Andy Murray? Several weeks ago, I picked Murray to take the Australian Open title for his first slam. I have a feeling that I’m no longer in the minority in expecting that (if I ever was). The Scowling Scot has started his year by winning the exhibition in Abu Dhabi and now Doha, beating Roger Federer twice, plus Rafael Nadal and Andy Roddick once.
This week, he again went to three sets with the Fed (which is how their last four matches have gone), but this time dismissed the great Swiss with shocking ease in the last two sets, 6-2, 6-2. Just as impressive was his one-sided dismissal of a hardened, big-serving veteran like Andy Roddick in the final.
Roddick gave all credit to his opponent, saying that the he had “made (Murray) beat (him).” It’s now clear that the Scot has the best form going into the AO. The only downside is that now there will be pressure, and one wonders if he’s peaking too soon.
Roger Federer? Federer has not won a title since late-October, and has now been felled four times (if you count the Abu Dhabi exo) in a row by Murray. Since the Fed’s ascent to the top of the game in 2004, it’s clear that no player has bothered him this much aside from a certain muscular Spaniard.
When Murray and Federer face off, one no longer need feel ridiculous in betting against the Swiss (I did in Shanghai). The number of losses, and the fact that their margin of victory seems to be going in the Scot’s favor, is not encouraging for Fed fans the world over.
However, this is still Roger Federer that we speak of, who can turn on The Gift at pretty much any time, as we saw in New York last year. Counting him out already would be a preposterous thing to do, but take note of his early results at the AO.
He needs to send a message early, and unless he runs up the score against his lesser-ranked opponents, don’t consider him the favorite should he face AM near the end.
Rafael Nadal? After pasting his early round opponents and speaking confidently of his play, Rafa fell in straight sets against Gael Monfils. This has, interestingly enough, been a pattern for the Spaniard in Australia the past two years.
He had not lost even a set going into his semi match against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga last year and was then blown off the court, much as he had been by Fernando Gonzalez the year before.
Monfils, Jo-Willy and Gonzo are among the streakiest, heaviest hitters in our sport, and this makes Rafa’s predicament apparent: Someone catches a hot streak Down Under and Rafa’s patient, grinding game plays right into their hands.
Should they run into such a player in this year’s event, Rafa and Uncle Toni need to form a back-up plan for taking that kind of player out of his rhythm.
Andy Roddick? The good news is that Roddick overcame Monfils, a player that has troubled him in the past, to reach the final. The bad news is that he had no answers for Murray when he got there.
Rod’s choice of Larry Stefanki as coach has been lauded, and the American usually does get an immediate bump from his high-profile coaching switches. The problem is that there is an exclusive club of major champions at the top of the men’s game, including Fed, Rafa, and Novak Djokovic, all of whom have well-rounded games, more than compensating for Rod’s service advantage.
Murray has not yet won a major, but he’s looking more and more like a member of that club. Even if Roddick plays his best tennis Down Under, it’s not looking good for him should he run into one of those guys in the quarters.
Gael Monfils? How long have we been waiting for this guy to turn a corner and start winning regularly? Sadly, Nadal is not his first major scalp, and his subsequent loss to Roddick is not is first major letdown following an upset victory.
I’d love to be proven wrong, because Monfils is just the kind of athlete who could bring serious attention to tennis from the sporting press, but I don’t look for anything special from this guy Down Under.
Make me eat my words, Gael. I dare you.