Parity has found its way into men’s tennis. In terms of pure talent and potential, the field at the Australian Open seems wide open.
Oddsmakers, of course, factor in experience and past performance—but in Australia, in the land of sunnies and amber fluid anything is possible.
As we unveil our preseason power rankings consider the ramifications of the next two weeks upon the state of men’s tennis as the first grand slam of 2010 gets underway.
The Top 10
1. Nikolay Davydenko (Last Power Ranking: 1; ATP Ranking: 6)
Last Four Tournaments: Qatar [Winner], London [Winner], Paris [R16], Valencia [Semifinalist].
Power Ranking Points: 316
Everyone is curious. Has the wiry Russian changed his diet, his training regimen, or his racket? All of a sudden he has become, if not everybody’s choice to win the Australian Open—at least everybody’s dark horse. At age 28, Davydenko appears to be playing his very best tennis.
As the Australian Open gets underway, many expect Russia’s “Invisible Man” to become “Mr. Invincibility,” taking this title to win his first major. His quickness makes Davydenko dangerous on the hard courts. He is in Federer’s quarter so there may be a potential matchup.
If so, can Davydenko win three in a row over the man he had never defeated until the ATP World Tour Finals when the Russian took out Federer in the semis? He followed that in Doha with a semifinal victory again over Federer and a win over Nadal in the finals. Davydenko is hot, hot, hot!!
2. Novak Djokovic (Last Power Ranking: 2; ATP Ranking: 3)
Last Four Tournaments: London [RR (2-1)], Paris [Winner], Basel [Winner], Shanghai [Finalist]
Power Ranking Points: 239
The Serb is ranked No. 2 in the Preseason Power Rankings based on fumes from the tail-end of 2009 with back-to-back wins in Paris and Basel. The 2008 Australian Open champion hopes to reclaim the title in 2010 as the No. 3 seed. But he has some challenges to get there, potentially meeting Gasquet and later Soderling or Tsonga in the quarterfinals.
Djokovic needs to get by these intimidating challengers before he can even consider facing Federer in the semifinals. For once, he is the man under the radar as the media points to others like Federer, Nadal, del Potro, and even Davydenko. Djokovic knows what it takes to win this title.
The question remains, can he find the “right stuff” to pull off another coronation down under?
3. Marin Cilic (Last Power Ranking: NR; ATP Ranking: 14)
Last Four Tournaments: Chennai [Winner], Paris [Quarterfinalist], Basel [Quarterfinalist], Vienna [Finalist]
Power Ranking Points: 168
Cilic makes his first appearance in the Power Rankings with plenty of good reasons for inclusion at the No. 3 spot. The Croat has climbed steadily, improving his game and his results, making it into the ATP top 20 for the first time—currently sitting at No. 14.
Cilic is fresh off a victory in Chennai and is seeded No. 14 at the Australian Open where he meets Fabrice Santoro in the opening round. The enigmatic Frenchman can be a tough opponent on any occasion. Should Cilic advance as seeded, he would meet the No. 4 seed Juan Martin del Potro in the fourth round.
That could prove to be an enticing matchup of the young guns. Cilic joins the pack of dark horse contenders who may wreak havoc with the establishment in Melbourne.
4. Rafael Nadal (Last Power Ranking: 8; ATP Ranking: 2)
Last Four Tournaments: Qatar [Finalist], London [RR (0-3)], Paris [Semifinalist], Shanghai [Finalist].
Power Ranking Points: 161
It seemed astonishing to see Nikolay Davydenko upset the No. 2 seed Nadal in the final at Doha. In reality, however, the Russian leads in their head to head 5-4. As is more and more the case these days, players have confidence in their ability to defeat Nadal. The aura has evaporated.
But Nadal is returning to Melbourne to defend his only hard court slam championship which the Spaniard won by defeating Federer in five sets last year—another seismic final between the two titans of tennis.
Nadal has some challenges again before he reaches the final. None more so than a potential quarterfinal matchup with the No. 5 seed, Andy Murray.
Along the way, Nadal may face Philipp Kohlschreiber, the German whose run at the 2008 Aussie Open sent Andy Roddick packing. He might also face the giant Ivo Karlovic who is capable of serving anybody off the court or dangerous Radek Stepanek.
Then if he gets past all of these dangerous opponents he could face del Potro in the semifinals. There are no gimmes in this tournament. Is Nadal back? His progress down under should provide a very compelling clue.
5. Radek Stepanek (Last Power Ranking: 9; ATP Ranking: 13)
Last Four Tournaments: Brisbane [Finalist], Paris [Semifinalist], Basel [Semifinalist], Vienna [Quarterfinalist].
Power Ranking Points: 137
For a tour “senior” Stepanek had a great 2009, ending the season in strong fashion with semifinal appearances in both Paris and Basel. Recently, he reached the final in Brisbane where he lost to winner Andy Roddick 6-7, 6-7 in a very tightly contested match.
Unluckily for Stepanek, seeded No. 13 at the Australian Open, he meets Croat Ivo Karlovic in the first match. That is not a favorable draw! Should he survive, he could meet Nadal in the fourth round.
Stepanek has been around a long time and his experience should serve him well getting out of the gates and sustain him as he progresses. He just has to pray that Karlovic has a poor serving day when they meet.
6. Andy Roddick (Last Power Ranking: NR; ATP Ranking: 7)
Last Four Tournaments: Brisbane [Winner], Shanghai [R32], Beijing [R32], US Open [R32].
Power Ranking Points: 131
Roddick has been pretty much “missing in action” since 2009 Wimbledon with hip and knee injuries. But he rocketed back into action by winning the tournament in Brisbane where he met and defeated Radek Stepanek in the final 7-6, 7-6. This should have tested all his extremities and revealed any lingering injuries that might have slowed him down.
Seeded No. 7 at the Australian Open, Roddick’s first true test may come against fellow countryman Sam Querry in the third round. Roddick might then conceivably face Tomas Berdych or Fernando Gonzalez. The quarterfinals then would find him face to face with Juan Martin del Potro—assuming both make it that far.
Roddick demonstrated his belief and his desire to win another slam. He is off to a good start down under. It is time for a bit of good luck to be gifted to the perennial top 10 Roddick.
7. Roger Federer (Last Power Ranking: 5; ATP Ranking: 1)
Last Four Tournaments: Qatar [Semifinalist], London [Semifinalist], Paris [R64], Basel [Finalist].
Power Ranking Points: 126
Federer was disappointed in Abu Dhabi losing to Soderling and in Doha where he lost once again to Davydenko. But he remains optimistic of his chances in Australia where he has not won since 2007. Is it time for another title in Melbourne? This is what everybody wants to know.
Federer comes into the Australian Open seeded No. 1. His draw is filled with potential hazards. His first round match is with Igor Andreev, who played Federer extremely tight in their last match at the 2008 U. S. Open with Federer finally prevailing in five.
The Swiss could potentially meet Lleyton Hewitt or Marcos Baghdatis in the fourth round and then either Fernando Verdasco or Nikolay Davydenko in the quarters. That potentially leads to Djokovic in the semifinals. No cake walk for Federer.
2009 was a stellar season for Federer. Anything more is gravy. The great thing for all tennis lovers is that the Swiss is ready to compete and would love to do it all over again.
8. Andy Murray (Last Power Ranking: 4; ATP Ranking: 4)
Last Four Tournaments: London[RR (2-1)], Paris [R16], Valencia [Winner], US Open [R16]
Power Ranking Points: 121
In 2009 Murray seized an ATP World Tour-best six titles and reached a career-high No. 2 ranking in August before finishing the year at No. 4. He enters the Australian Open seeded No. 5, surpassed by del Potro for the No. 4 seed. As of Jan. 18, Murray has recaptured the No. 4 ranking but his seeding will remain.
Murray is in Nadal’s quarter of the draw at the Australian Open and has potential matchups with either John Isner, fresh off his first ATP victory in Auckland or with the dangerous Gael Monfils who can produce a first-rate performance at any time.
Murray would meet Nadal in the quarters if both survive into the second week. After so many years of bad luck in Melbourne, will this finally prove to be the year the Scot finds his first major at the Australian Open? His fans are tired of waiting and hoping for Murray to fulfill his potential
9. Juan Martin del Potro (Last Power Ranking: 3; ATP Ranking: 5)
Last Four Tournaments: London [Finalist], Paris [Quarterfinalist], Shanghai [R64], Tokyo [R32]
Power Ranking Points: 121
As one of the few to win a major in the last five years, much is expected of the lanky Argentine. Del Potro won on the much faster hard courts at Flushing Meadows; so if he can withstand the heat and the pressure, why shouldn’t he take another slam in Melbourne?
Seeded No. 4, del Potro could conceivably meet Marin Cilic in the 3rd round. Then perhaps either Fernando Gonzalez or Andy Roddick await. His semifinal match might find him across the net from either Murray or Nadal. It doesn’t get any easier as the tournament progresses.
With his only scheduled warm-up in Kooyong where the Argentine pulled out with a wrist problem, del Potro may be nursing an injury and his match strength could be in question. His first round match with Michael Russell should provide some clues as to any potential wrist problems.
10. Gael Monfils (Last Power Ranking: 7; ATP Ranking: 12)
Last Four Tournaments: Brisbane [Semifinalist], Paris [Finalist], Valencia [R16], Vienna [Quarterfinalist].
Power Ranking Points: 120
In 2009 Monfils worked his way into the ATP top 10 for the first time in his career. Although he was not able to stay there, he is currently ranked and seeded at No. 12 going into the Australian Open.
This multi-talented but frustrating Frenchman has all the potential to be a champion—but apparently not the discipline or the confidence to go all the way. He seems to find a way to self-destruct, beating himself.
Monfils is in Nadal’s quarter of the draw and could very early on meet American John Isner who is seeded with the withdrawal of Frenchman Gilles Simon due to injury. Isner could be a real challenge for Monfils. If the Frenchman survives it may send him directly to face Murray in the fourth ound.
Monfils has the game and the talent to win. Perhaps, this will be his finest season in the sun—down under.
We begin our Power Rankings a little early this year in order to shed some light on the matchups at the Australian Open. The formula we use to arrive at our point totals was developed by Feng Rong. Click here to read how he calculates the numbers for this column every week.
The Bleacher Tennis Writers working on this series are JA Allen, Marianne Bevis, and Feng Rong. We look forward to a very enticing 2010 and hope you will join us each week as we unveil the rankings.