Rafael Nadal has drawn the first blood in the 2009 season. By winning his first major on the hard courts, Nadal can safely shed the "clay court specialist" tag and go on knowing he is one of the few players, the first since Agassi in fact, to have won a Grand Slam on all the surfaces.
Rafa's victory over Roger at the Australian Open also means he is just a victory from Flushing Meadows away from completing a career grand slam. In fact some predict that Rafa could go on and win the elusive calendar grand slam this year and he's certainly set himself up well for it!
While I think it is possible that he might sweep all four this year, I am not certain its very likely given the level of competition these guys have these days. And the fact that over the past few years, Rafa seems to be fairly exhausted and burnt out at the end of the season. So he's not at his competitive best for the US Open.
Additionally, the Deco Turf courts there are a fair bit quicker than the ones at the AO and he may need to adapt his game for the quicker surface. Still, if anyone can do it, Rafa can. Don't be surprised if you see him not play an exhaustive clay court season and skip a few tournaments during the year so that he's in top shape for the US Open.
Roger Federer has not had the ideal start to his 2009 campaign, losing to Nadal in the finals of the Australian Open. This means Rafa has beaten him in the finals of three Grand Slam tournaments, on three different surfaces. Not the ideal situation. Still Roger has been pretty impressive throughout the Australian Open and shown that he's still pretty darn dominant, against anyone not named Rafa Nadal.
I do think he will get his 14th Grand Slam this year, with the possibility of a 15th even, if he can get rid of the doubts that seem to creep into his head and just play his natural game.
And while I would simply love to see Roger get his 14th at Roland Garros, I think that's not a very likely possibility. Nadal is simply too brilliant on clay and to win over him on that surface, Roger will have to make some pretty dramatic changes to his game and his mind set. I think his best shot will be to win his Wimbledon title back this year, and who knows maybe even a 6th successive US Open crown!
Novak Djokovic would be pretty disappointed with his Australian Open result. Coming in as the defending champion, he had a disappointing end to his campaign when he had to pull out of his quarter finals match against Andy Roddick due to the excessive heat. While the heat was indeed excessive, and clearly Novak looked in pretty bad shape in the match, a question must be raised over his level of fitness.
After all he has had a string of retirements throughout the years, in the small tournaments and the big Slams. If Novak does intend to rise to the heights of a Roger or a Rafa, he first should achieve their level of fitness.
I would expect Novak to make it to the business end of the grand slams as he has done before; whether he's going to be able to win any is entirely another question.
With Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer upping their level of play like they have done, Djokovic has a huge task ahead of him if he wants to break the Rafa—Roger stronghold on the slams. Because as we saw in the Wimbledon and then again in the Australian Open finals, those two are well above the rest at the moment.
And The Rest
Amongst the rest, special mention has to be made of Andy Murray. He has shown remarkable improvement in the past year. And in regularly beating the big names like Roger, Rafa, and Novak, he has shown he is a force to contend with! He's already reached a Grand Slam final once last year at the US Open, but he still has some way to go before he can be hailed as a champion.
Like Djokovic, he too needs to focus on his fitness and consistency because we have often seen him play the most amazing marathon match on one day and then just be too tired and flat to produce the same blistering tennis in the very next round.
Fernando Verdasco has made quite a name for himself as the "other" Spaniard when he stretched Rafa to five sets at the semifinals of the Australian Open. While he certainly has the game to ruffle a lot of feathers, it remains to be seen how consistently he can produce the kind of tennis he played against Rafa.
We also saw a new and improved Andy Roddick this year. Fitter, moving better, and more attacking in his game, the new coach seems to have done well for Andy.
Of course that did not stop Federer from trouncing him in straight sets to take their head to head tally to 16-2 in Fed's favor. While Roddick is always a threat to play against, it is unlikely he will make too much of an impact at the slams, because he simply does not have the variety in his game to constantly challenge likes of Roger, Rafa, and even Novak.
And finally there's Marat Safin. The volatile and colorful Russian has indicated that this may well be his last season on the tour and as such there's not much pressure on him to perform at the big tournaments.
So he's always a dark horse at the Slams. Safin I think is one of the more talented players on the tour and he ideally should have accumulated more than the two Grand Slams.
If only he kept his temper and racket under control!
Still it would be wonderful to see him win a tournament or two and spring a couple of surprises along the way. One thing is certain, if Safin were to retire at the end of this year, the tennis world is sure to miss the intense Russian!