Of all the quarters, this one at the bottom of the draw fascinates me the least. Don’t get me wrong—there are a great number of fun players on display. Stan Wawrinka’s backhand is one of my favorite shots in tennis; the way Gael Monfils can stretch and transform his body and reach seemingly unreachable balls astounds me; UVA grad (WaHooWah baby!) Somdev Devvarman, equipped with a beautiful all-around game, takes on veteran grinder Tommy Robredo in an attractive opening match. It’s just that the guys in between these great names are kind of...well, lackluster. It’s something I’ve talked about before: “syllable syndrome.” Przysiezny, Benneteau, Andujar, Kunitsyn, Gabashvili, Stakhovsky—they blend into the draw like Rosie O’Donnell in a Krispy Kreme factory.
Oh yeah, there’s also a guy named Roger Federer lurking down in this section. I can’t repeat it enough – Federer is my hero. His abilities on a tennis court are godlike, and his behavior off the court is what all world class athletes should strive to mirror. Seeing him back as the No. 2 seed in Australia makes me smile, because I can’t wait 'til this time next year when I check the draw and see him back on top at No. 1. He’s taking the title this year, and he has the perfect draw to work his way into the second week. Some brief resistance from Lukas Lacko in round one, a fun potential match against Gilles Simon in round two, maybe an encounter with Chennai finalist X-Man Malisse in the round of 32? He’s really got an ideal path, better than I hoped for—tough players who will push him to play top-notch tennis, but they won't push too hard.
I also laugh because Fed landed in the quarter of delusion—that is, American deluison. Can’t you see the oh-so-annoying Patrick McEnroe, his cronie Chris Fowler and the rest of the grating ESPN crew on day one of coverage touting a “gripping fourth round encounter between Mardy Fish and Roger Federer!!!” and “this could be A. Rod’s year to take down the Swiss Down Under!!!!!”
Face it, Americans: Andy Roddick has a better chance of beating Fed than the Jets have at beating the Pats. Roddick, sporting a generous eighth seed, looked good in Brisbane. And I’m sure he’ll cruise by the likes of Monaco, Wawrinka or Monfils—all of whom still haven’t developed the mental strength or belief to beat a Roddick-esque figure at a tournament like the Australian Open—thus getting to another quarterfinal here. But any further than that—I don’t know, it might be a sure sign of an apocalypse. Hey, the guy suffered one of the most embarassing public floggings a tennis player can have at the hands of Federer in the 2007 Oz Open semis, humbled in a 64 60 62 loss. Can’t get much worse than that...but you bet the Fed Express will try.
As for the No.18 seed Sam Querrey and the aforementioned Mardy Fish, both of whom also landed in this quarter, it’s hard to tell where their fates lie. I thought Querrey would do great in Sydney this week—he had a tough draw, but one that was very easy to maneuver if playing well. The first round lost is disconcerting. Fish, meanwhile, is shrouded in mystery (hey, have to pump up this preview somehow) after injuries riddled the tail-end of his season. Several tennis pundits are predicting Fish will continue to rise even further this year after a great campaign in 2010, but I think the opposite is true. I hate to say it—because I love his game—but the American is headed for a tailspin this year. And it starts with an opening round loss to Romanian No. 52 Victor Hanescu.
Through to the quarters: (2) Federer and (8) Roddick
First rounds to watch: (12) Monfils vs. de Bakker, (16) Fish vs. Hanescu, Robredo vs. Devvarman, Berlocq vs. Haase, Lu vs. Simon