Roger Federer and the Top 10 Threats Awaiting Him at the Australian Open
Roger Federer has come through to the second week of a major for the 27th consecutive time, tying him with Jimmy Connors for the all-time record of Quarter-Final appearances.
It has become near certainty that Federer will manage his way through the draw during the first week of slams.
However, 2011 has not been as easy as past slam events, and Federer was tested again early on.
First, he had to battle his way through a surprising five set match in the second round against Gilles Simon.
Simon owned a career 2-0 record against Federer, and many experts highlighted this match when the draw was made; as a potential stumbling point. Federer managed to avoid the upset and progress on to the third round.
In the third round, Federer again found himself in a battle. However, this time it was not his opponent, but instead it would be what could only be described as boredom. Federer would come away with a fairly unimpressive straight sets win over Malisse.
Next in Round of 16, Federer would find himself playing against a familiar opponent in the tricky Spaniard Tommy Robredo. Not too many people expected much of a fight from the current world No. 52. Yet again, Federer ended up playing an unnecessary four set match; when he had a lapse of concentration in the second set. He was virtually untouchable in the first set, came down to earth in the second, then finished up in the third and fourth sets with relative ease.
As we enter week two of the 2011 Australian Open, I will examine the top 10 threats still awaiting Federer in his quest for a 5th Australian Open title.
Quarter-Finals: Stanislas Wawrinka
Roger Federer's 2008 Olympic doubles partner, Stanislas Wawrinka, awaits in the Quarter-Finals.
Federer owns a 6-1 career record against Wawrinka, with their last encounter in Stockholm at the end of last year.
During the 2011 Australian Open, Wawrinka has cruised through the opening rounds without dropping a set.
He put an absolute beat down on Andy Roddick, who looked very defeated in their straight set match.
Wawrinka held a one set and 2-0 lead over Federer in Stockholm before his second serve let him down, and Federer was able to take control.
If Wawrinka is to come through this match, his serve will be the key. Federer will be able to get more into Wawrinka's second serve, and with that, into more points.
Roddick was never able to take advantage of his second serve opportunities.
Wawrinka's coach, Peter Lundgren, has a very extensive encyclopedia on Roger Federer. Federer's former coach helped him to break through for his first Slam title at the 2003 Wimbledon Championships.
Lundgren is hoping to recapture that same break through coaching Wawrinka.
Lundgren and Federer have a long history, and both Wawrinka and Lundgren are hoping to draw on that knowledge to formulate a game plan that will effectively take Federer off his game.
This will be a tough match, and very emotional for Wawrinka. He will need to get past the off court relationship between himself and Federer; something he has yet to prove capable of doing.
The match is scheduled to be played during the day, when the courts are fast.
Semi-Final Possibility #1: Tomas Berdych
Tomas Berdych has played relatively flawless tennis heading into his Quarter-Finals match up with Novak Djokovic.
Should he come through that match, a Semi-Final showdown with Federer should await.
Berdych had an impressive 2010 Slam season. He made it through to the Semi-Finals of the French Open, and then beat Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic en route to his first Slam final at Wimbledon.
Berdych has an increased confidence at the Slams, and knowing he has the ability to beat Federer in the best of five format, makes him a very dangerous opponent.
Should Berdych come through to face Federer, his huge forehand will have to be at full strength. He will need to be consistent in trying to take control of points from inside the baseline.
Tomas Berdych Vs. Novak Djokovic
The outcome of this match will have a huge impact on the Semi-Final.
Should this be a short match for either player, Federer will be at a huge disadvantage. Neither player has spent much time on court in the first week, and both are looking very fresh.
On the other hand, if this match goes on for any extended period of time, the advantage shifts back to Federer.
Both players have the ability to outlast one another, but to play a long match, and then having to face Federer is a daunting challenge.
They both should be counting their stars that their Quarter-Final match is scheduled for the evening session.
Berdych beat Djokovic at their last Slam encounter. However Djokovic looks to be the player in better form.
Will we get a repeat of the US Open Semi Final?
Semi-Final Possibility #2: Novak Djokovic
A potential rematch of the epic five set US Open Semi-Final between Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic is an intriguing possibility.
If recent play is an indicator, Djokovic will pose a serious threat to Federer's run to defend his title. Both men played an epic five set match at the US Open, where Federer held match points, eventually losing.
Federer did beat Djokovic in his hometown tournament in Basel during the indoor season; however, that was a best of three format.
It still should be said that Djokovic has yet to recapture the form that brought him his first, and to this date, only Slam title.
He has the ability to beat Federer on the big stage, and his serve is hitting at nearly 90 percent. He has increased his spin on the second serve, and been more consistent through the first week.
As always heat will be an issue, however, with the Semi-Finals scheduled for the evening; the heat will not come into play. Federer will still remain the favorite, but not by much.
Finals Possibility #1: Andy Murray
Andy Murray received a gift when the huge hitting Robin Soderling stumbled in the Round of 16.
Murray looks to be in top form, and has had a relatively easy draw heading into the Quarter-Finals.
His match up with the upset minded Alex Dolgopolov looks good on paper, and he is heading towards a showdown with World No. 1 Rafael Nadal.
Taking on Nadal will be the greatest challenge for Murray. Nadal has been steamrolling his opponents up until this point, and it seems a lot to ask for someone to come through Nadal's half.
Murray is very capable of beating Nadal, and has been playing the type of tennis that makes him a pain to play against.
Murray still has a mental hurdle to climb when it comes to performing at the Slams. Should he be able to come through and face Federer in another final down under, he will surely be the under dog. If beating Nadal isn't enough of a challenge, beating the top two players back to back is even harder.
If Murray comes through, expect another three set loss to Federer.
Andy Murray Vs. Rafael Nadal
If all goes according to plan Andy Murray will run head on into Rafael Nadal.
Murray will attempt to put a stop to Nadal's quest for the "Rafa Slam". Both players have been playing high level tennis through the first week, and both have a decent match up in the Quarter-Finals.
Nadal faces fellow Spaniard David Ferrer, while Murray faces Ukrainian, Alex Dolgopolov. If they can successfully manage their way through the quarters, a highly anticipated Semi-Final match up awaits.
Murray has been very capable of beating Nadal in the past, and is playing the type of tennis that poses problems for Nadal.
If Nadal is not at 100 percent for this match, he could be in trouble.
Federer has been able to fend off Murray when it comes to Slam finals, however, Nadal is another story entirely.
Final Possibility #1: Rafael Nadal
Should both Nadal and Federer advance, it will be a rematch of the epic five set battle on the very same Rod Laver Arena, that brought Federer to tears.
A long hard match with Murray is what Federer will be hoping for prior to the Final.
With the match set to be played in the evening, the slight advantage will go to Nadal. The cooler temperatures, and slower play will be an advantage for Nadal, who has played a majority of his matches during the evening. Nadal has been suffering from the same bug he had in Doha, and admitted he wasn't at 100 percent. During Federer's match against Simon, he admitted as that the cooler temperatures affected his game.
Both players are headed towards difficult Semi-Final matches, and it would be no surprise if neither of them made it to the final. However it would also be a surprise if both of them did not.
Nadal's improved serve, which led him to his US Open Championship, is not quite where it was. With his health being in question, the serve has struggled to hit the same 130 mph, he was hitting in New York.
If Federer is to come out on top, he will need to trust his new attacking style, and follow his game plan. If he abandons the strategy that has helped him in the past few months, including the victory over Nadal in London; Nadal will win.
If Federer sticks to the plan, Nadal still may win, however, one could see Federer winning as well.
With history on the line...
Can Federer Conquer His Inner Demons?
In 2009, the Australian Open Final changed the landscape of the Men's game.
The world began to question Federer's ability to win more Slams, and had anointed Nadal the heir to Federer's throne. With the crushing defeat, Federer, would be left in tears, wondering how everything changed so fast.
It was the height of the rivalry, and put an exclamation point on Nadal's rise to the top.
If Federer is to reclaim his position as Nadal's equal, it will start on this court. He will not only have to battle Nadal, opposite himself; he will have to battle the memory of that previous encounter.
Federer has changed his tactics in his approach to the game. He has put himself in position to beat Nadal, and knows how hard it will be to accomplish that goal.
Federer understands how much is at stake, should they reach the finals together.
His opportunity to end Nadal's quest for the "Rafa Slam", would make victory even sweeter. He also knows how difficult that task will be. Nadal is playing at a level that many people have never seen. In winning the previous three Slam titles, Nadal has proven that he is truly the World's No. 1 player.
If Federer is ever to reclaim that honor, it will start on this court.
Nadal will be favored over the duration of the match, but if Federer can get some free points, and serve consistently; keeping the points short, the match should go the distance.
The Fear Of Defeat
The rivalry has taken on it's own life. It is fueled by the public, and by the play of the two champions.
It is the fear of defeat that motivates Federer, and also Nadal. Both are faced with the constant challenge of carrying the sport.
Defeat will mean less to the younger Nadal. He has many years ahead, should he remain healthy.
Defeat will mean much more to Federer. If he is to face Nadal in the final and lose, it will be heartbreaking. It may cement Nadal's legacy as the greatest of this era. Holding all four Slams at once, is something Federer was never able to do.
If Nadal accomplishes that feat through Federer, it will be even harder to swallow.
Federer is a historian. He knows what his legacy means to the sport, and he knows there is still more for him to accomplish.
He needs to get by his own fear in order to have a shot against Nadal. Nadal will have his own pressure to deal with.
The media is sure to remind Nadal prior to the final of the significance of a winning this title.
Federer would love the opportunity to end that run, and again make his own history while doing so.