Five Upsets to Watch
MUST-SEE: Berankis over (27) Nalbandian: The 20-year-old Lithuanian packs a huge punch and spanked Aussie Wildcard Playoff winner Marinko Matosevic in straights. Nalbandian, meanwhile, played what’s sure to be remembered as one of the matches of the year against a dogged Lleyton Hewitt, outlasting the home favorite in five hours. Can Berankis take advantage of a tired Nalbandian never known for his fitness? I think so. Berankis in 4.
Marino over (6) Schiavone: Still weird seeing the No. 6 seed next to Schiavone’s name. She barely avoided a loss to Parra Santonja in round one—unlucky for her, Marino possesses a much more lethal game than the Spaniard. The Canadian up-and-comer has huge strokes, but nerves could play a factor. Beating an inflated Top 8 seed is still beating a Top 8 seed. Marino in 3.
(Q) Dimitrov over (19) Wawrinka: This is going to be an absolute war on show court No. 2—one I don’t want to see either guy lose. Bulgarian qualifier Dimitrov, whom I profiled alongside Berankis last week, has a powerful, all-court game and a backhand that rivals the world’s best. The Swiss also possesses an amazing backhand as well as a huge leg up in experience and took the Chennai warm-up title. Would be great to see this one go five. I’m picking the phenom to take it, but would be happy to see Stan prove me wrong. Dimitrov in 5.
Stepanek over (20) Isner: This is another risky pick. If Isner’s serve is clicking and he can dictate with quick, high-risk, one-two shot tennis, then he’ll pull out the win. But the longer the rallies go, I favor the Czech who can also blast the serve. Considering the colder temperatures and slow, gritty court, I’d say Advantage, Stepanek. Stepanek in 4.
Peng over (7) Jankovic: A lot of this match will depend on how Peng recovers after a long 8-6 in the third win over K.Bond in the first round. The Chinese had a great lead-up run to the Aussie and is in good form—plus, she’s taken down Jankovic before. The Serb looked great in the first set of her first round, but then reverted back to her passive tendencies—barely winning in two. Real question is...will Jelena smack eight aces again? Peng in 3.
Eight Great Matches to Watch
(9) Verdasco vs. Tipsarevic: As I'm about to publish this article, Verdasco just took the third set in a huge fight after burrowing himself into a two-sets-to-love hole against the Serb. In routine fashion, nonetheless. Pretty shocking—definitely thought this would be an all out war of attrition. It's definitely shaping up to be now; Verdasco's finally got some energy. Brad Gilbert pointed out that when Tipsarevic plays a top player, he relaxes. Good observation. I’m just wondering why this guy isn’t seeded already?
(WC) Dokic vs. Zahlavova Strycova: First match on Rod Laver Arena tonight. Zahlavova Strycova’s a feisty, emotional player with a very consistent game (dare I call her a pusher?), a top junior who has started to come into her own on the WTA. But you gotta to love a revved up Dokic on the biggest arena in her adopted home country. Funnily enough, Dokic beat a counter puncher in the first round while BZS beat 17th seed Rezai, a woman who, like the Australian, belts the hell out of the ball on every shot. Should be a close one.
(14) Sharapova vs. Razzano: Really good test for Sharapova. Razzano was playing some of the best tennis of her career in 2009 before a terrible foot injury derailed her— it’s been slow going getting her ranking back up. But she plays a flat, attacking game that’s really fun to watch, and Sharapova’s ball will land right in her strike zone. Pova struggled in Auckland while the Frenchwoman nearly upended eventual champ Li Na in Sydney—can she take down the vulnerable Russian in a huge upset here?
(1) Bryan/Bryan vs. Lipsky/Ram: They’ve had several sparkling seasons in their career, but 2010 will forever be known as a defining year for the Bryan Bros—breaking the all-time men’s doubles titles record and walking around with a couple Slams. They face a couple journeymen Americans in round one—it’ll be a good measuring stick to see how prepped they are to defend their title Down Under.
(24) Kleybanova vs. Halep: Kleybs had a great lead-up event in Sydney, and looked pretty strong in her first round. If she’s firing with the big serve and groundies, Halep— who doesn’t possess one big weapon—could get schooled. Either way, the Romanian’s definitely one to keep your eye on this year.
(2) Zvonareva vs. Jovanovski: For some reason, I just don’t trust Zvonareva this tournament. She received a pretty mild draw, so I picked her to go to the semis—but with this new high ranking come new pressures, and I don’t think her mind’s going to hold up. Jovanovski, like Kleybanova, had a great warm up tourney in Sydney. She hits huge and could make it a tight two-setter, but I think, at least for now, Zvonareva’s resilient play will push her through.
(31) Lopez vs. (WC) Tomic: Tomic looked great against the young Frenchman Chardy in round one, but Chardy’s a pretty clueless opponent on most days. Lopez, meanwhile, will definitely have a game plan: big slice serves, come to net when possible, dominate with the forehand. Could be tougher to execute since Tomic is also a southpaw, however. I give the young Aussie the edge—where he could play a salivating third round against Nadal. How’s that for a night match?
(21) Baghdatis vs. Del Potro: Now this should be fun. Del Potro looked very impressive against Sela in the first round, gutting out a 15-13 tiebreak in the first set before blitzing the tiny Israeli in straights. But the Cypriot’s a former finalist here—can he summon up any of the magic from 2006? Baggy always seems to get handed tough draws in the majors, and it doesn’t stop here. He could definitely go down as DelPo’s first major scalp since coming back.
Five Qualifiers to Watch
Nicholas Mahut: The French and Australian Opens have a joint wildcard program. So you’d think the guy that made Frenchman actually look like they can put up a fight would be given the big WC, right? Nope. Instead, it went to a young gun; Mahut had to go about getting into the draw the old fashioned way. Good to see last year’s epic Wimbledon loser (okay, he’s still a winner) rack up a main draw win. Could make a decent run here.
Ryan Sweeting: Sweeting’s a lean, tall American with a pretty nice game. He made a surprisingly dominant run through the qualies, and then put together a very clean match to beat a Spanish veteran in round one. Impressive. But I don’t think he’ll push the next Spaniard he faces too hard... (hint, his name’s Rafael).
Anne Keothavong: The effervescent Brit suffered a disastrous knee injury in the summer of ’09, running into a fence during a doubles match. She’s getting up there in tennis years. I thought it might be a career-ending twist of fate. Good to see her back and working hard. Got a tough one in No. 30 Andrea Petkovic next; I have a pretty bad feeling again...
Lesya Tsurenko: She took down Patty Schnyder with ease in round one and takes on the sure-to-be-exhausted Ekaterina Makarova (aka Ana Ivanovic’s conqueror) next. Can the young Ukranian keep up a great run?
Milos Raonic: Canada’s next great hope. You don’t usually hear that outside of a hockey rink or a maple syrup chugging contest. The phenom made the most of his qualifying berth, taking out a relatively unknown German in the first round in straight sets. He’s up next against No. 22 Michael Llodra. Definite upset material.
Five Doubles Teams to Watch
(1) Dulko/Pennetta: Top dogs trying to replicate amazing success of last year. Only tournaments where they didn’t thrive: the majors. Time to work on that here.
(3) Bhupati/Paes: Indian dream team from about a decade ago back for the first time in years (outside of Davis Cup). Should make a deep run.
(6) Melzer/Petzschner: Out of the blue, this Austrian-German duo won on the green. Can they back up their 2010 Wimby title with more Slam success? Or was it just a major fluke?
(7) Goerges/Raymond: Doubles vet picks a young unheralded German as permanent partners in ‘11? Bizarre move. Lucky for Raymond, Goerges made huge strides starting at the middle of last season. I think they’ll be carrying each other through the year.
(8) Chan/Radwanska: Another unique duo. Good to see Radwanska trying to get some match play in after a foot injury. Both have had great success in the discipline in the past; could be a lethal combo. Go up against another tough duo in round one later today: Cibulkova and Pavlychenkova.