to get break points.
After beating Hasse, Roddick's road does not get easier as he faces off against former Open champion and world No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt. Hewitt has not been the player he was when he won his majors, but he is not someone Roddick can consider an easy win.
In the third round Roddick will likely face the Canadian phenom, No. 25 Milos Raonic. Raonic is a very good player who can easily give Roddick a run for his money. This may be a little generous, but I have Roddick advancing to the fourth round by beating Raonic—but just barely.
It is after this match that Roddick's 2012 Aussie campaign will come to an end. He will have to face Djokovic in the fourth, and even Roddick in 2003 couldn't beat the Novak of late.
Projected Finish: Some of Roddick's best finishes have come in this tournament where he is a four-time semifinalist, but in the end and in the fourth round, having to face Djokovic will prove to be too tough a task for Roddick.
Surprise Finish: Semifinals.
If—and this is a really big and improbable if—but if Roddick somehow manages to beat Djokovic in the fourth, he will have to face David Ferrer. It would by no means be easy, but if he can win the match against a player he has beaten in the past, his next match would be against Andy Murrary.
At his best, this is as far Roddick will go in the 2012 Aussie Open. Beating Djokovic and Ferrer would be tough enough. I don't think Roddick has it in him to beat Murray as well.
Brendon Thorne/Getty Images
Current Ranking: 17
Best Australian Open Performance: Fourth round (2010)
Best Major Performance: Quarterfinals (2011 U.S. Open)
The 26-year-old Isner, who is best known for being part of the longest match in tennis history, is coming off of his best career season in which he finished third in the Olympus U.S. Open Series, won his second ATP tour title and finished ranked in the top 20 for the second consecutive year.
Finishing the year and entering into the Australian Open, Isner is ranked a career-best No. 17 in the world. He is also fresh off of his best Open finish, as he reached the quarterfinals at the 2011 U.S. Open for the first time in his career by upsetting several ranked opponents.
A solid player, John Isner has really improved a lot of aspects of his game. He has one of the best serves in men's tennis and can pull the trigger on a pretty nasty forehand. Isner's biggest hurdle to overcome is that he seems to lack stamina.
Often late in matches, even with a lead, he has faded and allowed opponents a chance to get back into the game. That said, with a 62 percent tiebreak record, Isner also manages to put together just enough to close out close sets.
Isner's draw to the fourth round is pretty favorable. He faces Benjamin Mitchell in the first round and will likely get David Nalbandian in the second. Isner is likely to win both of these matches, especially since he is riding last season's high and has so far looked strong this season.
His third-round matchup likely will have him matched up against No. 18 Feliciano Lopez, another match Isner should win. The toughest match for Isner will come in the fourth round where he faces No. 2 Nadal. Although I can see Isner putting up a fight, Nadal's physicality and athleticism might prove to be too much for the big American.
Projected Finish: Isner will lose to Nadal in a close five-set match, not making a consecutive Grand Slam quarterfinals appearance.
Surprise Finish: Runner-Up.
Depending on Nadal's health and Isner's form, it would not be that surprising to see the big American in the quarters. If he makes the quarters, a match against No. 10 Nicolas Almagro or No. 7 Tomas Berdych may await him.
Both of these opponents could give Isner trouble, but his skill set would be the difference giving him the win, albeit a close one. In the semis, a matchup against Roger Federer or top American Mardy Fish would likely await, and again depending on Fed's health, Isner could win this match.
If he faces Fish, his journey to the finals could be tougher but if Isner is at top form, his serve and forehand could outlast Fish's much-improved speed and defense. Don't be completely shocked if Isner manages his way through the draw all the way to the final.
Will Russell/Getty Images
Current Ranking: 8
Best Australian Open Performance: Quarterfinals (2007)
Best Major Performance: Quarterfinals (2007 Australian Open, 2008 U.S. Open, 2011 Wimbledon)
After a 2011 season that saw him win the Olympus U.S. Open Series and compete in many more ATP World Tour finals, Fish rose to become the top-ranked American in the world.
Fish also had his best finishes in both the French Open and Wimbledon, capping off his best career year as a professional. Having been successful in the Australian Open in the past, this could finally be Fish's year to win his first career major.
Having to only deal with Federer as a seed higher than himself, Fish has a relatively easy path to a potential fourth-round matchup against the No. 3-seeded former Australian Open Champion. In his first round, Fish is matched against Gilles Muller of Luxembourg.
Although Fish should easily win this match, he still needs to focus as Muller could cause him a little trouble. Fish's second-round match should also be pretty easy, leading up to a likely third-round collision with No. 25 Juan Monaco.
Again, Fish has the edge in this matchup because of his stellar serve and much-improved backhand.
Based on the draw, Fish is easily the favorite to make it to the fourth round where No. 11 Juan Martin Del Potro would most likely be waiting. Del Potro is probably Fish's toughest matchup, since just like Fish, Del Potro has improved many aspects of his game.
Ultimately, I think Fish has a slight edge, and that he will prevail in a five-setter. With that, Fish is on a collision course to face Roger Federer, where I believe the first of the big four will fall.
Federer's game, while still good, hasn't been as stellar as it can be entering the twilight of his tennis playing years. While more major wins easily could be in Fed's future, this Aussie Open will not be one of them.
Expect a well-fought-out match with Fish earning the victory based on the improvements to his game and fitness, which will allow him to prevent some of Fed's forehand winners.
Projected Finish: Although he will reach the first semifinal of his career, Fish will find too much difficulty against Nadal, ultimately losing in the semis.
Surprise Finish: Champion.
It may be a stretch but if it is, it is only a small one. If Fish does manage to beat Federer he will face Nadal or Isner if he can pull off the great upset. (Now wouldn't that be something for American tennis, a Fish vs. Isner semifinal).
Although his record is favorable against Isner and not so against Nadal, it is quite possible, based on Nadal's health coming in, that Fish could beat the former champion. If Fish does beat Nadal, expect a final matchup against No. 4 Andy Murray or more likely No. 1 Novak Djokovic.
Murray brings great speed to the table and Djokovic is coming off what may be the best season in the history of tennis.
Either of these opponents will be tough, and having to possibly beat three of the top four to win the championship will be near impossible—but it is not out of the realm of possibility that Fish can pull off a huge final upset and that he is the American to break the eight-year championship drought.