There Won't Be Any Rest for the Top 15 at the 2013 Australian Open
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After two days of play, and seeing both the top and bottom halves of the men's draw finish their first round matches, one thing can be said with certainty: The Australian Open will not be a qualifier's friend this year.
When one thinks of fortitude in men's tennis, the first players that come to mind are almost always the top four—or big four, as they are collectively referred to now. While Rafael Nadal, normally a lock to make at least the semifinals of every major he enters, is absent from this year's Australian Open in the heavily media-covered story surrounding his injury woes, the remaining three in Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray have had strong showings in their first round matches. But that was to be expected.
It has been habitual for the last few years and will remain an anchor in men's tennis for more to come. The endless adaptability employed by the big four makes their early matches something to be taken for granted, which is a shame given how unbelievably monumental and significant their presence has been to the game of tennis.
However, what has been newly remarkable at this year's Australian Open has been the more surprising, well-rounded and efficient first round completions by their seeded colleagues.
Sometimes known as the "Upset Slam" among tennis fans, referential of the higher-than-normal early or perplexing exits by top seeds at the Australian Open, this year in Melbourne seems anything but.
Because of its awkward placement directly at the start of the tennis season, players often appear somewhat rusty and uncomfortable, if not robotic or hypnotized, with old kinks yet to be straightened out and new tactics yet to be used. This phenomenon has led to a number of untimely losses by top ranked players who should be progressing further into the fortnight.
But this year's Australian Open has been an exception. In fact, the game's top players have never looked stronger.
Does this year's Australian Open boast a stronger and more dependable group of seeded players?
So far, the 2013 Aussie Open has been a testament to the increasing depth of men's tennis. The highest eliminated seed in the bottom half of the draw has been the unconventional 18th seeded Ukrainian, Alexandr Dolgopolov, followed out of the tournament by the talented 34 year old German, Tommy Haas, who had been seeded at an impressive number 19th in his 17th year on tour.
Dolgopolov's loss should be taken with a grain of salt; his opponent in the first round was the exceedingly gifted and naturally athletic Frenchman, Gael Monfils, who used to be a staple in the Top 15 before injuring himself last year.
In the top half, the 11th seeded Argentinian-born Juan Monaco fell tamely to Andrey Kuznetsov on Monday; he was the only top ranked player to drop out of Melbourne Park in the entire day's play.
Though these players have shown consistency over their careers, and particularly in their respective 2012 campaigns, none were expected to make waves at the Australian Open, especially considering the largely more successful seeds looming in their sections of the draw including Tomas Berdych, Richard Gasquet and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
Not only have the top ranked men's players exhibited their technical strength in terms of groundstroke form and service power, but their unending resilience and ability to draw from experience have been particularly, and somewhat surprisingly, on hand so far "down under."
The strongly notable example is the number of five-set wins by seeded players. Backed against the wall in their first round matches, six players ranked inside the Top 32 stayed the course in blisteringly long five-set encounters and came out victorious. What's more, two players, 23rd seed Mikhail Youzhny and 25th seed Florian Mayer, came back to win after being two-sets-to-love down.
Endurance has always been a mainstay at the top of men's tennis, but now it is more evident than ever, and it was surely on display in the first two days at Melbourne Park.
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In looking at a specific match, sixth seeded Juan Martin Del Potro's 6-1, 6-2, 6-2, win over France's Adrian Mannarino was decidedly outstanding, and a perfect illustration of the current stability at the top of men's tennis. With superior muscle and capacity to redirect the momentum of the ball, Argentina's Del Potro was never in doubt on Tuesday as he served at 76 percent first serves in and hit 24 winners to only eight total unforced errors.
On top of that, Del Potro was levelheaded in his decision-making, losing only one point at net for an 88 percent winning formula when coming in to finish off the point.
Del Potro is clearly another player to watch, but the best part—and certainly the most captivating part—of this year's Australian Open is that there are so many players to keep a look out for.
The real story of consistency lives in the Top 15. Out of a collective 49 sets played by the remaining 14 of 15 top seeds at this year's Australian Open, only four sets were lost, and almost all 45 of the sets that were won were done so easily (only two required tiebreaks).
In comparison, last year's Top 15 seeds at Melbourne Park had lost a collective 10 sets after the conclusion of the tournament's first round action. And after all first round matches had been completed in the 2010 Australian Open, the tournament had lost double the amount of seeded men's players than it has this year.
The excitement surrounding this year's Australian Open should be at an all time high: Every player in the Top 32 is living up to expectations and playing at an exceptional standard. Perhaps last year's strength in late-stage dependability of the Top Eight players in the world was fitting, foreshadowing for 2013 (each of them made at least four ATP finals and five of them won four titles or more) and maybe it sparked inspiration among the next echelon of players.
Regardless of the reason, if the level of tennis among the seeded players at the 2013 Australian Open is any indication of the remainder of the season, then tennis fans should be readying themselves for a terrific and noteworthy ride.
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