Fed for the Win: A (Perfect) Dissection of the 2011 Australian Open Men's Draw
The draws are out, and get ready as all of those other lame Bleacher Report d-bags desperately try to woo you with their bold predictions–Ljubicic for the win! Harrison's going all the way! OMFG GOTTA LUV RODDICK!!
Yeah, I went out on a real limb with this Federer character...what a scrub.
In all seriousness, I'm glad you came to the write place. I'm starting to win the men's draw for no particular reason, other than men's tennis kicks the crap out of any other sport!!! And that's because Serena isn't playing the Aussie this year, the women's draw is going to be a lot harder to analyze.
But back to the gents. Things actually played out quite fairly for the top dogs. Nadal and Federer ended up on opposite sides of the draw...was really worried about that one. I'd say Nadal's got the tougher half with Soderling and Murray–I'm picking the big man to yet again fell Rafa on the Grand Slam stage.
But despite how the Swede or Spaniard do, this is still Federer's tournament to win. He backed up his fantastic post-US Open season with a refreshing victory in Dubai–and looked damn good doing it. With familiar b*tches like Djokovic and Roddick just begging to be owned in his bottom half, it's looking more and more like a second consecutive trophy for the Swiss star.
So kick back, relax and get ready to have your mind blown with prognostications that'd make Bud Collins cry beautiful artificial tears.
First Quarter: Nadal’s Lucky Break
Flu-ridden Rafa couldn’t have asked for a more comfortable quarter to begin his conquest for a second Aussie title. The world No. 1 opens against No. 96 Brazilian Marcos Daniel, who he spanked in straight sets at the French a couple years ago. He also lucked out by drawing Feliciano Lopez and Marin Cilic as two of the seeds in his sixteenth, both of whom aren’t even close to top form. Cilic, semifinalist last year, will have a helluvah time trying to outmaneuver either No. 20 John Isner or Radek Stepanek to make it to the second week—he could run into either one in the third round.
The second part of this little quarter gets a lot more exciting. Tenth seed Youzhny is here and could run into big man Kevin Anderson in round two. No. 22 Michael Llodra, perhaps still haunted by his crushing defeat in the decisive Davis Cup final match in December, has an interesting first round tussle against dirtballer Juan Ignacio Chela.
Then the s#$% really hits the fan. Lleyton Hewitt, pride of Australia, will go up against resurgent Argentine David Nalbandian in the first round highlight of the tournament – it's sure to be a packed-house, sold-out blockbuster under the lights at Rod Laver Arena. The two played an awesome, see-saw five-setter at the 2005 tourney—when Hewitt nearly took home the entire title. Total toss-up this year though. Nalbandian’s looked great this week in Auckland (he's currently in the final) but Hewitt also looked solid in Perth at the Hopman Cup. I’m picking Nalbandian to pull out a grueling win, much to the disappointment of the home crowd.
But the match right under Hewitt v. Nalbandian intrigues me just as much. It pits Marinko Matosevic—a young Australian who won the country’s wildcard playoff to earn a main draw berth—against rising Lithuanian teen Ricardas Berankis, currently ranked 83rd in the world rankings. If you’ve keeping up with my recent posts on B/R, you’ll see I (boldly) predicted Berankis to reach the second week here. The phenom got handed pretty tough draw, but I think he could cause a lot of noise if he comes up against a tired Nalbandian or Hewitt in round two. You heard it here first: Berankis for the upset.
Rounding out this top quarter is the seventh seed, David Ferrer, also currently enjoying a flush week in New Zealand. He’s definitely going to get tested by tricky Finn Jarkko Nieminen in round one, but could end up having a decent tournament if my whole breakthrough tournament forecast for Berankis doesn’t work out.
Bottom line: this is Rafael Nadal’s semifinal berth up for grabs. He’s perfectly set up to work his way into the tournament and rise back to full health, and I bet he makes it through to the last eight without losing a set.
Through to the quarters: (1) Nadal and (10) Youzhny
First rounds to watch: (27) Nalbandian vs. Hewitt, (7) Ferrer vs. Nieminen, (WC) Tomic vs. Chardy, (WC) Matosevic vs. Berankis
Second Quarter: Blockbuster in the Making
So Robin Soderling takes Brisbane in a near-flawless performance and, for the second time, shakes up the “Big Four”—swapping spots with Andy Murray just in time for the year’s first major. Ironic, then, that they ended up drawing each other in the same section.
The two have clear paths to a quarterfinal showdown. Soderling, like Nadal, drew a very comfortable sixteenth—three qualifiers, two Brazilians, streaky Ernests Gulbis and ancient Arnaud Clement all feature in it. He opens against Italian Potito Starace—much more of a force on clay—and his potential round of sixteen seed, ’08 finalist and last year's semifinalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, could be knocked out early by another talented big bomber, world No. 59 Phillipp Petzschner.
Down in Murray’s section are a few intriguing floaters. No. 11 Jurgen Melzer, coming off a career year, has had modest success Down Under—reaching the third round a few times, including 2009 when he suffered an embarassing loss to the Scot himself. Marcos Baghdatis, seeded at No. 21, is also in this quarter. He burst onto the world stage in Melbourne in 2006—defeating Andy Roddick, David Nalbandian and taking the first set off of Roger Federer in their championship bout. Baghdatis rebounded nicely in 2010 after a couple lean years and could challenge Murray if he plays well, but the Cypriot hasn’t quite summoned the same magic at the Australian since his ’06 run.
And then there’s the big man—Juan Martin del Potro. I’m so, so glad he’s back. His efforts to wrestle the ’09 U.S. Open from Nadal and Federer—whom he took down consecutively to win—were phenomenal. When he winds up and smacks his forehand with full force, it is probably the biggest shot the sport has ever seen. And while it was a huge shame his wrist injury kept him out for virtually all of 2010, it’s a blessing it wasn’t a career-ending injury. He comes into Melbourne a total question mark. I don’t think he’s going to go far this tournament just due to flat-out lack of match play (and fitness), but it’s awesome to see him back in the mix.
Murray (along with Nadal) probably has the easiest path to navigate for a spot in the quarterfinals. Opens against Beck, then either Marchenko or Ramirez Hidalgo, then the likes of Guillermo Garcia-Lopez or Michael Berrer or Leonardo Mayer in round three. After that, he’s 2-1 against Baghdatis, 4-0 against Melzer and 5-1 against Del Potro. So yeah, it's lookin' good for the Major-less No. 5.
Through to the quarters: (4) Soderling and (5) Murray
First rounds to watch: (13) Tsonga vs. Petzschner, Del Potro vs. Sela
Third Quarter: Full of Potential
This quarter is what I call the land of the salivating second rounds—completely wide open with a lot of potential for new faces to experience breakthrough Grand Slam success.
Berdych, No. 6, is up top. The Czech’s struggles post-Wimbledon have been well-documented—though he beat Roddick at the World Tour Finals (WTF?) and just reached the semis of Chennai, it’s obvious the confidence that brought him such amazing success this past summer just isn’t there. When Berdych’s shots are working and flowing, he’s nearly unstoppable. If not, he's one of the ugliest players to watch in tennis. He opens with a qualifier, but faces danger in the second round against either Philipp Kohlschreiber or Tobias Kamke. If the Germans don’t wear themselves out in the first round, they’ve got a great shot at upending the Czech. Remember, Kohlschreiber beat Roddick 8-6 in the fifth here in ’07, and Kamke was awarded the ATP Newcomer of the Year award this past fall after raising his ranking up from No. 254 to No. 66. Pretty impressive.
The rest of Berdych’s sixteenth is jam-packed. Right below the Czech and the Germans are Ryan Harrison and the No. 29 seed Richard Gasquet, who could meet in a match that’d make Patrick McEnroe and the rest of the ESPN crew j*zz in their pants—their pleated trousers, to be specific. No. 23 seed Nikolay Davydenko could play resurgent Brad Gilbert pupil Kei Nishikori, and flambuoyant Serb Janko Tipsarevic has a shot to go against No. 9 Fernando Verdasco. But Verdasco, who was so close to the final here in ’09 when he went down to Rafael Nadal in a legendary five set semi, has to get past 2003 finalist Rainer Scheuttler first.
See what I mean about the mouthwatering matches?
Berdych’s hopes for a resurgence Down Under didn’t get any higher after drawing third seed Novak Djokovic as his big seed. Djokovic is still a huge favorite in this quarter, but has some tricky opponents in his bottom portion—including notorious big serving Croats Ivo Karlovic and Ivan Ljubicic, No. 14 seed Nicolas Almagro (who lost a thriller to Tsonga at last year’s Aussie) and Djokovic compatriot Viktor Troicki, ranked and seeded at No. 29. Troicki nearly took down the Djoker at the U.S. Open last year, up two-sets-to-one and a break in the fourth before wilting. But he received a big boost after clinching the Davis Cup for Serbia and had a respectable quarterfinal finish in the Dubai tune-up—plus, there’s been a lot of speculation about how sharp the world No. 3 will be after a draining past season. Can the lesser-known Serb vanquish that New York nightmare and finish the job against Djokovic in Melbourne? I’m not banking on it, but it’ll be interesting to see him try.
Through to the quarters: (23) Davydenko and (3) Djokovic
First rounds to watch: (9) Verdasco vs. Scheuttler, (23) Davydenko vs. Mayer, (29) Troicki vs. Tursunov, Kohlschreiber vs. Kamke, Harrison vs. Mannarino
Fourth Quarter: The Fed Express Has Now Arrived
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
The Latter Rounds
Nadal d. Youzhny the Spaniard should advance in three or four
Soderling d. Murray the Swede has had great prep and is looking to reverse his misfortune in Melbourne
Davydenko d. Djokovic this is my "reach" pick; Davydenko could easily go down in round two or three
Federer d. Roddick straight-set comfortable win
Soderling d. Nadal like I said, I foresee Sod gaining revenge for last year's French and Wimby losses
Federer d. Davydenko cruise control
Federer d. Soderling tough four set or (if we're lucky) five set win; definitely Fed's toughest test of the tournament